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Published in the 16-31 Aug 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Reservation for AP Muslims seen in the wider national perspective

By Syed Shahabuddin

The Sangh Parivar's full-throated opposition to the introduction of reservation in public employment and higher education in favour of the Muslim community by the newly elected Government of A.P. has been combined with repeated threat to make it an all India issue and to fight against it by all possible means, in the Parliament and state legislature and in the street. It appears as if a bewildered wayfarer lost in the thick woods has found a ray of light to make his way out. Shocked and frustrated, the Hindutva party did not know which way to turn, whether to go forward to an unfamiliar and doubtful future or reverse its steps back to the familiar programme - inciting distrust and hatred against the 'other' and nurturing suspicion and hostility against the Muslim community. Its spokesmen are mouthing the same old phrases - 'minority appeasement', 'Hinduism in danger', 'threat to national integrity', the beginning of a 'new separatism'.

One wonders at the logic of the 'tallest leader' of the BJP Atal Behari Vajpayee when he opposes reservation as an incentive for conversion of Hindus to Islam. Perhaps he means the lure of seats and jobs, but how can a Hindu who has 95% of the opportunities either under existing reservation quota or in the general pool, hope to gain more by competing for the 5% Muslim quota?

The Sangh Parivar still regards Muslim Indians as an unwanted element in the national life, a historic adversary and Pakistan's fifth column in India. The Muslim Indians derive their right to equality from the Constitution and this right cannot be denied to them by linking their status to that of the Hindus of Pakistan and Bangladesh or generally to that of non-Muslims in Muslim States. This illogical and irrelevant comparison often made by Sangh Parivar which opposes any step by any government likely to help the Muslim community come out of the well. So long as the Sangh Parivar believes in its ideology of Hindutva which identifies India, Indian culture and Indian history with Hinduism and regards non-Hindus as aliens and deals with Hindu-Muslim relations as a zero-sum game, it shall fail to realize the larger benefits to the nation from full participation and due empowerment of the Muslim Indians and their consequent contribution to national development.

Psychology of Backwardness in Democracy
Let us first examine the rationale of reservation in general and in favour of the biggest religious minority in AP which constitutes roughly 12% of the state population. Measured by any nationally accepted parameters, it cannot be denied, the Muslims of AP, as a community, constitute a Backward Class, educationally and socially and economically within the meaning of Article 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution. 70% of them live below the poverty line against the state average of 40%. Except for a thin creamy layer, constituted by the descendants of the old aristocracy and the families whose breadwinners have landed remuneration positions in the Gulf and the USA, the Muslim masses live in slums and engage in petty shop-keeping and daily wage labour. Psychologically suffering from what has been called the Andalusian syndrome for the older generation of the community, the fall of the Nizam and the integration of the princely state of Hyderabad in India constituted a severe blow they are yet to overcome, they had shocked and benumbed them into despondency and frustration. Happily the younger generation has made a really valiant effort to overcome these symptoms and is coming to terms with the real world. But AP has been changing, new social forces are emerging and the Muslims, late as they were, have been left far behind in the race of development. Half a century later they are psychologically prepared but they need the first push. This reservation will infuse a new spirit in the Muslim youth, take them into the mainstream, prevent their falling into the well of alienation, living a marginalized existence and taking to anti-social occupations; give them an opportunity to participate in administration and thus to contribute to the development process. How fast can A.P. run with 1/8 of population remaining handicapped?

Let us examine the Constitutional position.
The Preamble speaks of social, economic and political justice and equality of opportunity and Article 14 speaks of the principle of equality before the law and equal protection of law. But the entire structure of reservation for the SC, the ST and the OBC's has been built on the foundation of socio-economic justice and equality of opportunity for social groups which are backward, deprived, depressed and need to be uplifted in the national interest. The Indian society is not homogenous, it is multi-caste, multi-religious, multi-racial. It is a segmented society and the people are divided among many identifiable social groups, call them nationalities, races, tribes, castes, sub-castes, sects or sub-sects. They are all conscious of their particular identity. Most of them feel deprived and, therefore, demand, in a democratic order, their place in the sun, their finger on the levers of governance and administration, an opportunity to rise in the socio-economic ladder. 

At the bottom of the social ladder, lie the groups which have suffered deprivation and humiliation for ages and have been collectively disparaged as Achhuts and Adivasis but constitutionally redesignated as SC's and ST's. 50 years of reservation in education, employment and legislature has changed the socio-economic status of some relatively developed sub-groups but the change has not penetrated to the lower strata and has also created a creamy layer.
Just above them, are the Shudras who constitute about 50% of the population. They produce the wealth of the country but live from hand to mouth. They are divided among many castes and sub-castes. A few have made good economically under the Green Revolution and politically through their rising status. But a vast majority of the Shudras still lives a miserable life. They constitute the OBC's. The OBC Lists also include either those groups which are wholly Muslim or share the same occupation.

