The quota angst still haunts Muslims

By Mohammed Ali Shabbir

The best of intentions, notwithstanding, the fact of the matter is that making a reality of extending four percent reservation to Muslims was not the smooth sailing that all proponents had presumed. The journey was ridden with pitfalls of varying kinds, including legal hurdles, defiance by the prophets of doom, and inexplicable setbacks that delayed the process.

For instance, as the then Minister for Minorities Welfare when I floated the proposal to provide reservation to Muslims way back in 1994, I faced opposition not only from other communities, but even from the Muslim elite and religious leadership. A major opposition came from a considerable number of Muslims, who grew up with a laidback ‘Nawabi’ mindset and had this mistaken notion that the entire community was well-to-do and belonged to the ruling class.

Having been driven to the wall, literally, it took a very long time and the best of my persuasive skills to prevail upon the community leaders and my own party men, thereafter. I had to convince them that providing reservation to Muslims, who were socially, educationally and economically backward, was in their best interests.

I first became a Minister in the Cabinet of Dr. Marri Channa Reddy when I was 32 years old. I was retained by Dr. Kotla Vijaya Bhaskar Reddy, when he held the helm of affairs. Today, I can state that the two were stalwarts, whose political understanding had so much of depth that no politician of contemporary times can match their stature. A hallmark of their persona was that despite being ministers, we were treated as young learners, who were expected to do their home-work before coming up with any suggestions.

I still remember Dr. Channa Reddy’s pearls of wisdom when I was to face the first Assembly session as a Minister in 1989. He asked me to go through all questions pertaining to my ministries and exhorted me to be ready to answer every odd question that the Opposition benches would raise in the House. The epitome of humility, he delivered a sermon that I will cherish for as long as I am in public service. He quipped that the exalted Assembly was a place that was as sacred as a temple and mosque and no one should lie in the House just to duck criticisms for some administrative failures.

With that advice on the back of my mind, I did my home-work before taking forward the ‘reservation to Muslims’ proposal.

The Government of Andhra Pradesh constituted a Manohar Pershad Committee in 1968. Later, by G.O. MS. No. 870 dated 12-4-1968, the government appointed ‘Anatha Raman Commission’ to prepare a list of Backward Classes in the State as Socially and Educationally Backward Classes. The Commission submitted its report, taking which into consideration, the Government accepted the criteria adopted by the Commission and issued G.O. MS. No. 1793 (23-9-1970) making 25% reservation for Backward Classes as against the Commission’s recommendation of 30%.

This G.O. was also challenged before the AP High Court, which struck it down. On appeal, the apex court reversed the view of the High Court holding that the G.O. is valid ny being within the postulates of Article 15(4) of the Constitution of India.

Again in 1982, ‘N.K. Muralidhar Rao Commission’ was appointed to determine the nature of social and educational backwardness of different sections of citizens and to submit its report. The Commission made three major recommendations:

(1) To include nine communities in the Backward Classes category

(2) To enhance the quantum of reservation both in educational institutions, as well as services from 25% – 44%. The inter-division of this 44% among the Sub-groups ‘A’ to ‘E’ was specified as 10%, 16%, 8%, 8% and 2%, respectively.

(3) The reservations so provided shall be in force for a period of 25 years, and a detailed review may be undertaken either to continue the reservation or to modify them.

I was surprised to learn that Muslims were among the nine communities recommended for inclusion in the BCs list by the Muralidhar Rao Commission, which also recommended inclusion of Kapus, Balijas, Telagas and Ontari communities.

The Government of Andhra Pradesh had approved the Commission’s report with minor variations by issuing G.O. Ms. Nos.166, 167, and 168 dated 15-7-1986. It enhanced the quantum of reservation for Backward Classes from 25% to 44% and for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes from 14% to 15% and from 4% to 6%, respectively. They were up to be in vogue till the year 2000. However, this triggered large-scale protests across the State. Later, Andhra Pradesh High Court struck down the recommendations of Muralidhar Rao Commission relating to the enhancement of reservation quota for Backward Classes pointing out certain deficiencies and infirmities. But the court upheld the enhancement of quota for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Meanwhile, the Government of India sought to implement the report of Mandal Commission on Backward Classes and in a resultant litigation, the Supreme Court recommended the constitution of a permanent body to examine all complaints of wrong inclusion or non-inclusion of groups in the BCs list. On the directions of the Supreme Court, the Government of Andhra Pradesh constituted the Andhra Pradesh Commission for Backward Classes vide Andhra Pradesh Act No. 20 of 1193.

