Home minister Amit Shah backed Karnataka government’s decision saying it was scrapped because it was constitutionally not valid
The Bharatiya Janata Party government in Karnataka has taken a decision to end the quota of four per cent for Muslims in the state, just ahead of an announcement of the schedule of polls for the next Assembly from the Election Commission of India.
Without any iota of doubt, it is a decision taken with an aim to influence the mood and narrative for the next elections, but the timing aside, the principle should be welcomed — that since the Indian Constitution does not allow it, there should be no reservations based on religion.
Home minister Amit Shah backed his party’s state government’s decision saying it was scrapped because it was constitutionally not valid, and since the Constitution did not provide for a quota based on religion, but only based on backwardness of a community socially, historically and economically, it had to be removed.
The BJP in the state added further nuance saying that it was not ending any quota but instead, merely “shifting” it — the four per cent quota for Muslims has now been shifted to the Lingayat and Vokkaliga communities; two per cent each. The issue has now become political, understandably, and predictably. The BJP blamed the previous Congress government of having provided for a quota for Muslims to create and cater to a religious vote bank and pursuing its appeasement policy. The Congress in turn has blamed the BJP for taking a communally-inclined decision with an eye on dividing the populace on an emotive issue.
In fairness, the reservation for Muslims as a policy in Karnataka was initiated by the-then Chief Minister H.D. Deve Gowda in 1994 and became a law a year later. After the BJP move, the quota for both numerically and politically strong communities — Lingayats and Vokkaligas will rise — to seven and six per cent respectively, whereas the Muslims can now qualify for reservation benefits only under the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) quota, in which they would compete with upper castes from other communities — but only those from families whose income falls below Rs 8 lakh per year.
The Karnataka state Congress president D.K. Shivakumar was brave in opposing the move, ahead of the state elections, calling it “right of minorities”, which cannot be given away to the majority community.
The leaders of the Muslim community have decided to hit the streets in opposition. The move will politically soon migrate to Telangana as well, where the BRS government has continued the Congress policy of four per cent of quota for Muslims. However, if the BJP opposes it in that state, it will snowball into a controversy and a point of contention for elections there as well.
But the time has come for India to contend with some simple home truths and one of them is that the time for quota politics is over. We must all agree to ensure that the reservations based on caste are kept below 50 per cent as per the Supreme Court’s guidelines, and all states which have exceeded it must be forced to cut it. Everyone else, including those from other religions, can only attempt for quota under the EWS. And once and for all, end the quotas based on religion.