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Reserved For Muslims:WHERE ARE THE JOBS?, by Poonam I Kaushish,10 November 2006 Print E-mail



NEW DELHI, 10 November 2006

Reserved For Muslims


By Poonam I Kaushish

Circa July 2004 - November 06: The Congress-led Andhra Pradesh Government promises five per cent reservation for Muslims in government jobs and educational institutions. No matter, it is struck down by the High Court. The Congress-led UPA Government at the Centre reserves 50 per cent seats for Muslims in the 140-year-old Aligarh Muslim University.  Followed by a National Commission to examine the question of quotas for socially and economically backward sections among the religious and linguistic communities. Next came the Justice Sachar Committee “on social, economic and educational status” of the Muslim community. To a Ministry of Minority Affairs.

Circa November 06: “Pyare Musalman. What more can I do for you?” This dear reader, is the latest political vote-catching line. Simplistically, minorityism has replaced cronyism as the nouvelle fashion statement of the week. Take a 360-degree turn anywhere and minority appeasement hits you in the face. All in the garb of improving their quality of life (sic) which translates into “please give me your vote.”

How else should one react to the Prime Minister’s latest bonanza for the minorities of getting them a "fair share" in central and state government and private sector jobs.  Asserting that the nation "does not belong to any single race,” he grandiosely made it an “essential” perquisite of maintaining “communal peace and harmony”. Speaking at the Conference of State Minorities Commission in the Capital last week, Manmohan Singh also stressed the need for providing the youth from minority communities with skills to enable them to get their legitimate share in employment.

More. He asked the Chief Ministers to put in place a monitoring mechanism for better implementation of minority welfare schemes. Adding that a Bill to provide constitutional status to the National Commission for Minorities for it to play a more proactive role for the benefit of the minority communities would be taken up during the forthcoming winter session of Parliament. 

True, statistically speaking none can deny that the Muslims need a better quality life. Data collated by various commissions bring out the fact that socio-economic indicators for Muslims were below those for OBCs. About 59 per cent were illiterate, only 10 per cent went to school and a mere eight per cent opted for higher education. Worse, even as they were vastly under-represented in official jobs, they were grossly over-represented in India's prison population. None can deny that the Government’s fundamental mission is to provide job opportunities, education and upliftment of the minorities and backward classes.

But the moot point: Is reservation based on religion and community the answer? How does it better the lot of the mass of Muslims, if a few persons get jobs? Whatever happened to merit and excellence? When does justice supercede competence? Questionably is reservation an end in itself? Is the Muslim identity distinct from that of the Indian? Is he an Indian Muslim or a Muslim Indian?

Given the level of dishonesty and irresponsibility which increasingly governs our political system, this step will be an invitation to disaster. One, it would open once gain open the political-judicial can of worms. Remember, first the Andhra High Court struck down any reservation in jobs for Muslims as it went against the tenets of equality. Later the Supreme Court struck down reservation in private educational institutions as unconstitutional. Not only that. Barely had the controversy over job quotas in the private sector been strangulated by an incensed India Inc who politely told the Government to bugger off.

Besides, if reservation based on castes is bad, affirmative action on communal basis is horrendous. Ominous reasoning is being appendaged. It would bring the Muslims into the mainstream. Ensure harmony between the majority-minority communities. It would prevent Muslims from being exploited any more as vote-banks by the so-called secular parties. Really? Aren’t the Congress’s intensions just that? Exploitation in the name of social and economic upliftment. With our netagan merrily converting positive affirmation into vote percentage. Specially when they can reap a political windfall of over 70 per cent votes via reservation. Never mind if it pushes India back by a century.

Arguably, the Congress has ruled the country for nearly 50 years since Independence. What has it done to better their lot? Zilch. Only used it as a milching cow for votes in return for promises galore of a better deal. Post Independence, Nehru increasingly politicized religious energy. At the height of his popularity he never got more than 43.6 per cent of the popular mandate. Of this, the Muslim vote constituted 12 to 15 per cent of the total Congress vote, the largest block it received in the first few general elections. His daughter Indira went to the extent of acquiescing in the carving of a separate Muslim district of Mallipuram in Kerala by the CPM Government of the State to keep its nationwide vote bank in tact.

