Total Muslim Reservation: A Lesson To learn
For SP, BSP & Congress
By Ashok Yadav
23 November, 2011
Let me start with an interesting event. On July 23, 2005 outside the expansive dome shaped S K Memorial Hall in Patna there were a number of television media vans to cover live the conference going on inside the hall. The hall with a seating capacity of more than two thousand persons was full and equal number of people were standing and sitting on the stairs of the hall and moving here and there inside the campus. The ambience was electric owing to many factors. In assembly elections in February the same year Bihar could not form a government as none of the political party (or the political alliance) could get a clear majority. The assembly was put under suspended animation. Then one mid-night the newly elected assembly which had not even assembled once was ordered by the UPA government to be disbanded paving the way for second round of election in coming November. Political environment in Bihar was tense. On one side was Laloo Yadav whose fifteen years long government had been ousted in February. On the other side was BJP backed Nitish Kumar. The people of Bihar had given mandate to none to form the government. Laloo and Nitish were therefore locked in a fierce political battle for the November rounds of election. It was unthinkable in those times to find the duo present together at a forum. The organizer of the event Ali Anwar, President, All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaj and now MP (Rajya Sabha), had like Yudhistir in Mahabharata flashed an ambiguous news to the media that Laloo and Nitish both would grace the occasion, however, without mentioning the fact that both would come separately. That the duo would be sitting together was very big news for media. The media had made elaborate arrangement to cover the event. Many news channels ran the program live. As it turned out both graced the occasion indeed but, however, separately. While Nitish, then MP (Lok Sabha) inaugurated the program and went away, Laloo came afterwards, obviously waiting for Nitish to depart from there, and delivered the closing speech.
What was so special about the event that compelled the two to go there?
In the month of October in the preceding year the UPA-I government decided to constitute National Commission For Religious and Linguistic Minorities (NCRLM) under the Chairmanship of Justice Rangnath Mishra, the former Chief Justice of India. The commission was entrusted the following terms of reference:
To suggest criteria for identification of socially and economically backward sections among religious and linguistic minorities. To recommend measure for welfare of socially and economically backward sections among religious and linguistics minorities, including reservation in education and government employment. To suggest the necessary constitutional, legal and administrative modalities as required for the implementation of their recommendations.
Ali Anwar led All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaj raised a banner of revolt against the terms of reference for it spoke of giving reservation to socially and economically backward sections among religious and linguistic minorities. Mahaj was of the view that since socially and educationallybackward sections among religious minorities were already covered by state backward lists and central OBC list, the term socially and economically backward was used to refer to upper caste sections among Muslims and that the constitution of the Commission was nothing but a ploy to bring the upper caste Muslims under reservation. If UPA-I constituted commission for reservation to socially and economically backward among minorities, NDA had already set up earlier in the month of February (the same year) Commission for Economically Backward Classes (CEBC) ostensibly for giving reservation to the upper caste people in general on economic basis. Ali Anwar on behalf of the Mahaj submitted a memorandum to Sri Rangnath Mishra, Chairman, NCRLM. Para 2(1), 2(2) & 2(3) of the memorandum read:
Item (C) of the terms of reference of NCRLM (as also the similar item in the terms of reference of CEBC) is to suggest “necessary constitutional modalities” or in other words amendments to the Constitution required to permit classification and recognition and identification of the spurious unconstitutional constructs put forward by the government, for extraneous reasons…It is well established that the Legislature does not have unlimited license to amend the Constitution in whichever manner the ruling party of day wishes. The Supreme Court has rightly laid down the concept of the basic features of the Constitution in the Golakhnath case, the Keshavananda Bharati case and other cases. No amendment of the Constitution is permissible which tampers with any of the basic features of the Constitution. The two pillars of equality…viz. person-to-person or individual –to-individual or citizen-to-citizen equality in all spheres and its exception/reinforcement through special provisions only for SC and ST and SBCs including SBCs of Muslims and of any other religious minority or any linguistic minority constitute a basic feature of the constitution, which is sacrosanct and unalterable…“Economically backward classes/sections” or “socially and economically backward classes/sections” of religious and linguistic minorities and “economically backward classes” are spurious constructs and irrational classifications which cannot be accommodated within the four walls of the Constitution by any amendment. Any such amendments are not likely to secure the special majority required by Article 368 of the Constitution and, even if they pass in the legislature, will be challenged before the Supreme Court and liable and likely to be struck down by the Supreme Court on the ground of violation of a basic feature of the Constitution. You as top legal luminary of the country and former Chief Justice of India is very well aware of the Constitutional doom fated for and faced ab initio by the exercise undertaken by the government and it would be wise and constitutionally appropriate that the Chairman calls it off before any wasteful public expense is incurred and advises the government to immediately wind up this commission (as well as CEBC).
