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Mainstream, VOL L, No 10, February 25, 2012

Analysing the ‘OBC-Minority’ Sub-Quota

Monday 27 February 2012, by Khalid Anis Ansari



The recent announcement of a 4.5 per cent sub-quota for backward sections within minorities in the overall Central OBC quota by the UPA Government on December 22, 2011 in the wake of elections in five States, including the crucial State of Uttar Pradesh, has drawn in a number of reactions, some valid and others not.

Even though the media has often presented the sub-quota as one for the minorities, or in extreme cases a quota for Muslims by default, thereby providing wind to the wings of the votaries of a hegemonic bipolar politics (Congress versus BJP) revolving on a secularism-communalism axis, there can be nothing farther from the truth. As we know, a number of backward caste groups from the minority sections were already included in the Central OBC list and were availing the benefits of reservations from 1993 onwards. What the UPA Government has done is to club together all these already recognised and enlisted backward caste groups within the minorities (especially, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs) into a 4.5 per cent sub-quota, thereby by default reserving the remaining 22.5 per cent for OBCs within the majority community. (Ministry of Minority Affairs 2011)

While this move has been received with much speculation by the intended beneficiaries so far, it has also faced a number of criticisms from the BJP and a few other OBC groups. There are broadly two aspects to this debate: one, the policy (or technical) dimension, and, two, the political dimension. But before I take up these two aspects, an indicative description of the larger transformations in Indian democracy would be helpful in making sense of this recent move by the Congress party.

The Deepening of Indian Democracy

THE way in which political demands get translated into policies or the way in which policies engineer new aspirations and solidarities is not a neat field but one marked by contes-tations and negotiated settlements. In the modern history of India this is illustrated by the classic case of the struggle between Gandhi and Ambedkar over the question of a separate electorate for Dalits. As we know, Ambedkar had characterised Dalits as a community different from Hindus, an argument which was fiercely opposed by Gandhi and which led to a compromise between the two in the form of the Poona Pact in 1932 wherein Ambedkar had to scale down his demand and settle for political reservations for his people. However, much has changed in Indian democracy since then. In the pre-independence period, Ambedkar had consistently argued for the ‘annihilation of castes’ and the upper castes seemed pretty amused. In our times, the upper castes, especially those inhabiting the academia and media, remind everyone of Ambedkar’s thesis and the Dalits seem equally amused. (Narayan 2009) In the initial phases of the Indian nation, a party like the Congress entered the political space through the self-assured universalist vocabulary of secular nationalism and in stark contrast the Dalit and other lower-caste parties employed the particularistic vocabulary of identity politics. In our times, while the Dalit parties like the BSP have claimed the universal (PTI 2012), the Congress has been forced to stoop down to the same parochial and sectionalist identity politics that it had ridiculed thus far. (Ghildiyal 2011)

The tortuous career of the democratic transfor-mation in India has indeed thrown many surprises and in this epic hegemonic struggle between the dominant and subordinate caste/class groups nothing can be taken for granted. While norms can only be a useful starting point, in the ultimate analysis all norms are negotiated, twisted or written anew depending on the state of the hegemonic struggle at hand.

While this re-scripting of the political normativity is underway in a big way, it would be useful to remind ourselves that still the sites like ‘ethics’, ‘civil society’ and ‘policy’ are overly informed by the modernising impulses of the ruling caste-class elite across religions. In stark contrast, the maximum manoeuvring space has been offered to the subaltern caste groups in the categories and sites of ‘politics’, ‘political society’ and ‘democracy’ thus far. The quotation marks obviously indicate the flux we are in where the respectability and utility of any settled aprioristic notions seem to have limited scope at present. So while the recent populist mobili-sations like the anti-corruption movement (launched by Anna Hazare) have tried to inhabit politics through the articulation of an autonomist democracy that interrogates party politics, Dalit leaders like Dr Udit Raj have staged their own version of bahujan civil society thereby displacing the universalist pretensions of the mainstream civil society. These are probably productive tensions and a sign of maturing and deepening of Indian democracy.

They are also a wake-up call for the advocates of social justice that we are now entering a new spiral of democratic politics where we have to move from a formal notion of democracy to a substantive one, from social engineering to a deeper notion of social justice, from the domi-nance of the numeric to infinite responsibility for the marginalised and excluded envisaged in much more nuanced and sensitive ways. Indeed, it seems that we are entering the limits of representative politics based on purely group identities and this entrenched trajectory of social justice needs to be supplemented fast with popular interventions for systemic reforms, including electoral reforms (proportional electoral system, right to recall, state funding of elections, etc.), judicial reforms (Article 312, etc.), adminis-trative reforms, police reforms, affirmative action in the private sector (including media and civil society), democratisation of religious institutions, people-friendly policies in agriculture and industry, common schooling system, and so on and so forth. Moreover, in this new phase of the social justice movement the key sites for the bahujan sections would be ‘knowledge’ and ‘culture’ and they should now prepare themselves not only for securing their place in the power structure but also taking the management (not ruling) of the society into their hands through the guiding slogans of liberty and equality for all in alliance with the oppressed all over the world.