“There has been considerable unrest among members of various castes and communities in support of their long-pending demand and the government initially extended certain non-statutory educational benefits to students of certain cases whose parents or guardians income was Rs. 12,000 or less per annum. Similarly, certain economic support schemes have also been extended to parents, whose annual income was less than Rs. 6,000. These benefits were subsequently extended to Muslims along with other minorities.

However, the mere extension of economic benefits was felt inadequate as that would not entitle these castes for reservation of seats in educational institutions and jobs in government and local bodies, which indeed is their main demand. Ironically, certain similarly placed castes have been included in the list of Backward Classes in certain regions of the State and other neighbouring States. In these circumstances, the government made a request to the BC Commission for an interim report with regard to their social and educational backwardness. However, the Commission expressed its inability to do so.

Normally before any caste or community is included or excluded from the list of Backward Classes, the government is expected to first obtain a report from the Commission. It is not the policy of the Government under normal circumstances to deviate from this procedure. But so far as the demand of the castes and communities under references for inclusion in the list of Backward Classes are concerned, it is a long-pending demand, which, at times, led to unrest, for the simple reason that certain communities which are more or less on par with them in the matter of social and educational backwardness were included in the Backward Classes category. Thus, a sense of inequity has been haunting those communities giving rise to emotional upsurge demanding social justice.”

In view of the circumstances mentioned, the then Congress government ordered treatment of 14 castes as Social and Educational Backward Classes of citizens for the purpose of reservation of seats in educational institutions and for job recruitments in government and local bodies.

It issued a historic order G.O. MS. No. 30 on August 25, 1994 for inclusion of certain castes, including Muslims, in the list of Backward Classes. The G.O. was issued by the Backward Classes Welfare Department.

Through it, the government ordered that any reservation to the communities to be included in the BC list will not cut into the quantum of reservation available to those who are already recognised as BCs. Further, the government made it clear that separate orders would be issued to decide:

i. the percentage of reservation to be earmarked to the castes and communities to be included in the list of BCs;

ii. the group/classification/class in which they should be included;

iii. the economic criteria to be applied for the entitlement of the benefits extended to the Backward Classes under the rules.

First among the communities to be included in the BC list were Muslims followed by Kapus, Balijas, Telagas, Ontaris, Ayyakara, Kasi Kapidi, Patra, Gajulabalija (whose present profession is sale of bangles), Nagaralu, Pondara, Kurakala, Quresh (Muslim butchers) and Pala-cklari.

Meanwhile, six days after the release of GO, the State Government on August 31, 1994 constituted a BC Commission headed by Justice K.S. Puttuswamy and assigned the task of deciding the percentage of reservation to be given to 14 new Castes in the BCs list.

The release of this GO was not an easy task. I had to coordinate with the officials of Backward Classes Department, Law Ministry and other experts to make a strong case to provide reservation for Muslims. We undertook a comprehensive study on the status of Backward Classes in the State. The list of BCs, which was in force till August 1994, was based on the recommendations of the Anantha Raman Commission appointed in 1968.

Unfortunately, within four months after the release of GO MS No. 30, the Congress party lost the general elections and TDP came to power. Despite being on the job for eight-and-a-half years, the Puttuswamy Commission did not give a single report. The government spent Rs. 35 lakh on it every years and Rs. 2.59 crore overall. This was the reason reservation for Muslims, Kapus and other 12 communities remained stagnant. The well-nurtured dreams of the Congress party were thrown asunder. We feel sorry that people in genuine need for such benefits paid a heavy price for no fault of theirs.

(Mohammed Ali Shabbir is a former minister & ex-Leader of Opposition in Telangana State Legislative Council)