Unhappy with the way the strong Other Backward Classes (OBC) lobby stalled the government's effort to pass the Women's Reservation Bill in Parliament, the Congress on Tuesday said that it supported reservation for minorities as recommended by the Ranganath Misra Commission report, and hinted that one way of going about it would be by reducing the existing 27 per cent quota for OBCs.
The Commission has suggested 10 per cent reservation in government jobs for Muslims and another 5 per cent for other minorities, and favoured Scheduled Caste status in all religions. The recommendations cannot be accepted without changing the existing quotas as Supreme Court bars reservation beyond 50 per cent.
While the Schedule Caste status for Christian and Muslim Dalits can be implemented by invoking an executive order which was withdrawn in 1950, the issue is with providing reservation to minorities, particularly the Muslims. As the Constitution does not allow reservation based on religion, one way of implementing this recommendation would be to define Muslims as socially and educationally backward and bring them under the OBC category to ensure they get the benefits of reservation. But again, this would mean that some percentage of the existing 27 per cent reservation would have to go to the minorities or the new entrants in this group, which would be resisted by the OBCs.
Sources within the Congress feel that taking this route would help the party in “tackling'' Lalu Prasad (Rashtriya Janata Dal), Mulayam Singh (Samajwadi Party) and Sharad Yadav (Janata Dal-United) – as they can neither support nor oppose the proposal. If they support the idea, the OBC vote bank that is their strength will be unhappy and if they oppose it, they lose the Muslim vote. The Congress on its part has never banked on the OBC vote. The party's strength has been the Muslim vote and if implemented, the reservation would help only less than two per cent of the Muslim population.
The Congress believes that this would be a fitting reply to the three leaders for opposing the Women's reservation Bill by demanding quota within quota for Muslim and Dalit women. But if the same logic is applied on implementing the Ranganath Misra Commission report, it would go against them.
Finding reservation for Muslims as implemented in Kerala and Karnataka acceptable, sources in the Congress said the courts had not questioned the decision of reservation for Muslims but only found fault with the manner in which the commission that made such a recommendation had prepared its report.
The party is also thinking aloud in terms of calling for a census of the OBCs and the Scheduled Castes, and believes that it would reduce the percentage of population under the OBCs and enhance the percentage of SCs which would in turn change the percentage of reservation also.