But for such a version of politics to be unveiled, the prevailing and well-entrenched trajectory of social justice politics will have to be rethought. This is not to suggest that it had no emancipatory role to play for it obviously had, but that its very success also reveals its limitations and urges us to move forward in more promising directions. So where will the ruptures come from? In this context, Yogendra Yadav indicates a few openings:

Such a vast and ambitious agenda for rethinking and redesigning policies and politics of social justice is bound to invite a simple question: Who will take it up? […] This is a difficult question with no easy answers. But there is one possibility. If the push towards the dead-end has come from the interlocking of policy and politics, a resolution may also come from the same source. The last few years have witnessed a rise in the aspirations and demands of various disadvantaged groups who remain largely excluded from the benefits of the existing policies and politics of social justice. The lower OBCs are already a political force to reckon with in several States. The question of Mahadalits, comprising the lowest groups among SCs, could well spill over from Andhra and spread to the rest of the country. Pasmanda or Backward Muslims have already started mobilising in Bihar and are trying to expand. The existing equilibrium on social justice works to their disadvantage. As these groups and their issues rise to prominence, the settled political equations can face a challenge […] if the politics of social justice shows greater imagination, such a rupture can point to a way forward for everyone. This would involve revisiting the ideological and political legacy of Phule, Narayan Guru, Ambedkar, Periyar and Lohia. […] A dead-end might well become a point of renewal.
(Y. Yadav 2009)

Deconstruction of the Secular-Communal Axis

THE careers of ‘religion’ and ‘caste’ have played out interestingly in Indian politics. Broadly, while caste, on the one hand, can be categorised as an ‘ascriptive’ identity alluding to identities which we acquire at birth, that are closed, and that an individual cannot readily enter or exit, religion, on the other hand, it also has connotations of an ‘acquired’ or ‘achieved’ identity as in principle one can move in or out of particular religions through conversion. So, even when Christianity may be a religion shared by most Americans, it may appear differently to a White, an Afro-American or a woman. In other words, a Christian Afro-American may feel much closer to a Muslim Afro-American in terms of a shared history of humiliation, racial discrimination or a sub-culture than probably a White American with whom of course s/he may share other ritualistic and theological notions or practices in varying degrees. Something similar could be said of the relationship between religion and caste in India. So while caste has often been articulated as a system of hierarchical ranking based on Hindu religion, the recent caste-based movements within non-Hindu religions like Islam, Christianity and Sikhism have deeply interrogated this simplistic logic. These new counter-narratives of lower caste sections in non-Hindu religions clearly illustrate that despite conversions to supposedly egalitarian religions, the lower castes could not really escape the stigma and humiliation attached with their former caste location.

This occurred largely because it were not only the lower castes that converted to these putative egalitarian religions but because of the ascendance of these religions in certain temporal contexts, the upper castes among Hindus also converted to them in order to consolidate, preserve or improve their worldly position. These new upper-caste converts subsequently ended up monopolising their interpretative technologies/institutions and informing them with the hierarchical values of caste. But, having said that, it must also be pointed out that the supposed egalitarianism of non-Hindu religions is in all likelihood an exaggeration as all these non-Hindu religions emerged in highly stratified societies and there were probably already elements of hierarchy and stratification in their knowledge traditions/practises that made it easier for the caste to be accommodated and appropriated.

Overall, religion is a complex phenomenon which is informed by elements of ethics, morality, desire, embodiment, effect and of course, since the advent of modernity and governmentality, its politicisation and secularisation in the form of identity. While it has often acted as an instrument of control and domination, it has also acted as a libertarian force in other spatial and temporal contexts. While the textual evaluations of religion are a useful exercise, it is also important to take cognisance of the practices, lived reality and its interplay with power in modern democracies. In short, what are the possibilities that it promises or closes in contemporary Indian democracy is a vital question that needs to be addressed.

If we look closely then the politics, discourse and institutions arranged around religious identity are more or less controlled by the upper-caste sections of all religions in India. In short, religion as a political identity is hegemonised by the upper castes and their interests and is stabilised by the cooption of Sanskritised (or ashrafised) sections within the lower castes. Consequently, the politics on the axis of communalism-secularism, which has historically taken cue from the monolithisation of religious identity and subsequently privileges religious identity at the expense of other identities like caste or gender, largely emerges as a weapon of the ruling castes/classes to divide, tame and control the vast majority of subordi-nated caste groups in lower-caste narratives. In interesting ways the discourse of communalism has only led to the consolidation of power of the upper-caste elite in all religious groups in India. (K.A. Ansari 2009) In the history of modern India, the most significant events that were intended to serve the interests of the hegemonic classes, like the Partition holocaust in 1947 or the Babri mosque demolition in 1992, were clearly arranged around religious identity and in turn reproduced the notion of religion as the overarching identity in India.

However, this fault-line based on religious identity and the related notion of Hindu and Muslim monolith probably received its biggest blow when the Mandal moment was inaugu-rated in 1990. The Mandal report not only included the Hindu shudra castes in the OBC list, but also fully endorsed caste-based inequalities within non-Hindu religions by including similarly placed caste groups in these religions too. It included about 80 lower-caste Muslim groups in its list along with the Hindu OBCs. Now this was a remarkable development which was informed by the articulation of the social justice politics by Dr Rammanohar Lohia in North India; he often used to address the backward caste sections of Indian minorities in his writings. Lohia’s methodology did not conflate caste with Hinduism per se and so he could penetrate the facade of religious monolith and analyse caste-based practices and discrimi-nation within the non-Hindu religions as well.

Overall, the Mandal moment created the ground for the formation of a counter-hegemonic solidarity among lower castes across religions under the rubric of OBCs which constitute over 50 per cent of the Indian population. Interestingly, while OBC and ST lists include lower caste or adivasi sections of all religions thereby leading to non-communal solidarities, the Dalits belonging to non-Hindu religions were ejected out of the SC list through a Presidential Order (Clause 3) in 1950. Even when the Sikh and neo-Buddhist Dalits were included in 1956 and 1990 respectively, the Muslim and Christian Dalits still remain excluded from the list. This is clearly a violation of the principle of secularism which articulates symmetrical treatment for all religious groups.

