Reservations for whom?
If the Sachar Committee report was made public soon after its submission in November 2006, the report of the Ranganath Misra Commission, though submitted in May 2007, was tabled in Parliament only in December 2009. And that too because the government was left with no choice after The Indian Express made its contents public, publishing chunks of the same. The government’s reluctance to table the commission’s report is understandable if not justifiable, given that its recommendations could be a political minefield. While the Sachar Committee’s recommendations were unpalatable only to the BJP and the rest of the Hindu Right, the Ranganath Misra Commission’s recommendations have received a hostile or mixed reception from many more quarters.
In essence, the commission’s preferred recommendation is for 15 per cent of jobs in government services and seats in educational institutions for minorities with a further subdivision of the same into 10 per cent for Muslims and the balance five per cent for other religious minorities. However, anticipating “some insurmountable difficulty”, it has made two “alternative” recommendations: one, out of the existing OBC quota of 27 per cent, reservation of 8.4 per cent for the minorities, the same to be further subdivided into six per cent for Muslims and the balance for other religious minorities; two, extension of the reservation benefits for scheduled castes to Muslim and Christian SCs who continue to be kept out of its purview. The two-thirds minorities’ share to Muslims is premised on the fact that they constitute 73 per cent of the total population of religious minorities. The rationale for reserving 8.4 per cent of the OBC quota for minorities is based on the Mandal Commission’s estimates of the share of minority OBCs among the total OBC population.
The commission’s rationale for its preferred recommendation: “As by the force of judicial decisions the minority intake in minority educational institutions has, in the interest of national integration, been restricted to about 50 per cent – thus virtually earmarking the remaining 50 per cent or so for the majority community – we strongly recommend that, by the same analogy and for the same purpose, at least 15 per cent seats in all non-minority educational institutions should be earmarked by law for the minorities”; “Since the minorities – especially the Muslims – are very much underrepresented, and sometimes wholly unrepresented, in government employment, we recommend that they should be regarded as backward in this respect within the meaning of that term as used in Article 16(4) of the Constitution – notably without qualifying the word ‘backward’ with the words ‘socially and educationally’.”
The rationale behind the “alternative” recommendations: one, unless there is a sub-quota for OBCs among minorities, the dominant OBCs will grab most of the quota for backwards; two, “Para 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 – which originally restricted the scheduled caste net to the Hindus and later opened it to Sikhs and Buddhists thus still excluding from its purview the Muslims, Christians, Jains and Parsis, etc – should be wholly deleted by appropriate action so as to completely delink the scheduled caste status from religion and make the scheduled caste net fully religion-neutral like that of the scheduled tribes.”
While opposition from the Hindu Right to any affirmative action favouring the minorities is only to be expected, the Ranganath Misra Commission’s recommendations are also facing resistance from several other quarters. Sections of the SCs are opposed to the extension of reservation benefits to Muslim and Christian Dalits, for it will take away a slice from their share of the cake. OBC Muslims are opposed to an across-the-board 15 per cent reservation in education and government employment for minorities, as they fear that the ashraf (upper-caste) Muslims will corner most of the benefits. The upper-caste Muslims meanwhile are enthusiastic supporters. OBC leaders of the likes of Mulayam, Laloo and Sharad Yadav seem to be in a bind. Endorsing the recommendations will mean “conceding” apportioning a part of the OBC share exclusively to minorities. On the other hand, opposing it will make them unpopular with a constituency whose votes they eagerly seek. It is precisely in this OBC zone of discomfort that the Congress sees for itself an opportunity to ingratiate itself with Muslims, opposition from the backward sections within the community notwithstanding.
On March 24, the Supreme Court issued an interim order upholding the validity of the Andhra Pradesh government’s four per cent reservation provided to backward members of the Muslim community in the state. Though the bench comprising Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan and Justices JM Panchal and BS Chauhan simultaneously referred the issue to a Constitution bench to examine the validity of the impugned act “since it involved important issues of the Constitution”, those who are pro-reservation see this as removal of the “insurmountable difficulty” faced by any proposal that sounds like religion-based reservation.
We strongly support the “alternative” formula: a sub-quota for minority OBCs and SC benefits for Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians. The Ranganath Misra Commission convincingly demonstrates that through the decades most of the benefits of SC, ST and OBC reservations have been cornered by certain dominant layers within the respective social segments. The result of an across-the-board 15 per cent reservation in government jobs and education will, we believe, be no different.
Archived from Communalism Combat, April 2010 Year 16 No.150, Editor's Note