Why Modi’s poll histrionics accusing Congress of potentially fracturing away SC/ST quotas to Muslims is a spurious claim?

Muslim SEBCs enjoy the benefits of reservation under the OBC category in Gujarat –under BJP rule since 1995-- and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have a constitutionally mandated provision for reservation which cannot be taken away without amending the Constitution

On April 23, while delivering the election speech in Tonk (Rajasthan), Prime Minister Modi alleged that Congress had “intentions” to provide reservations to Muslims from the quotas earmarked for the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs), Business Standard reported. Similarly, at his rally in Banswara (Rajasthan) on April 21, Modi had targeted the opposition Congress of hatching a conspiracy to redistribute country’s wealth to Muslims, particularly the wealth of Hindu women. 

To better understand the controversy, it is helpful to refer to the impugned manifesto. While the Congress manifesto (Nyay Patra) talks about growing inequality in the country between richest of Indians and the large number of poor, it only says that “We will address the growing inequality of wealth and income through suitable changes in policies.” 

In the same fashion, Nyay Patra mentions that “Congress will conduct a nation-wide Socio-Economic and Caste Census to enumerate the castes and sub-castes and their socio-economic conditions. Based on the data, we will strengthen the agenda for affirmative action.” Ironically, the manifesto notes that Congress “guarantees” that it will pass a Constitutional amendment to raise the 50 per cent cap on reservations for SC, ST and OBC.

Why SC/ST reservations cannot be transferred to Muslims (legally)?

Muslims in India are given reservations only under the categories of Other Backward Classes (OBC) and/or Socially and Economically Backward Classes (SEBC), the lists for the same are prepared by the Central and State governments respectively. 

Effectively, this means that any increase in Muslim quota can be only undertaken at OBC/SEBC level, without touching the integrity of the SC/ST reservation. Furthermore, as the ST/SC reservation is a Constitutional reservation, nobody can remove these categories from the benefits of reservation unless a Constitutional amendment is made in that regard, which is politically unsustainable. Furthermore, SC/ST converts from Islam are not eligible for reservation benefits under SC/ST category, and the case is pending before the Supreme Court in this regard.

The Constitution (One Hundred and Fifth Amendment) Act, 2021 modifies Articles 338B, 342B, and 366 of the Constitution to allow state governments to prepare their own socially and economically backward classes lists for the purpose of giving reservation to these communities, apart from the ones already covered under the OBC list prepared by the Central Government. This amendment had to be carried out because after the passage of 102th amendment Act, followed by the Supreme Court judgement in Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil v. Chief Minister, Maharashtra, the court had held that due to 102th amendment Act states did not have the power to make their own SEBC lists.

How do the Muslims fare within OBC/SEBC reservation?

While the possibility of a religion, if it is proved to be socially backward, constituting a class in itself cannot be ruled out, much of OBC reservation today is also based on socio economic indicators of caste groups within communities. Thus, it is not the religious identity per se, but caste identity (irrespective of religion) on the basis of which OBC reservation is generally granted. Though Andhra Pradesh did provide reservation to Muslims exclusively on the basis of religion, the State justified it on the basis that the whole religion is backward in the state. Pertinently, Muslim quota did not affect the quotas of other OBC groups, as the former had a separate 5% reservation over and above the traditional OBC list. Similarly, Karnataka provides 4% OBC reservation to Muslims out of total 32% earmarked for OBC category, but this has not significantly affected share of other OBC groups as the proportion for Muslim reservation has remained constant throughout. 

In any case, proving backwardness of a group (caste/religion) before granting reservation remains a legal requirement, whether it is for group A or group B, irrespective of caste or religious considerations. 

In the past courts have cancelled the reservation granted to the groups for the absence of valid data to support the claims of backwardness for incorporating these groups under OBC/SEBC reservation. The most recent example of this can be found in Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil vs The Chief Minister and Ors., where the Supreme Court quashed the SEBC Act of Maharashtra state as amended in 2019 for breaching the 50% limit on reservations, as the court did not find any exceptional circumstances for giving flexibility to override the 50% limit set by the apex court in Indra Sawhney vs. Union of India.

Muslim castes under OBC/SEBC lists in Gujarat 

The list of SEBC castes/groups prepared by the state government of Gujarat has 30 entries (out of over 140 such entries) covering numerous Muslim castes under its SEBC reservation policy. Similarly, Central list of OBCs for the State of Gujarat prepared by the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) has 23 entries in which various Muslim castes are provided benefit of OBC reservation. Thus, the fearmongering that Muslims will take up the space of other groups in the SC/ST/OBC categories might not be true when the PM Modi’s home state itself has generous provisions for various Muslim caste groups, quite reasonably so. 

Interesting, in 1985 when the Madhavsinh Solanki of the Indian National Congress was ruling the state of Gujarat, he increased the SEBC reservation from 10% to 28%, calculating his political moves on the basis of KHAM strategy (Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims). The move was profoundly rewarding, with the INC bagging 149 seats out of 182. 

Importantly, the Baxi Commission report –a decade before in 1975—identified around 35.5% of population in the state as backward, and the move to increase the SEBC reservation in the state was strengthened on that basis. Later, after studying that Baxi Commission report that was submitted in 1975-76, the government issued a resolution in 1978 adding 82 castes/classes/groups in the SEBC category (with 21 such entries for various Muslim caste groups). While the Solanki government benefitted from increasing the SEBC reservation from 10% to 28%, it also sparked massive protests and riots in the State, especially in Ahmedabad as the people starting opposing OBC quotas, which together with ST and SC quotas took the total reservation in the state to 49% percent. Notably, Gujarat also remains prominent in the 1980s for anti-Mandal riots, which eventually became anti-Muslim, as the opposition to KHAM gathered pace (and as Kshatriyas lost ground to their political rivals Patidars with the emergence of the BJP).

Despite changes in the fortunes and alterations in the government, with the BJP ruling the state since 1995, there has been no demand or attempt to take away reservations provided to sections of caste groups within Muslim community (which was initially provided on the basis of their backwardness alone). 

This reality –given the fact that Narendra Modi himself ruled the state for a significant 17 years — makes it even more ironical that his recent campaign claims against the Indian National Congress (INC) sound hollow. Gujarat has sat comfortably with 12-15 Muslim OBC caste groups enjoying the benefits of reservation as per the Baxi Committee report. So, in spite of Prime Minister making grand claims about Muslims’ taking away resources or reservations of the SC/ST/OBCs, the home state of the PM has since long identified and understood that large sections of Muslims are still fairly backward, and the last 25 years of BJP rule has not made any moves to exclude these Muslim caste groups from the state list of SEBCs!

The Gujarat state list of SEBCs may be seen here



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