Since the 1990s the mandalisation of the Muslim political space has happened at a brisk pace and has led to the enactment of the ‘pasmanda’ identity which alludes to Dalit and backward caste Muslims. As a result, Muslim politics has become an increasingly complicated and contested one due to the ascendance of the lower-caste movements and their challenge to the hegemony of the forward caste Muslims from within. The mushrooming of caste-based organisations within the Indian Muslims like the All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz (Bihar and UP), All India United Muslim Morcha (Bihar), All India Muslim OBC Organisation (Maha-rashtra) or the Pasmanda Muslim Samaj (UP) have triggered debates on internal social reform and reconfiguring of community identity and solidarities. In this respect, the most interesting move made by the pasmanda movement has been the articulation of a counter-hegemonic horizontal solidarity of all lower castes across religious formations as is exemplified by their slogan ‘Dalit-pichda ek saman, Hindu ho ya Musalman!’ [All Dalits and backward castes are alike, whether they are Hindu or Muslim.].

The pasmanda ideologues have consistently argued that so far the upper caste sections of all religions have focused on the forging of vertical solidarities on the basis of religious identity which has continuously fed the competitive and symbiotic discourses of ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ extremism in India. According to them, this politics of religious difference (communalism) and inter-religious harmony (secularism) are two sides of the same coin and keep intact the hegemony of the upper-caste/class sections of all religious blocks by subverting the assertion of internal lower caste challenge and channelising it into the fear of the religious Other. In striking contrast to this hegemonic politics of difference on religious lines the pasmanda sections have articulated a new politics of solidarity on caste lines that takes cue from the shared histories of humiliation of the lower castes across religions owing to the stigma attached to their occupations and locations in the caste hierarchy.

Indeed, the pasmanda discourse is now sedimenting and influencing academic and popular opinion on the subject of communalism and secularism. [See K.A. Ansari 2011] For instance, in a recent essay one of the leading Left historians opines thus:

The conception of secularism as religious harmony is based on a monolithic view of religion, which does not take into account the differen-tiation within it. Within each religion there are several cultural and social groups, between whom both contradictions and complementarities exist. […] The assumption of Indian secularism that the tensions arising out of religious pluralism can be overcome by harmony is unreal because of the cultural and social hierarchies that exist within religion. Because of the prevalence of these hierarchies, attempts to bring about religious harmony cannot cover all followers of any religion. The approach to secularism exclusively through inter-religious relations cannot lead to an abiding solution…The Indian form of secularism draws upon cultural plurality, which does not dissolve but accentuates differences and thus tends to undermine secula-rism. Integral to the concept of secularism, therefore, is cultural equality; so also are demo-cracy and social justice. Without these three interrelated factors—equality, democracy and social justice—secularism cannot exist as a positive value in society. (Panikkar 2012)

‘Mahadalit-MBC-Pasmanda’: The Emergence of a New Political Bloc

OVERALL, in the context of representative politics it is clear that of the three broader categories—SCs, OBCs and minorities—a few caste groups within them have now been more-or-less adequately represented in the power structures. So caste groups like the Yadavs, Koeris or Kurmis in the OBCs, the Jatavas or Paswans in the SCs and the upper-caste sections among the religious minorities (like the Syeds, Sheikhs, Mughals and Pathans among Muslims, Syrians and Saraswats among Christians, Jats and Khatris among Sikhs, etc.) have a fairly decent voice in the decision-making processes. Broadly, this has been a gain for the social justice movement in India. But these caste groups, as we all know, don’t add up to more than 30-35 castes of the total recognised castes numbering about 3000, according to most estimates. Consequently, the vast majority of lower-caste groups that feel excluded have now begun organising through the employment of new categories like the ‘Ati/Maha-Dalit’, ‘Extremely/Most Backward Classes (EBCs/MBCs)’ or ‘Pasmanda’ and are increasingly destabilising the consensus that was achieved on social justice and minority rights during the initial scripting of the Indian Constitution and the administrative and social policy subsequently.

In fact, if the Mahadalit, MBC and the Pasmanda sections, which have a combined population of not less than 50 per cent of India’s population, come together as a political block (henceforth, the New Bloc) they could create interesting ruptures in social justice politics and break the stagnation that has come to be identified with it at present. There is a strong possibility that if this New Bloc is able to successfully take shape, it can create the necessary momentum and openings for launching the agenda of social and political reforms that have been completely sidetracked in the post-Lohia period due to the overemphasis on social engineering politics. Obviously, the key question is: which party appears ready at the moment to take cognisance of this New Bloc and ride on this fresh wave of social justice politics and thereby further deepen Indian democracy?

As we know these identities—Mahadalit, MBC and Pasmanda—owe their enactment to the social justice movement in the State of Bihar. While MBC was articulated by Karpoori Thakur in the late 1970s, Pasmanda was named by Ali Anwar in 1998, and Mahadalit was introduced by Baban Rawat around 2004. Therefore, it is not at all surprising that this bloc was appropriated first by a Bihar-based party—the Nitish Kumar-led JD (U)—which decimated its arch rival Laloo Yadav-led RJD and ended his 15-year-long regime in 2005. (A. Yadav 2011) It is now clear that the both the JD (U) and Congress party are trying to employ this New Bloc in the UP-2012 elections and probably across the country thereonwards if the results turn out to be positive. (Thakur, 2012; Jain, 2012) I would venture to posit that the recent announcement by the Congress party to implement a 4.5 per cent sub-quota for the backward classes amongst the minorities must be construed as a move in appropriating this New Bloc. However, having said that it must be remarked that the move by the Congress is not guided by subaltern interests but by an urge to come back to power in the Hindi belt by taking advantage of the internal contradictions within the Dalit-OBC movement which have not been addressed by the mainstream lower-caste parties like the BSP and SP so far.

Interestingly, a number of objections have been raised against the sub-quota, some legitimate and the others not. I would address these objections in the following sections.


