Issue promises to be the new trigger for a heated political discourse

The government's decision on a sub-quota of 4.5 per cent for minorities within the overall 27 per cent reservation for the backward classes promises to be the new trigger for a heated political discourse just ahead of several Assembly elections, including the all-important poll in Uttar Pradesh just a few months away.

More than a decade ago, the V.P. Singh government ushered in the ‘Mandal revolution' in North India. It was marked by heat and passion, even death by immolation, before the issue was “settled” by the Supreme Court. Now the question of a separate sub-quota for the minorities, shown to be socially and economically backward by several studies, including the Sachar Committee report of 2006, threatens to re-open those old wounds when important polls loom on the horizon.

While privately some party leaders see this government move as nothing but a poll gimmick, they also recognise the issue is very real and could well become the central talking point in the coming polls. A recent “package” for weavers was also seen to be part of the Congress poll strategy.

“While many Muslim and other minority backward communities exist on the ‘Mandal' lists of States, they have not been able to benefit. This is a strong reason for a separate sub-quota,” those supporting the move are arguing. “It is time the issue is taken head-on, even if it means a re-look at the Constitution,” they said.

Equally firmly, some political parties are ranged against a separate minority quota. The Bharatiya Janata Party is leading the pack; talking of danger of a “civil war” in every village and further polarisation of Hindus and Muslims.

A core committee meeting chaired by president Nitin Gadkari on Friday discussed the issue threadbare. Party leader Rajnath Singh later said some States which have sub-quotas within the 27 per cent OBC reservation have done this by creating a most backward class category, not on the basis of religion.

He himself as U.P. Chief Minister created three categories within the OBC quota but not on the basis of religion. That was later quashed by his successor Mayawati. The BJP line is: “We are against religion-based reservation. It is unconsti tutional.”

On the other side of the political pole is the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Its Polit Bureau on Friday described the government move as mere “tokenism.” It went a step further demanding a 10 per cent sub-quota for the minorities as recommended by the Ranganath Misra Commission. It demanded that the Constitution be amended to make this “separate” quota possible.

The Samajwadi Party, the Janata Dal (United) and the Bahujan Samaj Party have welcomed the move, but after adding some ifs and buts. JD(U) president Sharad Yadav welcomed the government decision but raised the stakes by demanding a huge upward revision of the OBC quota to 52 per cent to reflect the numerical strength of the backward castes.

SP general secretary Mohan Singh said: “Amend the Constitution. We are not against the minority quota. But there are many backward castes which have not been able to get any reservation benefits as the 27 per cent quota is not being properly implemented.”

He was critical of the JD(U) for side-tracking the main issue by demanding increase of the OBC quota to 52 per cent.

The BSP is not in a position to totally oppose the move as it too wants a share of the Muslim vote-pie in the coming election.

The Congress view: it was simply carrying out what was promised in its 2009 election manifesto which gave it the mandate to rule. The manifesto referred to the party “pioneering” reservation for minorities in Kerala and Karnataka and committing it to “adopting this policy at the national level.” A Cabinet Minister said it was time this issue (of reservation for minorities) was re-visited, even if it meant it has to be tested in the Supreme Court. “We are ready to battle it out.”

More In: National | News