However, Mr. Shabbir Ali was adamant and firm on getting reservation benefit for the community. The Congress party was preparing for 2004 elections, both at the State and Central level. Now his only aim was to make the Congress High Command accept the demand for Muslim Reservation and commit for the same in the 2004 Manifesto. He was confident that once the party president Smt. Sonia Gandhi promises something, then she fulfills it at any cost.
The Manifesto Committee was constituted and it was conducting meetings on regular basis. He utilised the services of a voluntary and other independent organisations to conduct a sample survey comparing the lifestyle of Muslims and BCs associated with the same profession. Muslims associated with professions like washer men, tailors, barbers, etc., were selected for a study on their socio-economic conditions compared to other BCs who are into the same professions.
There are several politicians, bureaucrats and even law experts who argue that reservation could not be given on the basis of religion. This is nothing but intellectual discrimination against Muslims. They want to deny deserved benefits to the economically and socially backward Muslims for the simple reasons that they practice Islam.
There are also many Muslim leaders and intellectuals who oppose quota on the grounds that Islam preach equality. Their argument is correct only on one count. Islam indeed preaches equality. All Muslims are equal and there is no discrimination, whatsoever, within the community. But the same Islam has made Zakat mandatory and also prescribed the people who are eligible to get Zakat. While making Zakat mandatory for rich Muslims, Islam has enabled the poor and downtrodden Muslims to benefit from the same. Therefore, Islam has supported the cause of poverty alleviation through the system of Zakat.
We have never sought reservation on the basis of religion. We never said that we want quota in jobs and education just because we are Muslims. We sought reservation on the grounds that the Muslim community is more backward than the identified Backward Classes in socio-economic aspects. While people living in same conditions are being extended the benefit of reservation, the same set of people is being denied the opportunities just because they practice Islam. This discrimination is illegal, immoral and unconstitutional. The Constitution of India has guaranteed equal rights for all citizens, irrespective of their caste, creed or religion. Therefore, a poor Muslim Dhobi should get equal benefits as a Hindu Dhobi.
Armed with this argument and the socio-economic survey of Muslim community in Andhra Pradesh, Mr. Shabbir Ali participated in the Chintan Baithak held at Shimla by the Congress party at the national level in 2003. He was among 250 leaders who were invited for this brain-storming session which was presided by our President Smt Sonia Gandhi. She also included me in the Social Empowerment Group and among the subjects which were assigned to me included the development of Muslims in India. He was asked to speak about the steps which should be taken for the development of Muslims, the measures to be taken by the Central Government, the strategy to be adopted at the Department-level and the process of implementing the proposal.
Mr. Shabbir Ali presented my report in the Chintan Baithak. It was well received by all, including Smt Sonia Gandhi and other top leaders. It was widely debated and Smt Sonia Gandhi described it as “highly practical”. Besides doing an overall analysis of conditions of Muslims in India, the proposal for giving reservation for Muslims on par with BCs was also discussed at length.
Before 2004 elections, he accompanied the then Leader of the Opposition Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy on a foreign tour. They had an in-depth discussion on the sad conditions of Muslims in India since independence, the factors responsible for them and how the community declined from being a dominant community to a suppressed class. Although the importance of Muslim votes gained more prominence in every election, the successive governments failed to address the key problems concerning the community.
Since the elections for Lok Sabha and Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly were being held simultaneously in 2004, the Congress began preparing separate Manifestoes based on the inputs it got during Chintan Baithak. A separate Manifesto Committee was constituted for Andhra Pradesh and Mr. Shabbir Ali was nominated as its co-Chairman on Muslim issues. The major issue concerning Andhra Pradesh State was related with farmers. Thousands of farmers committed suicide during the 10 years of TDP’s misrule in the State and they needed immediate attention. The other major issue was the deteriorating condition of Muslims in the State.
The two major promises of Congress party were free power for farmers and 5% reservation for Muslims in jobs and education. The rival parties, especially the TDP, could not digest the Congress manifesto. Its leaders ridiculed our promises. The free power scheme was described as non-practical. They were reminded that the Punjab Government had withdrawn the free power policy after finding it impractical. The promise of Muslim Reservation was considered as non-implementable and impossible.
But they perfectly did our homework and we went to the people with our manifesto. People believed us and our party returned to power. I was re-elected from Kamareddy seat with a huge margin. I was also inducted as Cabinet Minister.
The first file that Dr YSR signed after taking oath as the Chief Minister was of free power for farmers. The next task was giving reservation to Muslims. In just 58 days after coming to power, the Congress Government issued GO Ms No 33 giving 5% reservation to Muslims in the State in jobs and employment. It was given based on a socio-economic survey done by the Osmania University.
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 into various other professional courses.