The Contested Nature of the ‘Muslim Quota’ Debate

THE recent lower-caste movements within the non-Hindu religions like Islam, Christianity and Sikhism have foregrounded the presence of caste-based differentiation and discrimination within these communities in the public sphere. As far as the Muslims are concerned, the caste cleavages within them were duly recognised by the Sachar Committee Report when it remarked quite unambiguously: “Thus, one can discern three groups among Muslims: (1) those without any social disabilities, the ashrafs; (2) those equivalent to Hindu OBCs, the ajlafs, and (3) those equivalent to Hindu SCs, the arzals. Those who are referred to as Muslim OBCs combine (2) and (3)” (Sachar, 2006, p. 193; emphasis added) Apart from these three groups there is a small section of Muslim adivasis (STs) as well.

As earlier mentioned, the backward (ajlaf/shudra) and Dalit (arzal) caste groups among Muslims have been organising themselves under the rubric of the Pasmanda Movement since 1990s and have challenged the ashraf hegemony in Muslim politics. One of the most contentious issues on which the pasmanda and ashraf Muslims have struggled against each other in this period has been the issue of reservations for Muslims. (K. A. Ansari 2011) In this context the ideologues of the pasmanda movement have consistently argued that the ashraf (upper-caste) Muslims cannot be included within the reservation policy for OBCs as they do not qualify as a ‘socially and educationally backward community’ (SEBC) required for the purposes of granting reservations under Articles 16 (4) and 15 (4) of the Indian Constitution. In contrast, the ashraf sections have either raised the demand of a separate quota for all Muslims or have tried to sneak into the existing OBC lists through various means. (Yadav and Ansari 2011) Both these moves have been strongly contested by the pasmanda organisations. But before taking this discussion further, it would be pertinent to point out the guidelines and positions of the Supreme Court on this contentious issue, as expressed in the Mandal (Indra Sawney) Judgment (1992).

The Mandal Judgment expresses quite clearly that:

The expression ‘backward class’ in Article 16(4) takes in ‘Other Backward Classes’, SCs, STs and may be some other backward classes as well. The accent in Article 16(4) is upon social backwardness. Social backwardness leads to educational backwardness and economic backwardness. They are mutually contributory to each other and are inter-twined with low occupations in the Indian society. A caste can be and quite often is a social class in India. Economic criterion cannot be the sole basis for determining the backward class of citizens contemplated by Article 16 (4).” (Reddy, 1992; emphasis added)

Further, the judges have opined:

A caste can be and quite often is a social class in India. If it is backward socially, it would be a backward class for the purposes of Article 16(4). Among non-Hindus, there are several occupational groups, sects and denominations, which for historical reasons are socially backward. They too represent backward social collectives for the purposes of Article 16(4). (Ibid.; emphasis added)

Besides, the following extract would lay to rest any ambiguity with regard to the meaning of the term ‘backward’ used in the Constitution:
Further, if one keeps in mind the context in which Article 16(4) was enacted it would be clear that the accent was upon social backwardness. It goes without saying that in Indian context, social backwardness leads to educational backwardness and both of them together lead to poverty which in turn breeds and perpetuates the social and educational backwardness. They feed upon each other constituting a vicious circle. It is a well known fact that till independence the adminis-trative apparatus was manned almost exclusively by members of the ‘upper’ castes. The Shudras, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes and other similar backward social groups among Muslims and Christians had practically no entry into the administrative apparatus. It was this imbalance which was sought to be redressed by providing for reservations in favour of such backward classes […] We are, accordingly, of the opinion that the backwardness contemplated by Article 16(4) is mainly social backwardness. It would not be correct to say that the backwardness under Article 16(4) should be both social and educational. (Ibid.; emphasis added)

If we follow the logic of the Mandal judgment then it is clear that only the occupational groups within the Muslims, in other words, the pasmanda Muslims, which encompass the Dalit and backward-caste Muslims, can be defined as socially backward and hence brought within the ambit of reservations under the OBC category. Consequently, the case for ashraf Muslims which, according to the Sachar Report, are ‘without any social disabilities’ cannot even be considered from the vantage point of the broad guidelines of the judgment. And, this line of reasoning is exactly the basic impediment that those favouring ashraf interests, overtly or covertly, have sought to overcome in recent times.

So, the first point in the terms of reference of the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, also called the Ranganath Mishra Commission, was: “To suggest criteria for identification of socially and economically backward sections among religious and linguistic minorities.” (Justice Ranganath Mishra 2007, 1) Indeed, the insertion of the term ‘economically’ here was notorious to say the least as the phrase used in Article 15 (4) is ‘socially and educationally’ and there is no employment of the term ‘economically’ there. Further, the first recommendation of the Ranganath Mishra Commission report curiously demanded a blanket reservation of 15 per cent for religious minorities including a 10 per cent separate quota for all Muslims. The report suggested:

Since the minorities—especially the Muslims—are very much under-represented, and sometimes wholly unrepresented, in government employment, we recommend that they should be regarded as backward in this respect within the meaning of that term as used in Article 16 (4) of the Constitution—notably without qualifying the word ‘backward’ with the words ‘socially and educationally’—and that 15 per cent of posts in all cadres and grades under the Central and State Governments should be earmarked for them as follows: (a) The break up within the recommended 15 percent shall be 10 percent for the Muslims (commensurate with their 73 percent share of the former in the total minority population at the national level) and the remaining 5 percent for the other minorities. (Ibid.; p. 152-153: emphasis added)

While the members of the Commission appeared to have laboured hard to arrive at this recommendation, yet they themselves seemed to be sceptical of their discoveries when they wrote further: “We are convinced that the action recommended by us above will have full sanction of Article 16 (4) of the Constitution. Yet, should there be some insurmountable difficulty in implementing this recommendation, as an alternative we recommend that […]” before going to the next recommendation. What exactly is the ‘insurmountable difficulty’ if not the fact that the recommendation is completely unconstitutional and against the spirit of the Mandal Judgment as is evident by the extracts from the judgment mentioned above?

