4.5% : Congress’ sleight of hand

Cheating is the name of the game when it comes to offering any real benefit to the Muslim community. In 1947, Muslims enjoyed reservation not only in government services but also in the legislatures, but it was taken away in the Constituent Assembly where defeatist Muslim members were coaxed to demand the removal of reservations for Muslims. In turn, Muslims were promised the moon: that in free India they will get more than they dream. And the result six decades later stares in our face - it is really what we failed to dream. From being on top at the time of independence, we lie today at the bottom of the Indian communities as per Sachar Report.

In 1950, through a constitutionally doubtful Presidential Order even Muslim and Christian dalits were deprived of their right to reservation and the wisdom offered ever-since is that as per Constitution, reservation cannot be given to any religious community. The facts deny it: reservation to dalits is religion-specific as they enjoy it only while they remain Hindu and as soon as they shun Hinduism the same is snatched away from them.

Waiting in vain for decades, Christian and Muslim dalits went to the Supreme Court a few years back seeking justice. All the signs are that the verdict will favour them but the central government has chosen not to reply to the apex court queries - a clear sign of playing for time in order to delay the verdict. Not only this, sources in the central government say that if the verdict went in favour of Christian and Muslim dalits, the government will appeal seeking a larger bench to look into the case - yet another delaying and denying tactic.

After the eye-opening Sachar Report, the central government itself appointed a high-level commission headed by a former chief justice of India (Justice Mishra) to suggest a remedy. This was in October 2004. After years of deliberations, Mishra Commission presented its report to the government on 21 May 2007. The government has since been sleeping on it. First it tried to keep it secret but somehow the report was leaked and now it is in public domain. It clearly recommends 15% reservation for minorities, out of which the Muslim share is 10% and any percentage left unused of the share of other religious communities will also revert to Muslims. Since then we have been hearing various excuses - that the UPA does not want to antagonise Hindu voters, that reservation to religious communities is "unconstitutional" (a former chief Justice was blissfully unaware of this "fact"). And now, as elections in a number of states, particularly U.P. approached, we heard that the central government after all is going to give reservation to Muslims, and that it will be close to the recommendations of Mishra. It finally came out on 22 December in a hasty decision designed to beat the Election Commission announcement of polls (after which such an announcement would have defied the model code). Minorities, and not Muslims were offered 4.5% sub-quota in the general OBC quota of 27%. The fact is that this quota was already available to some Muslim biradaris included in the OBC list. What is new is that that old quota has been segregated and identified so that minorities alone may avail of it.

This "4.5%" is now being marketed by Congress spin doctors as a sop to the "Muslims" while the fact is that it is for all religious communities which, like Sikhs, Christians and Parsis, are much more well-placed to avail this facility than Muslims. At best the Muslim share out of this 4.5% will not exceed 2.5%.

In sum, this "sop" is another sleight of hand by the Congress, while both the Congress and BJP practically follow the same policy of turning Muslims into new dalits. It is for Muslims to see if they are ready to accept this status or if they wish to change their fate using all possible avenues especially political empowerment by becoming a political force instead of remaining a captive vote bank.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 January 2012 on page no. 1

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