The late Ashfaq Hussain Ansari former Member of Parliament from Gorakhpur (UP) on Congress Party ticket was also present on dais in S K Memorial Hall on that fateful day. In his separate memorandum to NCRLM on behalf of his Centre of Backward Muslims he quoted the judgment of Justice P B Sawant in the famous Indira Sawhney case (better known as Mandal case):
The backward class of citizens referred to in Article 16 (4) is the socially backward class of citizens whose educational and economic backwardness is on account of their social backwardness. A caste itself may constitute a class. However, in order to constitute a backward class the caste concerned must be socially backward and its educational and economic backwardness must be on account of its social backwardness….The economic criterion by itself cannot identify a class as backward unless the economic backwardness of the class is on account of its social backwardness…The adequacy of representation is not to be determined merely on the basis of the overall numerical strength of the backward classes in the services. For determining the adequacy their representation at different level of administration and different grades has to be taken into consideration. It is the effective voice in the administration and the total number which determines the adequacy of representation….Reservation of seats or posts solely on the basis of economic backwardness i.e. without regard to evidence of historical discrimination as aforesaid finds no justification in the Constitution…Of the total religious minorities population more than 75% belongs to these “bulk” and less than 25% belong to the other category who are generally called ‘Ashraf’ or elite and ‘non-indigenous’. Less than 25% are getting more than 75 percent positions and more than 75 percent are getting less than 25 percent positions. This is the factual position. The figure of Muslim representation in parliament and legislatures also speaks the same truth…Now the Lok Sabha list of members is available under one binding from first to thirteenth lok sabha. One can minutely examine and find the names of backward muslims in the list, without much difficulty. From first to fourteenth Lok Sabha around 7500 members were elected but out of this only around 400 muslims could be elected, and out of this 400, 340 belong to Ashraf elites or Muslims of non-indigenous category. The representation of ‘bulk’ of backward muslims is only 60. The figure of Bihar Legislative Assembly is also available. From 1952 to 2000 only 276 Muslims could get elected and out of which 217 belong to Ashraf category and only 59 belong to non-Ashraf category.
Ashfaq Hussain Ansari has quoted from reports of “National Commission For Review of Working of the Constitution” chaired by Justice Venkatchalliah as well:
Backward classes belonging to religious minorities who have been identified and included in the list of backward classes and who in fact constitute the bulk of the population of religious minorities should be taken up with special care along with their Hindu counterparts in developmental efforts for backward classes.
Total Muslim reservation would have put on stake the nascent Pasmanda movement. As part of agitation against NCRLM Mahaj decided to call a convention to draw the attention of the political class to the damaging effect the total Muslim reservation would have on Pasmanda movement in particular and the social justice movement in general. As the demand to scrap Rangnath Mishra Commission (NCRLM) gathered momentum it began to acquire political dimensions. Mahaj declared that whosoever would support the demand to scrap the constitution of NCRLM would get support of Mahaj in the upcoming assembly elections.
Since the day Laloo ordered his administration to arrest L K Advani he throughout enjoyed undiluted support of Muslims. However, the social-political churning that Mandal caused among the backward sections also began to affect the apparently monolith Muslim society. Like the Hindu backward castes the Muslim backward castes too began to assert themselves against Muslim upper castes. The hitherto unchallenged domination of the Muslim upper castes over Muslim society and polity came under strain and began to crack. Laloo sensed the crack in the Muslim monolith and lent attentive ears to the emerging Pasmanda leadership. He took many steps including nominating Ali Anwar as member of State Backward Class Commission to give a message to the Pasmanda that he was their natural leader. There are indications to suggest that upper caste Muslim leadership put counter pressure and succeeded in convincing him that Pasmanda movement was at the best an aberration and that the illiterate and backward Muslim masses still followed the fatwa of the ulemas. It also appears that in absence of a caste census they also convinced Laloo that the Pasmanda contrary to the popular perception numbered much less than the estimate of not less than seventy five percent or even more.