Thus, Muslim appeasement was no longer viewed by Congressmen as a luxury but as a matter of life and death. To be manipulated and held hostage by dubious promises. The reason why the Congress came out in favour of a reservation policy on religious basis in the Common Minimum Programme of the UPA Government and why Sonia chose to play footsie with the Jamiat-ul-Ulema not so long back. Even today, the Prime Minister’s job offer was clearly aimed at enabling the Congress to wean the minority vote bank back to its fold in the just concluded nagar pallikas polls in UP. Considered a mini-referendum before the State Assembly elections next year.

Clearly, UP is vital in the electoral sweepstakes on who sits on Delhi’s gaddi. Accounting for 80 Lok Sabha seats, the Congress knows only to well that unless it gets a sizeable chunk of these, its plans to occupy centrestage will come to naught. As Muslims account for 15 per cent of the population. It is another matter that it ended up with mud on its electoral face. Specially as it lost in Gandhi bastion Amethi.

That apart, the danger in imposing arbitrary quotas in job reservation is two fold. One, any deterioration in work output which reflects in short-changing Brand India could jeopardize the country’s remarkable story of economic growth. Whose USP lies in the brain, skills and expertise of its educated and skilled manpower. This, in turn, would lead to a subsequent slowdown in the economy and end up hurting the chances of economic upliftment for the people who are at the bottom of the economic ladder. Further, it would lead to a brain drain and disillusionment among the meritorious and qualified denied employment.

At the same time, none has given a thought to the demoralising impact on the psyche of the qualified individuals denied jobs. What happens to them? And, where do they head? According to Labour Ministry statistics, unemployment on a Current Daily Status basis rose from 6.0 per cent in 1993-94 to 7.3 per cent in 1999-2000 resulting in an additional 27 million job seekers. The most disturbing fact is that of these, 74 per cent are in the rural areas and 60 per cent among them are educated. In addition, while India's labour force is growing at a rate of 2.5 per cent annually, employment is growing at only 2.3 per cent. Thus, the country is faced with the challenge of not only absorbing new entrants to the job market (estimated at seven million people every year), but also clearing the backlog. Where do quotas fit in?

Importantly, there is no place for double standards or the Orwellian concept of ‘more equal than others’ in a democracy. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The Fundamental Rights provide for equal opportunities for all irrespective of caste, creed or sex. Let’s not fudge or forget this. India of 2006 is not the India of 1989. Where a young 18-year old student, Rajiv Goswami, immolated himself in public. Today are polity has to realize that it has to deal with a savvy Rang de Basanti generation of youngsters who believe in action not reaction.

Clearly, the Government has to end this evil of separatism. Reservations are no answer for fulfilling the peoples’ aspirations. It will not only further divide our people on creed-caste lines but is also short-sighted and antithetical to any hope of narrowing India's burgeoning divide between the haves and have-nots. The Government has no right to limit opportunities for the deserving or to shrink the public space for autonomy and free association.

In the ultimate, our petty power-at all-cost polity has to think beyond vote-bank politics and look at the perilous implications of these decisions. What exactly is the message the government proposed to send across the country by this? Does it want to be the first to sow the seeds of another partition? It is willy-nilly encouraging the Muslim leadership to go communal and resurrect the Muslim League. Which could in turn result in reservation for Muslims in Parliament and State Assemblies and even separate electorate a la the British Raj?

How long will we allow this vote-bank politics to continue and play havoc with India’s unity and integrity? Alas, no one remembers Ambedkar’s wise words of caution against appeasement and the hidden monsters behind it. Said he, “Reservation too should be done away with because it becomes a hindrance to development.” The buck stops at Manmohan Singh’s door. ------ INFA

(Copyright India News and Feature Alliance)

NEW DELHI, 10 November 2006

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