On Sunday, lawmakers in Telangana will meet for a special Assembly session, during which a Bill seeking to increase reservations for Muslims in educational institutions and places of work from the present 4 per cent to 12 per cent will be introduced.
That it will be passed during the session is a certainty because barring the BJP, that has five MLAs in the House, there is unanimity over the move.
The ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) says a 12 per cent quota for the Muslim community was its poll promise. Along with Muslims, the quota for STs is also likely to be increased from 6 per cent to 10 per cent.
That will take the reservations beyond the Supreme Court cap of 50 per cent, but chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao points to Tamil Nadu, where 69 per cent reservation is in place. Tamil Nadu's case is pending before the apex court and KCR argues India cannot allow Tamil Nadu to go ahead while disallowing Telangana.
To avoid chances of the legislation being struck down straight away, KCR makes it clear that the reservations were not in the name of religion but on the basis of economic criteria. YS Rajasekhara Reddy, when he became CM, had issued GO 33 in July 2004 providing 5 per cent reservations to Muslims by treating the entire community as backward class. But the government was forced to reduce it to 4 per cent so that reservations did not exceed 50 per cent.
KCR's argument is that after bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, the percentage of Muslims in Telangana has gone up. From 9 per cent in united Andhra to over 12 per cent in independent Telangana. "As 90 per cent of the Muslim population in Telangana is poor and socially backward, we have decided to increase the quota," he says.
It is significant that Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi had expressed his reservations over this Muslim quota to KCR as he fears that someone will get a stay on it in court and in the process, even the present 4 per cent quota may get impacted.
What this does immediately is to give the BJP an issue on a platter. The saffron party's intention is to accuse KCR of indulging in minority appeasement and hope to get the Hindu vote, especially young voters, to rally around the BJP in protest.
Since KCR and Owaisi are friendly parties, that will be attacked as well to make the focus on the Hindu vote sharper. Modi's development plank and the slogan of "sabka saath, sabka vikas" will simultaneously be presented as an alternative to the TRS.
|KCR makes it clear that the reservations were not in the name of religion but on the basis of economic criteria. Photo: Reuters|
The enhanced Muslim quota is not the only attempt by KCR to woo the Muslim community. Last month, the Telangana CM filled ten top posts in corporations. Five of those TRS partymen appointed as chairmen were Muslims. Politically, this will help the TRS take away the minority vote from the Congress, a party the community has traditionally backed outside Hyderabad.
With almost three years of his term over, KCR is slowly getting into poll mode, with many in Telangana suspecting he could even advance the election dates to catch the opposition off-guard. The Muslim quota is one step in that direction because should the courts strike it down, he could still go to the people claiming he tried his best.
The problem with the decision to hike the quota, however, is that it shows a paucity of ideas. To the political mind, reservations over the years have been the only way to help a community or caste group. It is a politically convenient tool to cultivate a votebank.
By selling the quota as a lollipop to the community, the government wants to pretend to be a benevolent ruler. Why didn't the KCR government in the last three years instead staff all Urdu medium schools, where the quality of teaching most often is mediocre?
It should have recruited English teachers to ensure Muslim students are able to efficiently compete with the world. Unfortunately, this is never a priority for the education department. Instead, the focus when it comes to Muslims is more on providing Haj subsidy and Ramzan gifts.
Education is the biggest gap when it comes to the community. Despite resistance from madrasas, they should be inducted into mainstream school syllabus. Bringing all madrasas under the government radar will also prevent radical elements from taking root. Instead, the police department for obvious reasons looks at all such institutions with a great degree of suspicion.
The Sudhir Commission that was instituted to study the socio-economic and educational status of Muslims in its report to the government pointed out that the share of Muslims in government services has dwindled in Telangana, just like in the rest of the country.
Muslims employees constitute only 7.36 per cent of the total number in Telangana. While the number certainly ought to be more given their population, the jury is out on whether the quota route is the ideal medication especially since it takes away the emphasis from aspiring for quality. And the standard of administration in the government suffers in the bargain.
If the STs after so many years of being provided 6 per cent quota are still "poor and backward", the question to be asked is whether there is need to relook at the reservation dole-out. The quota system without making a simultaneous attempt at improving their lot at the primary level is nothing but trapping them in the nomenclature of being backward and making them get used to the crutch.
But look at the equally pathetic response of the opposition parties, eager to ensure they are not checkmated by KCR's decision. Telugu Desam Party leaders argue that if Muslims are being provided close to 12 per cent reservations in keeping with their population, the backward class quota should also be hiked from the present 25 per cent to 52 per cent.
The backward classes constitute 52 per cent of Telangana's population. If the demand is accepted, Telangana will have 89 per cent of its jobs and seats in educational institutions reserved.
This August, India will mark 70 years of being an independent country. Perhaps it is the right time to relook at whether quotas as a way to mainstream the SCs, STs, BCs and Muslims have worked for the communities and India.
If they have worked, that cannot be a reason to increase the quotas. And if they have not worked as a policy, all the more reason to junk it or at least tweak it.