While I have argued elsewhere that even the claim of ‘inadequate representation’ of the ashraf castes in services of the state is a very weak one from the data generated by the Sachar Report itself (K.A. Ansari 2011), I am not really surprised when Dr Tahir Mahmood, an esteemed member of the Commission, in a case of a Freudian slip, claims the authorship of the report himself in one of his articles when he writes: “The recent report of Ranganath Mishra Commission, prepared by me […]” (Mahmood 2010) Also, Prof Zoya Hasan’s dropping of the word ‘socially’ entirely and her continuous usage of the phrase ‘educationally backward’ for the minorities in one of her recent interventions on NDTV is another interesting move indeed. (NDTV 2011)

SO, this has broadly been the nature of contestation between the ashraf and pasmanda sections over the reservation debate. While the pasmanda groups have challenged any separate quota for all Muslims or the inclusion of upper-caste Muslims in the OBC category they have also consistently raised a few other demands. As we know, most Dalit and backward caste Muslims were included in the Central OBC list in 1993 and a few Muslim adivasi groups are already included in the ST list. In a way, most pasmanda Muslims are already availing benefits in the prevailing reservation policy. So their quest has not been for inclusion since they are already included but rather deepening of the reservation policy informed primarily by the differentiated nature of backwardness within the existing categories for reservation. Hence, the issues that the pasmanda Muslims have foregrounded are—(a) that they are not receiving a fair share inside the existing OBC quota; (b) that arzal or Dalit Muslims should be shifted to the SC quota from the OBC quota by scrapping the 1950 Presidential Order (Clause 3) which is overwhelmingly seen as violating the principle of secularism enshrined in the Constitution; (c) that some of the lower-caste or adivasi Muslim groups have been left out of the OBC or ST lists and now require to be recognised. It is on these three issues that they have based their demands.

The first issue is that of the marginalisation of OBC Muslims within the OBC quota. The argument that the dominant Hindu OBC groups corner most of these benefits thereby leaving Muslim OBCs with an inappropriate share is often circulated in this context. [For instance, Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi commented recently: ‘Around 64 per cent Muslims are already eligible to get reservation in the 27 per cent quota for OBCs but merely three per cent are able to avail of it. Because of illiteracy and extreme backwardness, Muslims cannot compete with Yadavs and Kurmis who corner the maximum gains. It is important Muslims get a sub-quota, which we are committed to give.’ (Jha 2011)]

In the understanding of the pasmanda movement, this logic applies to non-dominant Hindu OBCs as well and so carving out a separate ‘communal’ quota for Muslim OBCs within the OBC quota is not a very sound demand. The best strategy, according to them, would be to reflect on the Bihar formula wherein the OBC quota has been split into the Backward Classes and Most Backward Classes (MBCs) sub-categories and the most backward sections of the Muslims have been clubbed with other Hindu MBCs accordingly. Hence, they have demanded that if required the Central OBC quota could also be similarly split into two subcategories and similarly placed castes in all religious communities could be lumped together. This saves us from any allegation of communal polarisation on religious lines and is more judicious.

The second issue is that of delisting the Dalit Muslims from the OBC list and incorporating them in the SC list. In the pre-independence period, the Muslim Dalits benefited from the reservation policy in the SC list. After Indepen-dence, by the Presidential Order of 1950 (Clause 3), most non-Hindu Dalits were ejected out from the SC list. However, in 1956 the Sikh Dalits and in 1990 the neo-Buddhists were integrated thereby debarring only Muslim and Christian Dalits from the SC list. This violates the principle of secularism enshrined in the Constitution and the pasmanda groups have demanded the scrapping of the 1950 Presidential Order (Para 3).

The third issue is that of incorporating the Muslim OBC castes or adivasis groups (like the Muslim van gujjars of Himachal Pradesh) that may not have been recognised thus far. This is largely a procedural issue and could be taken up by the National Commission of Backward Classes and SC/ST Commission accordingly.

So, these have been the key demands of the pasmanda movement so far in the context of the reservation policy. Quite clearly, the Congress party has rejected the demand raised by the forward caste Muslims of carving out a separate quota for all Muslims (which interestingly the BSP, SP and CPI-M have supported recently) by announcing a 4.5 per cent sub-quota for OBCs within the minorities. But on the other hand, it has also rejected the pasmanda demand of implementing the Bihar formula—splitting the Central OBC category into BCs and MBCs—and has been extremely lackadaisical on the issue of inclusion of Dalit Muslims/Christians in the SC list, (Japhet and Moses 2011) While these are clearly political moves and I will discuss them later, it is important to evaluate the merits and demerits of the 4.5 per cent sub-quota for OBC minorities from a procedural and technical point of view.


4.5 per cent Sub-Quota for OBCs within Minorities: The ‘Policy’ and ‘Technical’ Dimensions

LET me state right at the outset that the recent 4.5 per cent sub-quota was not a demand raised by the pasmanda movement but rather is informed by the second recommendation of the Ranganath Mishra Report which is as follows:

[…] we recommend that since according to the Mandal Commission Report the minorities constitute 8.4 per cent of the total OBC population, in the 27 per cent OBC quota an 8.4 per cent sub-quota should be earmarked for the minorities with an internal break-up of 6 per cent for the Muslims (commensurate with their 73 per cent share in the total minority population at the national level) and 2.4 per cent for the other minorities […] (Justice Ranganath Mishra Report
2007, 153)

That is why the statement of the Minister of Minority Affairs in the Lok Sabha on December 18, 2011 is misleading when it suggests that
For several years, members of other backward classes belonging to religious minorities have been demanding that a separate quota should be earmarked for them out of the 27 percent reser-ved for OBCs. (Ministry of Minority Affairs 2011)

Quite clearly this was never a pasmanda demand but is much closer to the second recom-mendation of the Ranganath Mishra Commission to be considered in case the first recommendation of a blanket 10 per cent reservation for all Muslims faced any ‘insurmountable obstacles’! With this opening remark let me, first of all, examine the major objections to the sub-quota raised by various sections.

