Why and how Muslims were given quotas under OBC reservation in Karnataka

PM accuses Congress of providing reservation to Muslims on religious basis in Karnataka

May 03, 2024 09:00 am | Updated 10:08 am IST - Bengaluru

Post-independence too, Muslims continued to be part of the reservation matrix in Karnataka as they were categorised as a backward class. 

Post-independence too, Muslims continued to be part of the reservation matrix in Karnataka as they were categorised as a backward class.  | Photo Credit: MURALI KUMAR K

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing a poll rally in Rajasthan’s Tonk-Sawai Madhopur Lok Sabha constituency on April 23, accused the Congress of “snatching the reservation of SCs, STs and OBCs and providing it to Muslims through the backdoor”, tying it up with his charge that “Congress would redistribute the wealth of people to Muslims”. He claimed that Congress had already done so in Karnataka and said it  was “against the spirit of the Constitution” as it did not allow reservation on religious grounds. 

Mr. Modi who repeated the claim at multiple poll rallies since then even said that he would not allow Congress to bring in “religion-based reservation to Muslims till I am alive” at a poll rally in Hyderabad on Monday. 

On the same day Mr. Modi made this charge for the first time, Hansraj Gangaram Ahir, Chairman, National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), a BJP leader and a former Minister of State in the Narendra Modi cabinet, issued a press note and said he would seek clarification from the Chief Secretary of Karnataka about the 4% reservation given to Muslims in the state. 

In the press note he referred to the 17 and 19 Muslim castes included in category 1 and 2A respectively of the backward classes reservation matrix in Karnataka as “various castes within the Muslim community that have been historically underprivileged and victimised” .

However, with regards to the 4% reservation provided to Muslims under Category 2B of the OBC reservation matrix in the state, he said that “religion based reservation affects and works against the ethics of social justice”. He argued that “socially and educationally backward castes/communities cannot be treated on par with an entire religion” and said this led to the observation that “the rights of actual OBCs are being taken away”. 

Is Muslim Reservation new in Karnataka? 

Calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charge a “blatant lie” and NCBC’s press note a “politically motivated lie”, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said that his government had not introduced any new reservation for Muslims as it was being made out to be, but the fact remained that “Backward Classes (BC) reservation of Muslims has been in existence since 1977 (04.03.1977) and it has withstood legal scrutiny”. “Successive Backward Class Commissions, namely, Havanur, Venkataswamy, Chinnappa Reddy, and Prof. Ravi Verma Kumar Commissions have recognised Muslims subject to income ceiling as Backward Class,” he clarified. 

Reservation for Muslims in Karnataka dates back to 1874

The princely state of Mysore has been a pioneer in introducing reservation to achieve fair representation and social justice. The first ever order for affirmative action was issued in 1874 and it included Muslims. 

The first ever census conducted in India in 1872 revealed a preponderance of Brahmins in public services, to correct which the first order introducing reservation was introduced in 1874 in Mysore state, restricting it to only the Police Department. A roster of posts was created and of every 10 posts, the first two were reserved for Brahmins, while the remaining eight were reserved for “Muhammadens and other Hindus”. This is considered to be the first ever order of reservation in India and it included Muslims, as a community that needed representation. 

When this measure was deemed woefully insufficient and demands rose for better representation, the king of Mysore formed the Miller’s Commission in 1918, which gave its report in 1921. Miller’s Commission also classified “Muhammadens” as a “Backward Class” and the community was given reservation. 

Reservation for Muslims post independence a contentious issue

Post-independence too, Muslims continued to be part of the reservation matrix in Karnataka as they were categorised as a backward class. It has also been time and again challenged in the courts on the grounds that Muslims cannot be given reservation, as reservation in the Constitution is limited to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (both Hindus). However, the courts have upheld providing reservation for Muslims under the Backward Classes quota in several cases pertaining to Karnataka itself and many states have this provision. 

One of the first commissions to recommend a reservation for Muslims in the state after independence was the R. Nagana Gowda Commission which submitted its report in 1961. It categorised Muslims as a backward class and brought over 10 castes among them in the most backward category. It was implemented in 1962, but was challenged in the court. 

