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In the searing heat of Karnataka election campaigns, the issue of 4 percent OBC quota for Muslims has emerged as a key issue. What is this controversy about and where do things stand now?
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) defended the scrapping of 4 percent Muslim reservation in poll-bound Karnataka, believing it’s a step in the right direction. Meanwhile, the Congress promises to restore it if it returns to power. In the searing heat of Karnataka election campaigns, the issue of 4 percent OBC quota for Muslims has emerged as a key issue, with the Supreme Court now weighing in as well.
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4% OBC reservation for Muslims — the what, why, when
In the year 1994, the HD Deve Gowda-led Janata Dal government provided 4 percent reservation to Muslims in the state under a separate classification, 2B, in the OBC (Other Backward Classes) quota.
An order by the Karnataka government dated July 25, 1994 stated that the government had gone through the various considerations of the Chinnappa Reddy Commission Report.
The order highlighted that the report "had been submitted after an elaborate investigation and collection of data and examination of such data, thereby determining the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes in the state".
Recommendations from the Mandal Commission Report and reports of other Backward Classes Commission were considered as well.
The government order mentioned a 6 percent reservation in Category 2B, which it had identified as "More Backward". The classification comprised:
3. SC converts to Christianity
Later, the state government amended the allocation to 4 percent via an order dated September 17, 1994. This was necessitated as the Supreme Court had directed the Karnataka government to restrict overall restrictions to 50 percent inclusive of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes and OBC.
In the same order, Buddhists had been shifted to Category 2A.
What the quota meant?
Under the quota, the 4 percent of seats in educational institutions and state government jobs were to be reserved for Muslims.
The Chinnappa Reddy Commission — The bedrock of the 4% quota
Officially known as the Karnataka Third Backward Classes Commission, Justice Chinnappa Reddy Commission submitted a report before the Karnataka Assembly in June 1990.
The commission included criteria such as legislative representation, land holding patterns, illiteracy rates, employment in public offices, annual family income etc to determine backwardness. The commission, in its report, stated that, "social and educational backwardness is a consequence of economic impoverishment, educational unawareness and caste degradation."
The report had further considered Muslims as a backward community in Karnataka.
Three decades on, the issue of 4 percent quota for Muslims has emerged as a key talking point in political parties’ election rhetoric.
Why the 4% Muslim quota is in the news today?
Well, the Basavaraj Bommai government can take some credit for that. In March this year, the Karnataka Cabinet scrapped the 4 percent reservation for Muslims under the OBC quota and distributed it equally among the Vokkaliga and Lingayat communities — both extremely important electorally.
The Lingayat and the Vokkaliga communities already had a reservation of 5 percent and 4 percent respectively.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah had lauded the move and said, "The BJP does not believe in appeasement politics." Shah even blamed the previous Congress government for granting reservation to minorities to further its appeasement politics. However, the 4 percent Muslim Quota was implemented by the Janata Dal government led by HD Deve Gowda.
ALSO READ | 'Muslim reservation is illegal, Congress did it for politics of appeasement' : Amit Shah Exclusive
The government’s rationale — the CM’s word
After the move to scrap the Muslim quote was taken, the chief minister said:
- Religious minorities quota done away with to be brought under 10 percent EWS category.
- There is no provision under the Constitution for reservation to religious minorities.
- Sooner or later, someone must challenge reservation to religious minorities. So, the government took a proactive decision.
- If you look at it optimistically, Muslims now qualify under a larger pool of 10 percent reservation under EWS quota.
- Total OBC reservation quota remains intact at 30 percent.
Days later, the Karnataka government notified the 10 percent EWS category. Muslims were the new addition.
Both the Congress and the JD(S) criticised the move. Karnataka Congress president DK Shivakumar called the move ‘unconstitutional’ and said his party would scrap the order if it comes to power in this year's assembly election.
Former Karnataka Chief Minister and JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy accused the BJP of scrapping the 4 percent quota to stir conflict between the Hindus and the Muslims.
The decision was challenged in the Supreme Court.
Enter the Supreme Court
During a hearing on April 13, the Supreme Court told the Karnataka government that prima facie, their decision to scrap the 4 percent quota for Muslims appeared to be 'flawed' and on a 'highly shaky ground'.
The court went on to observe that as per records tabled, it appears the government’s decision is based on 'absolutely fallacious assumption'.
The court, however, did not stay the order and asked the state to file a response.
Petitioners argued that no study was conducted before scrapping the quota and cited the lack of any empirical data.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared on behalf of the Karnataka government, assured the Supreme Court that no appointment or admissions will be made on the basis of the March 24 order till the next date of hearing.
Post this, there have been two adjournments on this matter (on April 18 and April 25) — both times at the behest of the Karnataka government.
Later, the state filed an affidavit defending their move, saying:
- Reservation, solely on the basis of religion is unconstitutional
- It violates the mandates of Articles 14, 15 and 21
- It militates against principles of social justice and secularism
- There were socially and educationally backward classes in society who have been historically deprived and discriminated against. The same cannot be equated with an entire religion
So, where do things stand?
As of now, as per the counsel’s assurances to the Supreme Court, the Karnataka government will not implement its new order at least till May 9, the next scheduled date of the hearing.
So, members of the Muslim community can still apply for jobs and admissions under the quota.
Karnataka Chief Minister Bommai said that they would not implement the decision of the to scrap the Muslim quota until Supreme Court took a decision.
First Published: Apr 26, 2023 11:09 AM IST
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