The first objection raised by many OBC groups is that this sub-quota is eating into the existing OBC quota and that such a provision should be made only after enlarging the overall OBC quota once the 50 per cent cap on reservations is done away with. (Correspondent 2011) This objection can be met by stating that in this sub-quota no new castes are being added to the existing OBC list; rather the already listed OBCs belonging to minorities are being brought within a 4.5 per cent sub-quota informed by differentiated levels of backwardness within the OBC category. Since the OBC quota belongs as much to the majority-OBCs as to the minority-OBCs the question of ‘eating up’ is an irrelevant objection.

Further, there can be no principled objection to sub-quotas per se as there are already sub-quotas in place in many State OBC lists—Kerala has eight sub-quotas, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have five each, Tamil Nadu and Bihar have two respectively. As far as the 50 per cent cap on reservations is concerned, it was articulated by the Balaji judgment (1963) of the Supreme Court and reiterated by the Mandal Judgment in 1992. It is important to note what Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had said on this issue during the Constituent Assembly debates:

Supposing, for instance, we were to concede in full the demand of those communities who have not been so far employed in the public service to the fullest extent, what would really happen is, we shall be completely destroying the first proposition upon which we are all agreed, namely, that there shall be an equality of opportunity. Let me give an illustration. Supposing, for instance, reservations were made for a community or a collection of communities, the total of which came to something like 70 per cent of the total posts under the State and only 30 per cent are retained as the unreserved. Could anybody say that the reservation of 30 per cent as open to general competition would be satisfactory from the point of view of giving effect to the first principle, namely, that there shall be equality of opportunity? It cannot be in my judgment. There-fore the seats to be reserved, if the reservation is to be consistent with Sub-clause (1) of Article 10, must be confined to a minority of seats.

(Cited in Reddy, 1992)

Also, the Mandal Judgment clearly states:

While 50 per cent shall be the rule, it is necessary not to put out of consideration certain extraordinary situations inherent in the great diversity of this country and the people. It might happen that in far-flung and remote areas the population inhabiting those areas might, on account of their being out of the mainstream of national life and in view of conditions peculiar to and characteristical to them, need to be treated in a different way, some relaxation in this strict rule may become imperative. In doing so, extreme caution is to be exercised and a special case made out. In this connection it is well to remember that the reservations under Article 16 (4) do not operate like a communal reservation. It may well happen that some members belonging to, say, Scheduled Castes get selected in the open competition field on the basis of their own merit; they will not be counted against the quota reserved for Scheduled Castes; they will be treated as open competition candidates.

(Reddy 1992)

So, quite clearly the articulation of 50 per cent cap on the quota has a strong conceptual foundation and in all likelihood will meet an adverse judicial review even if the legislature decides to do away with it through a constitutional amendment. However, the only option of including it within the Ninth Schedule and thereby exempting it from judicial review seems a very distant possibility in the present circumstances.

The second objection that has been prominently raised by the BJP is that it is a ‘communal’ or ‘religious’ quota and therefore it is unconstitutional. This objection can be met by stating that it is not a sub-quota for ‘Muslims’ alone but rather for the OBCs belonging to all minorities, especially the Muslims, Sikhs and Christians—in other words, this is a complex quota involving identities like ‘caste’, ‘religion’ and also ‘class’ because of the provision of creamy layer for the OBC quota introduced by the Mandal Judgment. Besides, in the States of Karnataka (interestingly ruled by the BJP at present) and Kerala sub-quotas for ‘Muslims’ within the OBC quota have been in practice for long and no one has seriously challenged that thus far. What is more surprising is that in both Karnataka and Kerala even a few upper caste Muslim groups like Syeds, Pathans, Thangals, etc., who in all likelihood would qualify as ‘pseudo-communities’ (a term employed by the Mandal Judgment) are also included in the sub-quota for Muslims within the OBC category. But this is probably due to the invisibilisation of caste and the lack of a caste-based political movement within South Indian Muslims in contrast to the situation in North India. However, sociologically speaking caste practises are very much alive within Muslims in the South Indian States as well. (D’Souza 1973)

In the more recent case of Andhra Pradesh where a blanket five per cent reservation for all Muslim groups was appropriately struck down by the Andhra High Court as being ‘unconstitutional’, it will be useful to recall that a revised sub-quota of four per cent for lower caste Muslims was rejected by the Andhra High Court not because it was unconstitutional but because
[…] the methodology followed by the Backward Classes Commission to identify those who would benefit was unsustainable […] the court was not satisfied with the yardstick used to define 15 categories of Muslims as backward and said the BC Commission’s action was ‘mechanical and perfunctory’ (NDTV 2010)

However, the Supreme Court later intervened and through an interim order had upheld the four per cent quota for OBC-Muslims in Andhra Pradesh but also referred the matter to a Constitution Bench subsequently. (PTI 2010) The matter is subjudice in the Supreme Court and the confusion will clear once the Court takes a call on that.

The third objection often raised by many groups is regarding the quantum of the sub-quota: some feel it is less, while the others feel it is probably on the higher side. It seems that the sub-quota has been calculated from the data provided by the Mandal Report. The Mandal Report had calculated the BC-Hindus to be about 43.7 per cent of the total Indian population which amounted to 52 per cent of the Hindu population (83.84 per cent at that time). Applying this rule of thumb, since there was no data available on the OBC population within minorities, it calculated the OBC-Minority population as 8.4 per cent (52 per cent of total minority population of 16.16 per cent then). Hence, the total population of Hindu OBCs estimated by the Mandal Report was 43.7 per cent and that of minority OBCs as 8.4 per cent thereby taking the total OBC population roughly to 52 per cent. Now in order to stay within the 50 per cent cap the population of 52 per cent OBCs was granted 27 per cent quota.

