The speeches were sober, the analyses clinical and dispassionate, yet the message rang out clear from the podium: Muslims want 10 per cent reservation in public recruitment and education, as recommended by the Ranganath Misra-headed National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities.
In a daylong meet, held in the Capital under the banner of National Movement for Muslim Reservation (NMMR), Muslim intellectuals and activists hailed the Commission’s recommendations as “unique and unprecedented” in the history of post-Independence India. They also urged the government to accept the Misra Commission’s other key recommendation: Amending the Constitution to bring Muslims and Christians within the ambit of Scheduled Caste reservation, now limited to Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists.
The coordinator of NMMR, Syed Shahabuddin, said matters had reached a stage where it was longer possible to avoid the subject of reservation for minorities, Muslims among them: “Muslim reservation has today become the litmus test for secularism.”
However, having said this, Mr. Shahabuddin and the other participants clarified that Muslims were seeking reservation not as Muslims -- which move could run afoul of the Constitution, not to mention Hindu right wing groups -- but as a backward, deprived class. Mr. Shahabuddin said Article 15 (1) of the Constitution prohibited discrimination by the State on grounds of “religion, race, caste etc.” but if the “religion, race, caste etc” were qualified by another criterion such as backwardness, the prohibition would not apply. He said Articles 15(4) and 16(4) gave expression to this caveat. The former enabled special provisions for the advancement of “any “socially and educationally backward classes of citizen” and the latter provided for reservation in jobs and appointments to any “backward class of citizens”
In a concept note presented at the seminar, Mr. Shahabuddin said: “It is notable that the Muslim community today is demanding reservation as a Backward Class, as a deprived group, who is almost as backward as the SC/ST and more backward than non-Muslim OBCs. It is not staking any historical claim or desiring any preferential or special dispensation.”
The participants said the Sachar Committee had statistically established the pitiable situation of the community while the Misra Commission was of the firm opinion that Muslims formed a weaker section eligible for special care and promotion under Article 46 of the Constitution. Mr. Shahabuddin said Muslims as a whole had been proved by every yardstick to be backward and were therefore entitled to reservation.
Member-Secretary of the Sachar Committee Abusaleh Shariff struck a note of caution. He urged elite Muslims to focus their attention on the uplift of their backward brethren. He said while reservation was undoubtedly one aspect of uplift, it was vital not to ignore other avenues of Muslim advancement. The Sachar Committee, with its emphasis on diversity and equal opportunity in the public sphere, suggested an entire package for Muslim advancement. “If we don’t have a clear strategy we will not get reservation, and the Sachar package will also go,” he said.