After the issue was put in the backburner for over a decade, again L. G. Havanur Commission formed by D. Devaraj Urs-led Congress government recommended inclusion of Muslims under the OBC list and it was implemented through an order in 1977. This was also challenged in the High Court. But a division bench upheld the government order, which was again challenged in the Supreme Court. 

In 1983, the apex court ordered the formation of a new Backward Classes Commission to take a fresh look, which led to the formation of Venkataswamy Commission in 1984. Its report, which again recommended Muslims to be included in the OBC list, was rejected by the then Ramakrishna Hegde led Janata Party government as it recommended exclusion of Vokkaligas and some sects of Lingayats, making it a political hot potato. 

To resolve this impasse, yet another Commission was formed led by O. Chinnappa Reddy, who again recommended inclusion of Muslims in the OBC reservation matrix, based on which the Congress government led by M. Veerappa Moily fixed 6% reservation for Muslims, Buddhists and Dalit converted Christians in Category 2 in 1994. However, a Supreme Court judgement in the Mandal Commission case capped reservation at 50%, following which the state government led by H. D. Devegowda of Janata Dal created Category 2B for only Muslims and fixed the quantum of reservation at 4%, which stays to this day. 

How are Muslims categorised in the OBC reservation matrix of Karnataka? 

The OBC reservation matrix in Karnataka is categorised as: Category I (Most Backward), Category II (A) (Relatively More Backward), Category II (B) (More Backward), Category III (A) (Backward) and Category III (B) (Relatively Backward). Based on surveys and studies by the Karnataka State Commission for Backward Classes of the socio-economic and representation parameters of various communities they are assigned to these categories. 

Presently, 17 Muslim castes in the state like Kasai, Kasab, Nadaf and Pinjaras, have been determined to be “Most Backward” and assigned to Category 1 which includes 95 castes and has 4% reservation in the state. Likewise 19 other Muslim castes like Ataris, Luhars and others have been determined to be “Relatively More Backward” and assigned to Category II (A) which has a total of 102 castes and has 15% reservation in the state. Apart from these 36 castes among Muslims, the rest of the community have been determined to be “More Backward” and assigned to Category II (B) which has only Muslims and has 4% reservation in the state. 

Muslims in all three categories have been determined to be “backward” to varying degrees by surveys and studies of various backward classes commissions and included in the reservation list, and Category II (B) for Muslims is not based on religious grounds, as alleged by Hansraj Gangaram Ahir and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ruling Congress in the state and multiple past presidents of backwards classes commissions have argued. In support of their argument they point out that the reservation matrix in Karnataka, a pioneer in affirmative action, includes all communities of the state, but five - Brahmins, Arya Vaishyas, a section of Jains, Nagarthas and Modaliars - in it. Not just Muslims, other religious minorities like Christians, Buddhists, Digambara Jains and Sikhs also enjoy reservation benefits under the OBC category, they argue. 

BJP’s aborted attempt to remove Category II (B) for Muslims 

In March 2023, just over a month ahead of the assembly polls in the state last year, Basavaraj Bommai government pressed hard to accommodate reservation related demands of Panchamasali subsect among Lingayats. The government announced that it had scrapped Category II (B) which gave 4% reservation to Muslims, moving them to Economically Weaker Section (EWS) quota of 10% meant for the poor in forward communities that do not enjoy reservation benefits and dividing up the 4% in II (B) to Vokkaligas and Veerashaiva Lingayats, hiking their reservation by 2% each. 

However, this was challenged in the Supreme Court arguing there was no basis on which the Muslims who have been considered “backward” since 1921 Miller’s Commission Report were clubbed under the forward castes. On April 26, 2023, the BJP-led state government gave an undertaking before the apex court that the order making changes to the OBC reservation matrix will be kept on hold. This was after the Supreme Court had earlier made observations that the move was on a “highly shaky ground” and “flawed”. 

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, responding to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charges that the Congress government has given Muslims reservation based on religion once it came to power, has hit back saying the status quo stands as per the affidavit given by the BJP government in the Supreme Court in April 2023 and the government has made no changes to it later. 

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