If we go by this logic then 4.5 per cent sub-quota for OBC-minorities seems quite adequate in arithmetic terms. However, according to P.S. Krishnan, this seems to be on the lower side. As per his calculations, the OBC minorities should be entitled to a 6.75 per cent sub-quota, out of which Muslim-OBCs alone have a legitimate claim of about 5.5 per cent. (Krishnan 2012)

In the light of the above discussion, most of the objections to the 4.5 per cent sub-quota do not seem to be very sound ones from a technical point of view. However, many pasmanda activists also seem to be very sceptical with regard to the expected results and benefits from the sub-quota. This is largely because they feel the OBC Muslims will face a real competition from the Sikh-OBCs (around 1.2 per cent population) and the Christian-OBCs (around 1.4 per cent popu-lation), especially the latter because of a strong tradition of education due to the intervention of the Church amongst them.

So, if Rashid Alvi, the Congress spokesperson, suggested that OBC Muslims (about 11 per cent population) were already able to corner about three per cent benefits from the existing scheme of 27 per cent OBC quota (Jha 2011), then one is not sure if there is going to be any significant improvement beyond three per cent due to the 4.5 per cent sub-quota if one takes into account the competition from other OBC-minorities. (Jha 2011). In fact, one should not be very surprised if the actual representation goes below the three per cent that the OBC-Muslims were already able to corner within the 27 per cent OBC quota. But one can only wait and take a call on that once the initial results start pouring in after the sub-quota is implemented.


4.5 per cent Sub-Quota for OBCs within Minorities: The ‘Political’ Dimension

THE approach that merely concentrates on government jobs and seats in higher educational institutions is indeed a very savarna (upper-caste) view of the reservation policy. From the perspective of the upper-caste discourse, which has little appreciation for dignity of labour and looks down upon other skills and occupations with disdain owing to the parasitical values of caste thereby producing voluntary unemployment, the site of public sector jobs and higher education is very privileged and a closely guarded one. The image of upper caste protestors mopping the roads with brooms in their hands when reservations for OBCs in public sector employment at the Centre were first announced in 1990, or when the same symbolism was replayed during the Mandal II agitations in 2008, is therefore a very telling one.

In contrast, the thrust in lower-caste articu-lations on the reservation policy has been on the adequate representation in power structures in order to play a more proactive role in decision-making. The policy of reservations has therefore been an out-and-out political issue and the categories of recognition have been understood as a means to legitimise and produce counter-hegemonic subaltern solidarities for the lower-caste ideologues. If we look closely at Indian political economy, then for those who are really interested in unemployment and poverty the more promising issue is not really reservations but rather the democratisation of the private sector and reduction of the huge gulf between the jobs in the organised and unorganised sectors of the economy. [See Harriss-White 2005]

Broadly, for the lower castes the key term thus far has been ‘power’. Even in terms of the reservation policy, political power has played a vital role in deciding which groups could be included or excluded. Most policies have so far depended on the density of the political signals that the various constituencies have emitted. So if Ajit Singh becomes powerful, then it is a great possibility that the ‘Jats’ may be included in the Central OBC list irrespective of their caste location. Similar anomalies have happened in Bihar where the upper-caste Muslim Mallicks were included in the BC list by the Nitish Kumar Government because his own constituency has a large population of the aforementioned caste group. If one scans the OBC lists, then a number of ‘pseudo-communities’ could be discovered whose inclusion was probably informed less by policy guidelines than by political expediency. This is understandable and could be rectified through political expodiency itself once the aggrieved constituencies politicise and start sending the required signals.

It is because of this factor that representation in the political power acquires central importance for the excluded, especially the Mahadalits, MBCs and pasmanda sections in contemporary India. If we take the case of political representation of the pasmanda sections, then out of 7500 members from the first to fourteenth Lok Sabha, only about 400 members belonged to the Muslim community. Out of these 400 Muslim members about 340 have been ashraf Muslims and only 60 have belonged to the pasmanda community. (A.H. Ansari 2004)

If the population of Muslims in India is 13.4 per cent (Census 2001), then the population of ashraf Muslims is about 2.01 per cent (15 per cent of Muslim population) and the population of pasmanda Muslims turns out to be 11.4 per cent (85 per cent of the Muslim population). Hence, the representation of ashraf Muslims in the Lok Sabha works out to be 4.5 per cent, and that is way beyond their population percentage of 2.01 per cent. On the contrary the representation of pasmanda Muslims with a population of 11.4 per cent has been about 0.8 per cent (less than one per cent) in the Lok Sabha. Quite clearly, the ashrafs are not only adequately represented but are rather doubly represented and it is the pasmanda sections that turn out to be extremely under-represented in political power. But numbers have their own logic in democratic politics and the very reasons which led to the downfall of the upper-caste sections in political representation within the majority community, will probably have their role to play in reconfiguring power differentials within the Muslim community too. (Thakur 2011)

In this respect, the pasmanda sections have realised that it is almost impossible for them to flourish politically within the paternalistic gaze of ashrafiya politics and so by employing the principle of caste instead of religion they have strategically sought to forge a horizontal solidarity with the lower-caste sections of other religious groups. Indeed, in order to ensure their access to political power they have placed great hopes in the articulation and sedimentation of the New Bloc. (Mahadalit-MBC-Pasmanda) While the slogan of ‘Dalit-pichda ek saman, Hindu ho ya Musalman’ is making revolutionary inroads in North India, the major bahujan parties like the SP and BSP and Left parties like the CPI-M have been lackadaisical in responding to the pasmanda demands so far. The only exception to this rule so far has been the JD (U) and probably the Congress is catching up fast though with the latter’s own peculiar twists and turns.

