48 per cent Hindus back it

At a time when the debate over affirmative action for religious minorities has created a gulf between political parties, and led to tensions between the judiciary and executive, there is a high degree of support among India’s voters for reservations to the economically backward among minority groups. This support spans across the religious divide.

When asked if there should be ‘reservations for the economically backward sections among religious minorities in government jobs’, 50 percent of the respondents – interviewed by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies for the CNN IBN-The Hindu Election Tracker Survey – agreed. Only 17 per cent disagreed with the proposition, and 33 per cent did not have an opinion.

The demographic break-down of the respondents throws up interesting results.

48 per cent Hindus support reservation for the poor of minority groups, and only 18 per cent disagree. The support is higher among upper-class Hindus, with 60 per cent of them in favour of the affirmative action policy. 63 per cent Muslims support the idea, but a substantial section of Muslims – 27 per cent – did not have an opinion on the matter.

Some state governments have allotted a percentage of seats to Muslims and Christians from within the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category. In December 2011, on the eve of the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, the government announced 4.5 percent reservation to backward minorities, from within the OBC quota, in government jobs and admissions to educational institutions.

The Andhra Pradesh High Court struck down the sub-quota in 2012, saying there was no evidence to justify the classification of these groups as homogeneous or as backward classes deserving special treatment. It also said exclusive religious-based reservations were not permissible under the constitution. The government claimed the reservation was not only on the basis of religion, which is prohibited, but backwardness. The then Law Minister, Salman Khurshid, said, the ‘4.5 percent reservation is only among those castes included in the OBC list from minorities’. The matter is now pending before a five-judge Constitutional Bench in the Supreme Court.

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