Congress and vote bank quota

Govt plans quota for Muslims, not development plans Sachar panel wanted

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | September 22, 2011



Union law minister Salman Khurshid announced on September 18 that the government was planning to bring in reservations for Muslims in educational institutions and government jobs. He didn’t provide details but going by his disclosure that the Andhra Pradesh model was being considered, it may be safely assumed that the plan is to provide four percent reservations for the religious minority group. So long as we continue with our policy of reservation as a means to empower the socially and economically backward segments of our society, there can be no argument against the latest move. After all, if reservations can be given on the basis of caste then why not on the basis of creed? And there is no denying that Muslims are one of the most backward communities in the country.

The reservation, however, is different. The Congress-led union government’s concern is not so much about improving the Muslim lot but to win their votes and thus, the next elections. It is vote-bank politics. That is why every now and then we have some group or other staging bandhs and blockades to press for a share in the reservation pie. The Jats enjoy reservation in some northern states but cut down water supply to Delhi a few months ago because they want reservation in union government jobs. The Gujjars of Rajasthan get reservation benefits as part of the OBC but want a larger share by being included in the list of the scheduled tribes. In Rajasthan, even upper caste Brahmins and Rajputs want reservation.

In 2004, the Congress-led UPA set up the Sachar committee to prepare a report on the social, economic and educational conditions of the Muslims. The committee suggested various welfare measures – more ‘regular’ schools, dedicated welfare funds, better representation in local bodies, better access to credit facilities, encouragement to mixed localities etc. Reservation was not one of those. The union government is yet to implement any of those measures (see interview with economist Abusaleh Shariff in this issue).

Instead, it set up the Ranganath Mishra commission which proposed 10 percent reservation for the Muslims and another five percent for other minority groups in education and government jobs. It is this measure Khurshid said his government was eager to implement, but only for the Muslims because they form a significant chunk of the vote bank (a little more than 13 percent of the population). With the looming UP assembly elections, chief minister Mayawati too is following the same path and has demanded reservations for the Muslims, as well as for the poor among the upper castes.

In January 2009, the Kerala high court made an interesting observation while dealing with the state government’s move to provide a quota for the poor students from the forward castes in educational institutions. The court said it was time to bring down the reservation in both government jobs and educational institutions because the socio-economic condition of the beneficiaries – scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes – had undergone “revolutionary” changes and that it was also time to “awaken these communities from the slumber of satiated insouciance”. While the revolutionary changes the court talked about may be relevant to the discourse on the conditions of the targeted groups in that particular state, or those of the neighbouring states, but not for the entire country, reservation has been turned into a political sop nobody is willing to give a second look at.

There are far better ways of achieving genuine and lasting improvement in the socio-economic conditions of the underprivileged. Access to quality education and vocational training, access to easy credit facilities for setting up private business, access to good health care and civic infrastructure etc are some of these measures. As we argue in our cover story, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has achieved remarkable success in improving the lot of everyone, including the Muslims, through such measures. Reservation only increases the hunger for more handouts without fundamentally altering those conditions that necessitate it in the first place.

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