One big reason for the hesitation of the major political parties in listening to the pasmanda voices clearly is that most of the main Muslim advisors in various parties come from ashraf locations: Salman Khursheed and Rashid Alvi in the Congress, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Syed Shahnawaz Hussain in the BJP, Naseemuddin Siddiqui and Nawab Kazim Ali Khan in the BSP, Azam Khan and Kamal Farooqui in the SP, Tariq Anwar in the NCP, Abdul Bari Siddiqui in the RJD and so on and so forth.

Apart from this, the parties like the BSP and SP have in practical terms not really been able to move beyond the interests of a few caste groups at best and to their families and individual interests at worst. This has been a major handicap that has rendered them inattentive to the brewing internal contradictions within the SC and OBC categories and has kept them away from taking cognisance of the emergence of the New Bloc seriously. So, both the SP and BSP have preferred to pay lip-service to the ashraf demand of a separate Muslim quota. In this regard Mulayam Singh Yadav has really surpassed everyone by demanding an 18 per cent quota for Muslims! While this is not possible without doing away with the 50 per cent cap which, as we have seen, is a distant possibility at this point of time, it is also an unjust demand from the pasmanda vantage point. In short, both the SP and BSP, rather than addressing the emerging internal contradictions within the OBC and SC category, have sought the safer option of transcending them through conservative and outmoded political positions.

In this context the Congress has recently shown the farsightedness of taking cognisance of the New Bloc and has learnt useful lessons from JD(U)’s victory in Bihar. The implementation of the 4.5 per cent ‘minority-OBC’ sub-quota at least affirms one thing—the acknowledgement of the caste contradiction within the minorities by the Congress party and the difficulties of bringing the upper castes among minorities within the OBC quota. However, having said that this move is not guided by the concerns of social justice from the vantage point of the subaltern; rather it is guided by the electoral considerations from the vantage point of the powerful. The recent Congress move to implement 4.5 per cent sub-quota in the Central OBC list and the subsequent promise of a nine per cent sub-quota for backward Muslims in UP once the party comes to power, coupled with the anticipated reaction from the BJP (TNN 2012), is a calculated strategy to checkmate the regional formations like the BSP and SP in UP politics and reintroduce bipolar politics along the communal-secular axis. There are strong indications that apart from the sub-quota for OBC-minorities it is also planning to introduce a separate sub-quota for MBC-Hindus. (Jain 2012) In all likelihood if this model brings in the desired results, it could try to replicate the same model in the SC category by chalking out separate sub-quotas for mahadalits and Dalit-minorities. These are smart moves. While they put politicians like Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav in a tight spot, they also jeopardise the horizontal unity of the New Bloc by introducing the category of religion.

The Congress has historically used the religious identity and communal forces for outsmarting the moves by the subaltern caste groups. Quite true to its tradition, while on the one hand it has acknowledged the relevance of Mahadalit-MBC-Pasmanda bloc through recent announcements and expects to gain politically out of them, on the other hand it has inserted ‘religion’ as a time-tested formula to tame and divide the assertion of the New Bloc. Obviously, in this game the mainstream bahujan parties of UP and Left parties like the CPI-M have simply lost the plot by demanding a separate quota for all Muslims. (PTI, 4.5 per cent sub-quota for minorities most inadequate: CPI-M 2011) They simply failed to aggressively acknowledge the internal contradictions within the bahujan camp. The Congress has taken advantage of these failures and moved in. Even when it is apparent that its purposes are hegemonic and hardly emancipatory, the tension that it has introduced within the bahujan camp should be seen as productive in the long run.

Concluding Comments

SO far, as I have discussed above, the SP and BSP have not shown the imagination required to acknowledge the emergence of the New Bloc. Therefore, it should not be surprising if the Mahadalits, MBCs and Pasmanda sections take a shift away from these parties. Since the Congress is the only party that has taken the initiative, howsoever problematic, the New Bloc has no other option but to engage critically and cautiously with it.

As far as the pasmanda sections are concerned, there is no reason for a complete rejection or outright celebration. The obvious questions that the pasmanda activists need to pose to the Congress are—a) What is the proportion of pasmanda candidates in the list of total Muslim candidates that are contesting in UP elections? b) Who represents the pasmanda interests within the party—Rahul Gandhi, Beni Prasad Varma or Salman Khursheed? Why is there no prominent pasmanda face in the party? c) What is the Congress doing in terms of the demand of including dalit Muslims/Christians in the SC list by scrapping the Presidential Order, 1950 (Clause 3)? d) Why was the sub-quota for OBC-minorities considered and not the Bihar Formula which even Justice Rajindar Sachar has recently supported (Manoj 2011)? And, of course, (e) How does 4.5 per cent sub-quota increase, if not actually decrease, the representation of the OBC-Muslims from the three per cent that they were already able to secure in the 27 per cent OBC quota due to the competition from Sikh and Christian OBCs? These are important questions and must be posed now because the Congress’ moves are part of a larger strategy where UP-2012 is just a testing ground, the real target being the Lok Sabha elections to be held sometime in 2014.

Broadly, the New Bloc must keep its focus on gaining political power on its own strength. The recent ‘OBC minority’ sub-quota by the Congress is a smart but paternalistic move that is aimed at obstructing the autonomous emergence of the New Bloc. More than the success of the Congress, it marks the complete failure of bahujan parties like the BSP and SP in addressing the internal contradictions within the bahujan camp. While the Congress may get the political advantage of being the first mover, those who had imagined this New Bloc as a rupture that will unleash a wave of systemic and popular reforms have to continue the good work that they have been doing. The very social content of the Congress party will restrict its uninhibited march in a radical direction. It is here that the new and smaller parties that are addressing the New Bloc must strike and surprise the Congress in the long run.

The author is a researcher with the Patna Collective, New Delhi. He can be contacted at khalidanisansari

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