Government in a cleft stick on Muslim reservation

Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Minister of State for Minority Affairs Salman Khursheed at conference of State Minorities Commissions in New Delhi on Wednesday.   | Photo Credit: — Photo: V.V. Krishnan

Vidya Subrahmaniam

We are yet to take a view on Ranganath Misra report, says Khursheed

NEW DELHI: The Muslim demand for a separate 10 per cent quota in education and jobs, as recommended by the Ranganath Misra Commission, has placed the government in a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don't' situation. The dilemma came through clearly in the ministerial speeches at Wednesday's daylong conference of the State Minorities Commissions organised here Wednesday by the National Commission for Minorities.

Both Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who inaugurated the conference, and Minister of State for Minority Affairs Salman Khursheed, who was the guest of honour, reiterated the United Progressive Alliance government's commitment to provide reservation to the minorities. Yet neither touched upon the Commission's specific recommendation of a 10 per cent quota for Muslims within an overall reservation of 15 per cent for the minorities.

Mr. Chidambaram described reservation as “perhaps the most effective instrument of affirmative action.” He said his personal view was reservation fulfilled the requirement of affirmative action best. However, there was need to debate how this objective could be met for the minorities. The Constitution sanctioned reservation for the “socially and educationally backward,” but issues such as compartmentalising reservation and the mandate to keep quotas within a ceiling had also to be considered, he said.

Mr. Kursheed pointed out that the Congress manifesto committed the party to providing reservation for Muslims. This resolve was strengthened by the Sachar Committee conclusively establishing the community's backwardness, he said, holding up Tamil Nadu as a model to follow. (The State has an exclusive 3.5 per cent reservation for Muslims, but within the Backward Classes quota).

Later, Mr. Khursheed told The Hindu that the government was yet to take a view on the Misra Commission report. “As matters stand, the OBC route is open for Muslim reservation.” Going beyond this had implications which required careful consideration. Even in the States that granted Muslims a separate quota, the criterion was “backwardness” and the path was the OBC route.

At a press conference on Tuesday, an umbrella group of Muslim organisations said the community would not accept any formula that adjusted it within the existing 27 per cent OBC quota. The organisations were agreeable to exclusion of the creamy layer but not to any dilution of the 10 per cent exclusive quota.

The governments' dilemma is two-fold. Exclusive reservation for Muslims, even with a “creamy layer” condition, could pose constitutional problems, not to mention the strong opposition it will invite from the BJP. On the other hand, incorporating an expanded Muslim quota in the OBC reservation will cut into the OBC entitlements, pitting the Congress and the government against the powerful OBC lobby.