Laloo’s RJD was the second largest party in UPA-I and carried weight. The Pasmanda who had solidly supported Laloo in his battle against BJP now wanted clarification from him if he supported the canon of total Muslim reservation or, in other words, reservation on the basis of economic backwardness and wanted promise from him that he would exert pressure on the UPA government to withdraw NCRLM. As Pasmanda formed not less than seventy five percent of Muslim population Laloo could not have ignored the invitation to attend Mahaj’s convention. In order to put pressure on Laloo Mahaj also invited Nitish.
It was like students union election in which the two contenders had been invited by the public to present their views on a core issue. Nitish smelled the great opportunity that the convention concealed for him. That the biggest block of Muslim population chose to invite a person whom the BJP’s L K Advani had projected as chief minister candidate indicated the sea change that the Muslim politics had underwent only in a handful of years. The presence of a non-BJP government at the centre had given a prospect to the Pasmanda to do an experiment with Nitish who was not only an OBC but also belonged to non-BJP segment of NDA. Nitish had nothing to lose as the Muslim had never supported him in his battle against Laloo. At the centre he was in the opposite camp of UPA government. So, when he inaugurated the convention attended by the Pasmanda delegates from all over Bihar he gave loud and clear message that reservation could never be given on economic and religious basis and that the constitution of NCRLM was against the tenet of constitution for which he lambasted the central government. He promised to raise the issue in the parliament in the monsoon session, which he did on returning to Delhi. He went away. Then arrived Laloo. He had dared to come in a field full of mines but was clueless as how to clear them so as to emerge unscathed. He was more faithful to the UPA government and its decision to constitute NCRLM than to his politics. His hesitation in supporting the cause of Mahaj and in declaring the constitution of NCRLM as unconstitutional was unmistakable. Nitish had won the debate. Later Mahaz took the decision to support Nitish’s JD(U) candidates but did not support Laloo’s RJD where it was pitched against BJP. They did not vote for BJP either. In order to teach Laloo and RJD a lesson for turning head against the Pasmanda they preferred to waste their votes by voting in favor of secular candidates of other parties who were not in a position to defeat BJP. This hugely benefitted BJP. The traditional understanding that being anti-BJP was the first principle for being called a secularist had taken a nosedive. Rest is history. The issue of total Muslim reservation, a euphuism for narrow caste-class interest of the Ashrafia i.e. the upper caste Muslim elites, had taken its toll on one of the greatest champions of Muslim masses in independent India.
It is often discussed that people have short memory and the politicians exploit this. But the way the issue of total Muslim reservation has been raked up in the run up to the UP assembly elections may provoke one to remark that politicians too have short memory which is exploited by the influential sections. Apropos of UP assembly elections a few months away from now, it can be said that SP, BSP and Congress have miserably failed to learn a lesson or two from the ignominy suffered by Laloo in not taking a clear stand against the issue of total Muslim reservation in Bihar assembly elections, 2005. Laloo misread that Pasmanda factor was weak and not at all in a position to influence the election outcome.
The Pasmanda of UP is alert and attentively watching the stand of each and every political party on issues concerning it. Different organizations and segments of Pasmanda have already held many congregations on their demands. In the last UP assembly elections held in 2007 the Pasmanda could not affect the poll outcome. However, in the last five years the Pasmanda movements have made deep forays in UP. The Pasmanda of UP and Bihar are in close contact and sharing experiences of movements with each other.
Rangnath Mishra NCRLM has meanwhile submitted its report and recommendations. The Pasmanda is quoting Rangnath Mishra report in support of their old demand to include dalit Muslims in SC list. Contrary to the popular perception, they are not pleased with its recommendation of giving separate reservation to OBC Muslims as this gives an opportunity to the OBC politicians of saffron camp to raise communal passion once again. Break up of unity with Hindu Pasmanda is the last thing they want. Secularism and social justice are not just two key words but the very foundation on which the whole Pasmanda movement rests on.
Equipped with Bihar experience the Pasmanda may spring surprise in the coming UP elections. Beware, SP, BSP and Congress!
[The writer is social justice activist and writer. He is attached with All India Federation of Backward Classes (OBC) Employees Welfare Associations headquartered at Chennai. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)
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