With State Assembly election in Uttar Pradesh around the corner, and its campaign clearly floundering, the Congress has embarked upon a dangerous path that can only lead to social conflict. The party’s cynical move to set aside a quota for ‘backward Muslims’ within the 27 per cent reservation in Government jobs and educational institutions meant for the ‘Other Backward Classes’, is frighteningly myopic and must be thwarted. This is more than an electoral gambit and cannot be wished away as a tactical manoeuvre of insignificant consequence. It is calculated mischief with an eye to the Muslim vote of Uttar Pradesh.
The same calculation is reflected in Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati’s demand that Muslims be given their own quota in jobs and colleges. Both the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party could argue that they are merely paying heed to a demand voiced by Muslims, but that is far from the truth. For what is being sought to be done is to brazenly pander to a communal demand that flies in the face of the Constitution, its provisions and, indeed, its secular character in the hope that this will result in securing the support of Muslim voters who form a significant block in Uttar Pradesh and could swing results in several constituencies. In a closely contested election where four parties are locked in battle such consolidation could tilt the balance towards the Congress if it is allowed to proceed with its mischief.
Worse, if the Congress is allowed to have its way with demarcating a separate communal quota, it will prove to be the proverbial thin end of the wedge: From here to an aggressive revival of Muslim separatism is only a hop, skip and jump away. The demands that will follow will range from legitimising shari’ah courts to forcing women to stay at home. These demands have already been voiced from various for a and by institutions that claim to represent India’s Muslims, including Darul Uloom Deoband; conceding the demand for a ‘Muslim quota’ will add traction to them and fetch a hostile blowback.
No purpose is served by risking communal discord and this message needs to be driven home. The spurious recommendations of the Sachar Committee which has meticulously collated manufactured grievance to justify its claim that Muslims get a raw deal in this country and active state intervention is required for their social and economic development need not be cited as reasons for creating fresh social strife. The Congress-led UPA regime has already injected communalism into the planning process by setting apart funds for ‘special development’ of minority-dominated districts although statistically poverty among Hindus is far more widespread than among Muslims. The Prime Minister’s misplaced assertion that minority communities have the first claim to development funds has further fuelled apprehensions. If the Government were to now push through a communal quota, those apprehensions will be further strengthened. Muslims, like their fellow citizens of any other community, aspire for good governance and opportunity, not favors from a paternalistic state.