In its race for the Muslim vote in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress launched a frontal attack on the Samajwadi Party on Saturday: party general secretary in charge of U.P. Digvijay Singh accused SP supremo Mulayam Singh of trying to fool the Muslims by promising 18 per cent reservation for the community, as that would require a constitutional amendment to back which that party did not have the requisite two thirds majority in Parliament. He also expressed surprise that there were no anti-RSS statements emanating from Mr. Mulayam Singh.

“Mulayam Singh has promised a separate 18 per cent reservation for Muslims, which is not part of the OBC quota,” Mr. Digvijay Singh said, adding, “he says he will get the Constitution amended for this. But the fact is that he does not have the two thirds majority necessary for this either in the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha.”

Mr. Digvijay also wondered why Mr. Mulayam had not created a Muslim quota when he was chief minister. Explaining the difference between the promise made by the Congress and the SP, he said, the Congress' effort was to replicate what it had done for Muslims in Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

“In our 2009 manifesto, we had promised 4.5 per cent reservation for minorities. The Sachar Report had said that of the 13.6 per cent Muslims in the country, 8.66 were OBCs. So the rationale used for fixing the OBC quota – half its population, i.e. 27.5 per cent – was decided,” he said, elaborating, “similarly, it was decided that the minority quota would be half of 8.66, i.e. 4.3 which was rounded off at 4.5.”

The burden of Mr. Digvijay's diatribe against the SP was that while what the Congress had promised was doable without any difficulty, the Samajwadi proposal could never come to fruition as reservation on religious lines was not permitted by the Constitution, and the party would simply not be able to muster the support it needed to get an amendment through in Parliament.

Mr. Mulayam's gameplan is, of course, to try and assuage the feelings of the non-Muslim OBCs who are upset that a quota is being carved out of their share, while trying to keep the entire Muslim community happy. While the quota within a quota may make the OBC Muslims happy, as they currently manage only around 2 per cent of the quota, non-OBC Muslims have been lobbying for reservation for the entire community.

Indeed, Congress sources admitted that the party leadership should have considered the impact of promising a quota within the OBC quota for Muslim OBCs – that it would alienate the OBCs – before it made the announcement.

Meanwhile, a day after distancing the party from Union Law Minister Salman Khursheed's statement on a nine per cent quota for Muslims in U.P. – within the OBC quota – if the Congress came to power, party spokesperson Rashid Alvi did another U-turn: he said his party favoured an increase in job quotas for backward minorities in U.P.

Mr. Alvi admitted that Mr. Khursheed had telephoned him on Saturday morning, explaining that as chairman of the party's manifesto committee, he wanted him to know that the Congress was going to include a promise of an enhanced quota for backward minorities, possibly between eight and nine per cent – the figure was yet to be finalised. Evidently, Mr. Khursheed had taken a dim view of Mr. Alvi's statement that what he had said was his “individual view.”