Are KCR's reservations for backward Muslims legally, politically correct?
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has brought reservations for socially and economically-backward Muslims to the centrestage of the national political narrative.
This is not the first time such a sensitive issue has been made the nucleus of political acrimony, nor is it expected to be the last.
The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government hasn’t stopped there. It has provided additional reservation for Scheduled Tribes, and has promised to further enhance the quota for Backward Classes and Scheduled Castes.
What's more, it hasn't classified the Muslim reservation as 'on the basis of religion', something to which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is vehemently opposed. In a bid to make it easier for the Narendra Modi government at the Centre to endorse the move, KCR has placed them in the supernumerary category of 'E' amongst the Backward Classes – which already has A, B, C and D classification based on the socio-economic conditions of the people of those castes and sub-castes.
Both Houses of the Telangana state legislature on Sunday passed the Bills meant to increase the reservations for Muslims from 4% to 12%, and the Scheduled Tribes (ST) from 6% to 10% for educational institutions and government jobs. The total percentage of reservations now stands at 62, while the state proposes to increase further.
KCR wants the Centre to delegate the authority of deciding reservations to the state, based on the local socio-economic conditions of different sections of the society.
This move has not only bolstered the confidence of the TRS government to make a proud proclamation that it is implementing its electoral promise, but has apparently turned out to be a political masterstroke that surreptitiously shatters BJP chief Amit Shah's Telangana dream.
Throwing PM's words in BJP's face
On Sunday, at the BJP national convention in Bhubaneswar, PM Modi had said: “There are backwards in the Muslim community. We must reach out to them. These welfare measures are for those who have been deprived of benefits of government policies.”
Interestingly, Modi's candid remarks in Bhubaneshwar came exactly when the BJP members, who found themselves singled out in voicing their opposition to the reservations, raised a hue and cry and were suspended from the Assembly.
State IT Minister and KCR's son, KT Rama Rao, took the transcribed portions of the Prime Minister's remarks and handed them to the Chief Minister, who was speaking on the Bill in the Legislative Council.
KCR aptly brandished the Prime Minister's statement like a sharp-edged sword against the BJP member in the Council, N Ramachandra Rao, and said: “You should support the Bill when the Prime Minister himself called for reaching out to the Muslims. It is a sheer coincidence that the Prime Minister's remarks came when a debate is underway on the historic Bill.”
He exuded confidence that the Prime Minister's statement obviously cleared the decks for it crossing the procedural hurdles before it became an Act.
The Congress put up a feeble opposition, but couldn't vehemently oppose the move. The Left and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehaadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), naturally, rallied behind the government.
The MIM's legislators and also Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi came out in support, with a rider that the state’s move should not prove detrimental to the existing 4% Muslim reservations.
KCR’s assertion that the Bill was intended at 'inclusive development' of marginalised population among weaker sections and minorities, after the formation of separate Telangana, seemed an effort to tighten the loose ends.
The Chief Minister said that the Muslim population went up from 9.56% in undivided Andhra Pradesh to 12.68% in separate Telangana. The Muslim population growth is put at 44.64 lakh after the formation of Telangana. Similarly, population of STs grew to become 9.08% after the bifurcation, from 7.11% earlier.
The state government had constituted two committees, with retired IAS officers G Sudhir and S Chellappa as chairpersons, to study and recommend steps, including the hike in reservation that would help the backward communities defeat their social, economic and educational backwardness.
The committees recommended enhancement of reservations – suggesting that the backward sections among Muslims be treated as BC-E category and the ST reservation be raised to 10%.
He said the Government would work on increasing the quota for scheduled castes. The Government has also constituted BC Commission with specific terms of reference to study the conditions of backward classes and make recommendations within six months.
Does it stand legal scrutiny?
This please-all move of the state government has far-reaching political consequences.
Legally speaking, the Supreme Court judgement in the Indira Sawhney and others vs Union of India case banned religion-based reservations, and capped the total reservation at 50%. However, KCR said the same judgement allowed higher percentage of reservations, in the event of the availability of 'quantifiable and impeccable' data.
The Chief Minister said in the Assembly that the government had followed all procedures, so that the enhancement of reservations would not get mired in legal wrangles.
Stating that the Tamil Nadu model, where reservations were enhanced to 69% and were incorporated in the Schedule IX of the Constitution, KCR extensively quoted the examples of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Haryana and Gujarat, apart from the Northeastern states.
Veiled threat to Centre
KCR also issued a veiled threat to the Centre, emphatically stating that if the Centre doesn’t take it up favourably and incorporate it in Schedule IX of the Constitution, Telangana would take legal recourse by approaching the Supreme Court. “We will not beg the Centre, but will fight to get the new reservation policy incorporated in the IXth schedule.”
He played to the gallery perfectly, as if taking potshots at the BJP, by asking: “Why can’t we give them reservation? Why should they be denied reservation just because they are Muslims? Are they not part of this country?”
KCR did not spare any opportunity to nurse the Muslim vote bank, saying India had the largest Muslim population in the world (it's actually second behind Indonesia).
“I am not hoping that things will happen overnight, as the legislation enhancing quota for Muslims and STs will have procedural aspects involved in it,” he said. The Bill has to pass through the Union Home and Law ministries, and thorough scrutiny by the Union government is mandatory.
Working president of the Telangana Congress Committee and senior legislator Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka said the BJP might not allow the incorporation of the Bill in the IX Schedule of the Constitution, for, the BJP is guided by the ideology of the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh. He doubted the Telangana government's commitment to implementing the enhanced reservations.