Reservation Issue: Political Hype!

The political irony linked with voices being raised for and against reservation for Muslims cannot be ignored for several reasons. The issue has never been viewed as an insignificant one but has tendency to hit headlines more for electoral reasons than for the progress of the Muslim community. If Uttar Pradesh assembly elections were not round the corner, in all probability, the issue would not have excited any political attention. Nor would it have contributed to any political debate. And this demands deliberation upon why are certain political authorities still under the impression that the Indian Muslim takes their concern for them seriously.  

The average Indian Muslim is well aware of the objections raised by certain extremist, right-wing organizations to their being granted reservation in any sector. The mere announcement of reservation of 4.5 percent to Muslims within the OBC quota has prompted these organizations to announce their protest against the same. In other words, if on one hand, the Congress is eager to attract Muslim votes by waving the reservation-carrot, the right-wing rivals are bent on exploiting the issue to create communal polarization. Whenever communal polarization has spread down to the masses, the real loser has been the Muslim, with him being forced to bear the impact of such communal sticks.

Isn’t it time when hype raised over reservation, whether for or against, around electoral period was strongly checked? In fact, reservation-promise can be viewed as nothing else but a means of bribing the Muslim voters. Countering the same by raising communal propaganda may be regarded as an attempt to incite masses to the stage of conflict. Neither of these steps can contribute to elections being held in an atmosphere, which may be regarded as politically and socially safe and healthy.  

 Besides, if the politicians concerned about the progress of Indian Muslims are really keen about taking constructive steps in this direction, there is no need for them to wait for electoral season to begin. This point also raises the question as to what prevented them from making announcements favouring the same reservation for Muslims earlier. Also, would it be fair to assume that reservations are the only means that can ensure progress of the Indian Muslim community? The Indian Muslims as well as the politicians are well aware that the reservation-rhetoric, at this temporal juncture, can at best lead to political debate, heated comments from those opposing it and plenty of media coverage. Neither of these can, however, help in the progress of the Muslim community. It can also not be expected to be of much political help to parties supporting or opposing the same. The situation may have been different if constructive steps had actually been taken earlier so that their results had been visible much ahead of the assembly polls and not just when the state elections were virtually round the corner.

Considering the degree to which the reservation-issue is exploited to, in essence, fool socio-economic groups it is supposed to help progressing, it would be more practical to abandon it totally. Now, abandoning this move does not imply backtracking from the course of helping the weaker socio-economic groups, including Muslims, in their development. Let us accept it, the Muslim population in this country, like other religious communities, is divided into too many ethnic, regional, religious and other divisions, to correctly decide as to which ones should be viewed as OBCs. This also implies that any announcement of reservation to a certain percentage of Muslims within the OBC quota has the potential to create divisions to the stage of tension and conflict within the Muslim community. Against this backdrop, it would be more practical to announce reservation for classes that can easily be identified as the most deserving.

 Yes, socially as well as politically, rather than opt for policies that have the potential to lead to tension, it would be more appropriate to consider the ones that may contribute to progress of all communities and the country as a whole. Rather than label any group as OBC, Scheduled or otherwise for the sake of ensuring them reservation because of their social identity, their economic status should be given greater priority. Let us accept it, there are economically unprivileged groups in each religious community, who may be recognized as high-castes but still cannot afford higher education and other basic facilities. If these sections remain sidelined, they cannot ever be expected to be in favour of reservation granted to other groups, whether Muslims or non-Muslims. In this context, serious attention should be paid to including them as recipients of socio-economic schemes ensuring their progress. The economic criteria would also play a major role in removing confusion about which ethnic groups should be considered for beneficial policies or not. Also, as constitutionally, the aim of such policies is to ensure social equality for all, the policy makers should start giving some importance to replacing the term “reservation” with other words, perhaps “scholarship” for education, “special advantages” for employment and other purposes.