By Mohammed Ali Shabbir
Mahatma Gandhi was erudition personified when he observed “Never make a promise in haste.”
It goes without saying that this timeless classic applies not only to individuals but people from across the spectrum, especially to politicians and political parties.
Forget about cleansing the system, over the years it has diluted to such obnoxious levels that these days only a miniscule section takes politicians at face value. A majority of the people does not trust political parties and politicians when they vow to deliver, which is nothing short of promising the moon.
Manifestoes that promise Utopia before the run-up to elections cease to be sacred once a party comes to power. Soon after getting people’s nod to helm affairs of the State or nation, as the case may be, the policy makers rarely take a second look at the promises made to the people. Apparently, they take comfort in the ‘public memory is short’ dictum.
The bigger irony is that the mandarins create such a hype should they fulfil some of the promises that people actually forget the bigger promises.
However, this is not the case with Indian National Congress (INC). Right from inception, the party has been according priority to fulfilling each and every promise made to the people. Given this quest to serve the people of every section, it is with utmost care that promises are drafted and incorporated in the manifesto. We can go the extent of stating that no decision is taken unilaterally. Every promise that is mentioned in the Congress manifesto will undergo thorough scanning, a detailed study of ifs and buts and after umpteen brain-storming sessions.
The promise of giving five percent reservation to Muslims in Andhra Pradesh (undivided) was one such promise made by the Congress party in 2004 elections.
I was one among 250 leaders who participated in the party’s national-level Chintan Baithak at Shimla in 2003. AICC President Smt. Sonia Gandhi was presiding over the event.
I was a member of the Social Empowerment Group and among the subjects that were assigned to me was one pertaining to the development and status of Muslims in India.
In my capacity as a minority leader with loads of experience and in-depth understanding of the subject, I was asked to speak about the steps that could ensure development of Muslims, measures the Union Government can take and the strategy to be adopted at the department-level and the process of implementing the proposal.
I presented my report during the Chintan Baithak and it drew appreciation from all, including Smt Sonia Gandhi, who actually described my report as one that was “highly practical”.
Besides doing an overall analysis of the conditions of Muslims in the country, the proposal to accord them reservation on par with BCs was debated at length.
Since elections for Lok Sabha and Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly were being held simultaneously in 2004, the Congress began preparing separate manifestoes based on inputs procured during Chintan Baithak.
Accordingly, a separate Manifesto Committee was constituted for Andhra Pradesh and I was nominated as its co-Chairman on Muslim issues. The two major promises made by the Congress party included providing free power to farmers and five percent reservation for Muslims in jobs and education. The Congress party stormed to power and Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy became the Chief Minister. I was re-elected from Kamareddy seat with a handsome margin and was also inducted into the Council of Ministers.
I take particular pride while recalling that in keeping with our party’s spirit for collectivism, the first file signed by Chief Minister Dr Reddy pertained to supply of free power to farmers and the next task he accomplished was earmarking five percent quota to Muslims, particularly in education and employment.
Fast forward by 15 years and what do we have? We are confronted with a particularly scornful scenario. Telangana State Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) made a categorical promise in Shadnagar on April 19, 2014, whereupon he assured to enhance reservation for Muslims to 12% within four months of coming to power. KCR has been calling the shots for the past six years but there is no indication of honouring his assurance to Muslims.
In contrast to KCR’s empty promises that were meant to win over Muslim electorate with raising false hopes, we did not set any deadline for fulfilling the promise of five percent reservation to Muslims. It is an indication of our purposeful governance and our determination for the all-round growth of all sections that we achieved it in less than two months, 58 days to be precise. Of course, we did our homework in earnest.
On June 2, 2004, a high-level review meeting was held with Secretaries of all major departments to implement the five percent reservation. Based on the outcome of that meeting, two days later, the State Government issued G.O. MS. No. 50, directing the Commissionerate of Minorities Welfare to conduct a study to examine the social, economic and educational backwardness of Muslim community in the State for the purpose of including them within the purview of the Backward Classes of citizens under Articles 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution. The Commissionerate was directed to submit its report by an early date.
On July 5, 2004, it submitted its report to the government.
The Commissionerate recommended 5% reservation to Muslim minorities in employment, education and other fields on par with Backward Classes. The State Government accepted the recommendations and issued an order vide G.O. MS. No. 33 (dated 12-07-2004), directing that Muslims be provided with 5% reservations in educational institutions and employment in the State.
Although this move was challenged in the High Court, which later struck it down, immediately after issuing the GO, in the first year itself nearly 7,000 poor Muslim students benefitted from the policy. While 187 Muslims got admission in medical colleges, 55 joined dental colleges and as many as 4,500 students got admission in different engineering colleges. Thousands of others got admission in other professional courses that they aspired for.
I wish to make it categorically clear that reservation was not given on the basis of religion but purely on socio-economic and educational factors based on an in-depth study conducted by the Commissionerate of Minorities Welfare, headed by the Ex-Officio Commissioner.
The study findings were that around 65% of Muslims were living Below Poverty Line (annual income of Rs. 11,000 or below) and 16% are living under Double Poverty Line (an annual income of Rs. 44,500 or below). The literacy rate among Muslim minorities was only 18% as against the 44% average among other communities in the State as per 1991 Census. The literacy rate among Muslim women was even more abysmal at 4%.
The study revealed that most of the Muslims are engaged in petty business activity (pan shop, tea kiosk, selling fruits and flowers or as labourers in engineering workshops, watch servicing and repairs of radio & TV) in addition as artisans. It also revealed that the socio-economic conditions of the community were poor because of abject poverty, illiteracy and inadequate representation in various fields of the society.
The Commissioner recommended five percent reservation in jobs, education and other fields to ensure appropriate uplift of Muslim community. The State Government accepted the recommendations and issued G.O. MS. No. 33 on July 12, 2004, ordering that Muslims in the State be provided with 5% reservation in educational institutions and employment in the State, over and above the reservation provided to Backward Classes. It ordered that Muslims be treated as Backward Classes under Category E (in addition to the existing A, B, C, D Categories).
The GO was later struck down by the High Court, which also directed the State Government to constitute a BC Commission to conduct a study on socio-economic conditions of Muslims. Subsequently, the BC Commission went about a painstaking, but successful, process like holding public hearings and seeking information from various sources, besides incorporating the report prepared by former IAS officer P.S. Krishnan. It identified 14 castes among Muslims, as being socially, economically and educationally backward and recommended 4% reservation in jobs and education under BC-E.
The State Government accepted the reservation and enacted a new law the Andhra Pradesh Reservation in favour of Socially and Educationally Backward Classes of Muslims Act, 2007 (Act No.26 of 2007) which was passed in the Assembly on August 13, 2007. This was again struck down by the High Court but later stayed by the Supreme Court.
Therefore, the promise of five percent reservation (changed to four percent by the courts) for Muslims was not a promise made in haste but it was as envisioned by Mahatma Gandhi.
The Congress party, under the leadership of Smt. Sonia Gandhi Ji, and spearheaded by Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, ensured that the promise was fulfilled despite several hurdles, much to the delight of millions of people from the community. Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Congress party, there is a sense of contentment among them.
(Mohammed Ali Shabbir is former minister & ex-Leader of Opposition in Telangana State Legislative Council)