The fathers of the Constitution had foreseen that the problem of an unequal and segmented society cannot be tackled simply on the basis of the principle of equality of citizenship. They realized that there can be no equality among unequals. And, therefore, while laying down the principle of non-discrimination by the State on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth, they inserted the qualifier 'only' before all these social criteria. This meant that the state can discriminate among citizens if the situation, the status or the circumstances of a particular group, religious, racial, caste, gender or geographical origin warrants special treatment. Thus, discrimination based on one or more of these grounds coupled with backwardness is not barred. This is the origin of Article 15(4), through the First Amendment of 1951, which allowed the State to make special provisions for the advancement of any socially or educationally backward classes of citizens or for the SC's and the ST's. 

Caste becomes the unit for testing backwardness, for those who called themselves Hindus, since the Hindu society was divided among castes. Thus if a caste group is found to be backward in accordance with accepted parameters by the prescribed authority, it is entitled to reservation, like the SC and the ST's, in proportion to its population.

Both Article 14(1) and Article 29(2) treat caste on par with religion. There is absolutely no rationale for maintaining that a religious group which is found to be backward in accordance with the same parameters cannot enjoy reservation. Yet the myth was established through propaganda that the Constitution does not allow religion-based reservation, while the only test for the SC's was that they were Hindu. This myth was finally exploded by the Justice Venkatachalliah Commission, formally called the National Commission to Review the Functioning of the Constitution, set up by the Vajpayee Government which stated:

"Under the existing provisions, it is open to the State to make reservations if it is of the opinion that such reservation is necessary and justified"
No Muslim sub-groups are included among SC's, by definition but some Muslim sub-groups are in fact included in the ST Lists.

The Mandal Commission had already in 1983 come to the conclusion that many social groups, largely Shudra in origin, also had a Muslim component and extended reservation to the members of the group, irrespective of their religion. The Mandal Commission calculated that roughly 8.4% out of the 52% of the people who constituted the Backward Classes, were Muslims, though it did not grant them a separate quota. Kerala introduced reservation in favour of the Moplahs, a backward group but 100% Muslim. So did Tamil Nadu. Tripura declared Muslims, as a community, eligible for reservation. Karnataka analyzed backwardness more scientifically and invented sub-categories of OBC's in accordance with their levels of backwardness. This created a sub-category in which Muslims, as a community were included alongwith one or two minor groups, in the light of a socio-economic survey conducted by the State. None of these steps were challenged by the BJP or by the Sangh Parivar. However, they are spitting fire at the step taken by the AP in fulfillment of an election promise by the Congress, which, incidentally, was also made by the TDP, the major adversary and an ally of the BJP.

Turbulence within OBC's, SC's and ST's
The next development of the reservation scene is the rebellion within the artificial conglomerates of OBC's, SC's, ST's, many of whose constituents remain deprived and are not prepared to remain so. The same grounds on which the SC's and the ST's and the OBC's were separated from the relatively developed group of the society, within each of them the less developed sub-groups are now demanding separate sub-quotas. The current form of aggregation as SC, ST or OBC is not sacrosanct. However, there are mini and micro-sub-groups and to give a separate quota to any group which has less than 1% of the population, generating 1 seat in a class of 100 or 1 place in the recruitment of 100 public employees, would be meaningless. But surely each larger sub-group which is self-conscious and identifiable by its chosen mark of identity is entitled to a separate sub-quota. Even the mini- and micro-sub-groups can voluntarily aggregate themselves to form a viable sub-group with more than 1% of the population or choose to join an existing larger sub-group with whom it has a social affinity. 

This is a natural development. In course of time, this is bound to happen because no group or sub-group will tolerate in perpetuity that the morsel due to it is swallowed by another and it remains unfed!

Demand from High Castes
There is also a growing stir among the sub-groups within the high castes which are relatively backward and whose backwardness is comparable to that of the OBC's, the SC's and the ST's. They are also demanding their share of the cake. The demand is being made in the name of the Brahmin, the Rajput, the Vaishya and even the Jat community. Many sub-groups, in each of those communities, are far above the educational and economic level of the society. Indeed they monopolize government jobs and educational institutions. They do not need reservation. But a viable option for each backward sub-community within them is to struggle for their due quota related to its population. This applied to Muslim sub-communities or Baradaris within the Muslim community as well.

Merit Principle
A traditional objection to reservation is based on Article 335 which speaks of 'consistency with the maintenance of efficiency of administration', in other words of the merit principle. 'Merit' has many meanings and in the widest sense, it cannot be maintained that if all reservation was abolished and all public employment and academic admissions are based on relative merit of all the applicants taken together, the end result would be more meritorious! Historically an administration monopolized by a few high castes only has not shown much merit in the sense that the system was less corrupt or more efficient or more compassionate. Secondly, the test applies only at the entrance point. Human beings grow with responsibility and experience and acquire new skills and expertise all the time. So the more meritorious become less so, and vice versa, as time passes. Thirdly, there is no foolproof method of ascertaining relative merit among the competitors though they can be broadly categorized. It is logical to lay down minimum qualification of eligibility for admission or employment which should not be relaxed. And if a social group or sub-group cannot throw up adequate number of candidates with the prescribed minimum qualification in any given year, its unutilized quota should be transferred first to the larger group of which the sub-group forms a part and, finally, to the general pool.

