Telangana Muslim Reservation Bill: Exercise in Deception, Unjust in Maths & Likely to Fuel Communal Populism

Written by Khalid Anis Ansari | Published on: April 21, 2017

A leading intellectual and leader of the Pasmanda movement, the author dissects the recently passed Backward Class, Scheduled Caste & Scheduled Tribe Reservation Bill, 2017 and explains it's deep flaws, most dangerous of all being the communal polarisation that will undoubtedly follow in a quota likely to be struck down

Muslim artisans making the pots for the Chhat pooja: Bihar

The recent Bill passed by the TRS government in Telangana that increased the quota for OBC (Pasmanda) Muslims and STs in public employment and education is flawed on many counts. Let me turn to the mathematics first. As we know the reservation structure in Telangana before the passing of the Bill was OBC 29% [Group A: 7%+Group B: 10%+Group C: 1%+Group D: 7%+Group E: 4%], SC 15% and ST 6%. The Bill has increased the OBC-E quota, which included 14 Muslim backward castes, from 4% to 12% and the ST quota from 6% to 10% thereby taking the quantum of reservations in the state to 62%.

The population of Muslims in Telangana is 12.68%. As far as Muslim castes are concerned while OBC-A includes Muslim scavengers (mehtars) and OBC-B includes the Muslim cotton carders (known variously as dudekula, laddaf, pinjari or noorbash) along with other Hindu backward castes, the OBC-E exclusively recognizes 14 Muslim caste groups. According to the Sudheer Commission Report (2016) about 81% Muslims were already covered in the existing OBC sub-quotas (A, B and E) and it were mostly the forward ashrāf castes like the syeds, pathans, mirzas, moghals, etc., that were excluded. One may therefore infer that 10.27% Pasmanda Muslims (81% of 12.68% Telangana Muslims) were already recognized in the OBC (A, B & E) quota before the passing of the recent Bill. However, the dudekula caste alone constitutes about 35% of Telangana Muslims and 4% of Telangana population. So after adjusting for the dudekula and mehtar castes the OBC-E group actually includes around 6% Muslim population. In that case the existing 4% quota for OBC-E was quite reasonable. The increase in OBC-E sub-quota from 4% to 12%, almost double the population that it actually encompasses, defies all rational argument to say the least.

How then does one interpret the recent move?

Before going further a few preliminary remarks would be in order here to contextualize the discussion:
A. Indian Muslims, like all religious groups, are differentiated into various caste groups. Historically, the high caste ashrāfs conceived Muslims as a ‘nation’ and mobilized for self-determination through the Muslim League before 1947 (When I say this I mean ashrāfs as a class. Indeed, a few nationalist ashraf Muslims like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and others opposed the Pakistan movement).

The 1946 elections which is dubbed as the consensus on Pakistan and in which Muslim League won handsomely was marked by a restricted electorate and ‘nearly 85% of the population was excluded...’. It is mostly the propertied and educated classes among Muslims, the high caste ashrāf, that voted for Pakistan and the vote of subordinated Muslim caste groups was not even put to test. In fact, lower caste Muslim organizations like the Momin Conference were actively contesting the two nation theory at the time, a factor much ignored in the dominant discourse.

It is due to the tragedy of the Partition that Muslims lost the reservations in Independent India that they enjoyed as a ‘community’ in the pre-1947 phase. One cannot simply demand a separate ‘nation’ and ‘reservations’ at the same time. The ashrāf class have already got what they desired—the nation-state of Pakistan—and now they have no moral claim left for reservations any longer. It is only the subordinated Pasmanda Muslims who can negotiate with the state for reservations now.  

B. Since the category ‘Muslim’ had already become a suspect category due to the Partition tragedy the ideologues of the Pasmanda movement have mostly preferred that similarly placed caste groups across religious communities be clubbed together for purposes of reservations.
In Bihar the OBC list is subdivided into Annexure I (Most Backward Classes) and Annexure II (Backward Classes) with most of the subordinated caste Muslims being recognized in the MBC category along with other Hindu castes. P. S. Krishnan has argued that sub-quotas like the “Backward”, “More Backward”, “Most Backward” and the “Extremely Backward” (Pichade, Ati Pichade, Atyant Pichade and Sarvadhik Pichade) could be crafted and similarly placed castes across religions and thereafter be judiciously accommodated. In this scheme while Extremely Backward refers to those castes which have neither skills nor assets (nomadic people or service providers), Most Backward to those who have no asset base but have skills (the artisans/craftsmen), the More Backward castes to the castes of small peasants, especially tenantry without rights, and the Backward to caste groups which have relatively substantial asset base but are yet socially backward. From the Pasmanda vantage point the Bihar Formula works well without triggering off communal polarisation and therefore the politics of exclusive ‘Muslim’ sub-quotas has been often criticized.   