50% Limit
Another red herring in the path of reservation for all the backward social groups is the SC decision of 1963 in the Balaji case that total reservation, inclusive of the quantum for the SC's and the ST's, cannot exceed 50%. This controversial ruling became the basis for reducing the OBC's quota to 27%, just about half its proportion in national population. This is totally unfair. Once a group or sub-group is found to be a Backward Class in terms of nationally accepted parameters by a competent authority, it should and must receive its full quota equal to its share in population of the country or the community as the same may be.

This Supreme Court ruling of 1963 lies shattered as several states particularly Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have far exceeded the 50% limit. Indeed in the case of Tamil Nadu the reservation has exceeded the proportion of the Backward Classes! And the Supreme Court has not yet ruled it out! 

Reservation in Legislatures for Muslims and OBC's
So far the discussion has steered clear of the much more controversial question of reservation in legislatures. Given the blind opposition of the Sangh Parivar to any reservation in jobs for Muslims, one wonders what their reaction would be if this question was raised. The historical fact is that right from 1909 Muslim Indians were entitled to reservation in legislatures and services. The Lucknow Pact signed by the Congress and the Muslim League confirmed it. In the 20's the Congress objected not to reservation for Muslims in legislatures but to separate electorates. After independence the first draft of the Constitution abolished separate electorate but provided for reservation for Muslims, as a minority alongwith other minorities (including SC's and ST's), in public services and legislature. It was only at the last stage of Constitution-making that some Muslim members of the Constituent Assembly were motivated to ask for abolition of reservation both in the legislature and the services, in the interest of gaining the goodwill of the majority community which held the Muslims responsible for the Partition. However, the Partition has not changed the basic picture. Muslim Indians continue to form the biggest religious minority as they were in united India; they continue to be the target of communal bias and hostile discrimination which at least partly explains their poor representation in government services as well as in the legislatures, more than 50 years after independence. Today, they have become conscious of the need for education and are investing their meagre surplus in education and development but they are convinced that they cannot jump over the existing gap without reservation in public services, development and welfare, at least for 20 years. But many think that they cannot receive their due share without empowerment and participation and that empowerment and participation depend on representation in the legislature. Reservation in legislatures should be extended to all Backward Classes.

Conceptual Breakthrough
However, there should be a general pool to provide an incentive for excellence. What is needed is a conceptual breakthrough which would make reservation for social group proportionate not only to its Population but to its Index of Backwardness, in the scale of 100 for the SC/ST. Assuming the index of backwardness of a social group or sub-group is 80 while its population is 5%, its quota should be 80 /100 of 5 i.e. 4%. In general, the formula should be:
The sum total of reservation for a state / the country can be 
هRG = هBG X PG
This total may or may not exceed 50%. There should be no arbitrary limits. But, as different beneficiary groups go up the ladder of development, the B-factor will fall. This will reduce the reservation quota and increase the size of the merit pool. This new concept has thus a wider implication. If the levels of backwardness are reviewed every 10 years, the compartmentalized quota pool will contract and the general pool or the merit pool shall expand. In the fullness of time, the group quota may vanish and the general pool may become co-terminus with the full pool.

Benefit for Really Backward Families only
To contribute effectively to the socio-economic upgradation of the group or the sub-group, over a period of time, its quota or the sub-quota should target the candidates who really come from backward families within it. If this is not done and the quota of any group or sub-group goes to those candidates who come from families which have already gone up the socio-economic ladder, the group, as a whole, shall remain perpetually backward. Therefore, while the quota should be determined for a group or sub-group, the beneficiaries should only be the deserving individuals from its backward families.
To sum up, the conceptual breakthrough for a more rational system of reservation demands.

  1.  Every identifiable and self-conscious social group or sub-group should be entitled to its quota in proportion to its population and its index of backwardness, measured on the basis of uniform parameters by a competent authority.

  2. There cannot be separate parameters for different sets of possible beneficiaries but it would be best if the word 'economically' was added after the word 'socially' in Article 15(4). As it is, even the Mandal Commission prescribed some economic criteria because social and educational backwardness is often the direct consequence of economic backwardness.

  3. The level of backwardness should be measured every 10 years in the light of the decennial census which can easily generate the required data in respect of all recognized social groups or sub-groups.

  4. There should be no upper limit for the total reservation either for the state or for the community.

  5. The quota should apply not only to public employment (service, cadre, sub-cadre) but to admission to higher education, development and welfare schemes and flow of bank credit for self-employment as well as to legislatures.

  6. In case of organized cadres, reservation should apply to the cadre-strength and not just to annual vacancies.

  7. In public interest, there should be no carry over of unutilized quota.

  8. Reservation should not apply to internal or departmental promotions.

It is in this broad perspective that the reservation for Muslims in A.P. should be seen. The order of the AP Government appears to be a step in the right direction. Indeed the Muslim quota in A.P. should be increased in accordance with its population and its index of backwardness to about 10%.


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