C. Historically, religion has emerged as a political category in its own right and has been dominated by the interests of higher castes across religious groups in South Asia. It is indeed unfortunate that in the post-Partition phase due to their cultural capital and control over the community institutions, the ashrafs who had not migrated to Pakistan continued to represent the Indian Muslims. The persistence of the episodes of communal riots and symbiotic discourses of ‘Muslim backwardness’ and ‘Muslim appeasement’ whipped variously by high caste Muslim, Hindu or Secular nationalists have effectively worked to bury the substantive demands of survival and empowerment for the subordinated sections across religions. The limitations of secular-communal or majority-minority duopolies are too evident to be ignored now. I have called this the ‘post-minority condition’ elsewhere.

D. However, in the last few years with the substantive erosion of the state from employment and education, even the policy of reservations has become a useful tool for the hegemonic classes. The tendency to exploit the contradictions among the populace emerging from the principle of graded inequality in a caste-based social order is glaring. Hence, the politics of social justice has been effectively reduced to social engineering with all parties working to galvanise various caste/religious interest groups for electoral dividends. In this game reservation has become an affective rallying point for the bahujan salariat but has little to offer to the vast majority of other deprived community members. One has to rethink the overemphasis on the symbolism of reservations in social justice politics.

It is from the vantage point of the aforementioned discussion that one could understand the recent Bill. In all likelihood the revised quota will be struck down since it exceeds the Supreme Court ceiling of 50% for reservations and confronts the impossibility of being placed within the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution due to an unfavourable government at the Centre. While the TRS government credits itself for having realized one of the key promises in its manifesto by chalking out a 12% quota for ‘Muslims’, the BJP has predictably responded by suggesting that religion-based reservation may lead to creation of another Pakistan. While the almost coeval timing of PM’s recent statement concerning Pasmanda Muslims in Orissa (April 15) and the passing of the Bill by the TRS government (April 16) is indeed intriguing, commentators like Kingshuk Nag are not wrong in arguing that the Bill will pave the way for dangerous competitive communal populism and may advantage the BJP.

In fact, this drama could have been entirely avoided had the Andhra Pradesh government followed the Bihar Formula in 2004 itself when it first introduced the OBC-E category exclusively for Muslim caste groups. The subsequent Andhra High Court interventions rejecting this move as a ‘communal quota’ are sensible, but absolutely inconsistent because even OBC-C (which includes only Christian caste groups) and OBC-D (which includes only Hindu caste groups) are not technically immune from such a charge.

At the beginning of 2017 the AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi had asked the Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao ‘to exercise caution while increasing Muslim reservation to 12 per cent as it may give rise to legal complications and cause Muslims to lose the existing 4 per cent quota’. However, with both the AIMIM and Congress supporting the Bill now it seems that those fears have been probably allayed in their view. In fact, ‘Syed Ahmed Pasha Quadri (Majlis) supported the Bill and suggested an official amendment to create BC-F category to cover those groups among Muslims who had been left out. He wanted the existing 4 percent reservation for BC-E group containing 14 groups should be retained as it is and the additional 8 per cent hike proposed to cover Syed, Moghal, Pathan and local Arab groups’.

According to this position, Pasha suggests that one must continue with 4% OBC-E and the remaining 2.41% ashrāf  Muslims (19% of 12.68% Telangana Muslims) should get 8% reservations as OBC-F. This suggestion is again problematic because reservation is not a poverty alleviation exercise. Only socially backward and underrepresented sections can be included in the OBC quota. Ashrāfs are not socially backward and are already overrepresented in the Telangana government services (the representation of Muslims in Telangana government services is 7.36% which would be mostly cornered by them). There is no case at all for inclusion of ashrāf  Muslims in the Telangana OBC quota. The poor sections among ashrāf, or any other group for that matter, have to be addressed by other affirmative action/poverty alleviation programs and not through reservations.

Broadly speaking, the recent Bill appears to be a short term ruse by the TRS government to galvanise the Muslim vote-bank. It is bound to pave the way for communal rhetoric from which BJP is bound to benefit in the long run. Indeed, if one chalks out a 12% quota for 6% Muslim population segment then the charge of ‘Muslim appeasement’ doesn’t really appear off the mark at all. While being critical of TRS one may also ask that if the BJP is really serious about Pasmanda Muslims then it must work towards ensuring inclusion of Dalits belonging to Christian and Muslim communities within the SC quota. This has been a long pending demand of the Pasmanda Muslims and the BJP at the centre is well placed to execute that.

All in all, the recent Bill appears to be an exercise in deception, unjust in its mathematics and has the potential to ignite a spiral of dangerous communal populism. The strategic blunders of secular politics have turned out to be the biggest blessing for the BJP over the past few years. Since this is now understood even by a lay person on the street yet the persistence of such self-defeating moves, such as the recent Bill, pushes one to ask further: are they merely innocuous strategic blunders? Or worse?    

[The author is Director, Dr. Ambedkar Centre for Exclusion Studies & Transformative Action (ACESTA), Glocal University (India). However, the views expressed here are personal. He can be reached at [email protected]]

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