July  2004 
Year 10    No.99

Special Report


ĎMuslim leaders donít think, are ill-informedí

Shabbir Ansari
President, All-India Muslim OBC Organisation

I think the Congress is not serious about helping Muslims. It is only playing with their emotions with this 5 per cent reservation in Andhra. With the issue now stuck in court, Muslims will gain nothing even as they stand to lose a lot. All that has been achieved is the fanning of communal flames. The BJP and the VHP have got a new weapon. Who gains?

If the Congress was sincere about doing something to remove the backwardness of Muslims, why piecemeal measures in one state? Why is the Prime Minister talking about setting up one more commission? This is nothing but an excuse to avoid action. If the Congress really mean business, why donít they act on the recommendations of the Gopal Singh Commission that Mrs. Gandhi had appointed and whose findings are gathering dust?

The problem is our Muslim leaders donít think; they are ill informed. I could suggest ways of arriving at practical solutions to them, ways where the sangh parivar would also find it very difficult to harp on their "Muslim appeasement" bogey. But who wants to listen?

Let me give an example. In the context of a writ petition filed by TMA Pai Foundation and others from Karnataka (317/93), the Supreme Court gave a ruling in October 2000 approving 10 per cent reservation for economically weaker sections in educational institutions. Now, once you put aside caste-based quota, since the Muslims as a community are economically backward, it stands to reason that if only we were prepared to work in that direction, we could effectively ensure something like 5 per cent reservation for Muslims all over India without inviting the charge of asking for religion-based reservation.

The Constitution of India has guaranteed so many rights to all citizens, which obviously includes Muslims. Why not seek remedies to our problems by invoking these constitutional provisions as citizens, rather than as Muslims?

There are so many government schemes that open up avenues for employment, self-employment. Are we even aware of what these schemes are and how Muslims could stake a claim to them, not as a religious community but as citizens?

Everyone knows that over 90 per cent of Indiaís Muslims are from the lower castes. We all know that there may be other problems but there is no legal hurdle in getting OBCs among the Muslims to avail of the benefits of the recommendations made by the Mandal Commission. Why not concentrate in this direction since the large majority of Muslims are from the OBCs? Then, we have a situation where Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians are denied the reservation benefits available to Hindu, Sikh and neo-Buddhist Dalits. Why donít we challenge this existing reservation policy that for all practical purposes is nothing but religion-based reservation? If Muslims and Christians are denied reservation on the ground that there is no place for caste in Islam, then why reservations for Dalit Sikhs and Dalit neo-Buddhists? Where is caste in Sikhism or Buddhism?

Why does the Muslim leadership not look at all these issues and possibilities, why only harp on religion-based reservation? I would also ask: if religion-based reservation for Muslims were to be conceded tomorrow without any concept of a creamy layer, who among the Muslims will benefit? Will it help well-educated, well-connected Muslim leaders from the upper strata or will the benefits go to the vast majority of poor, illiterate Muslims with no connections to the powers that be?

Finally, I would also like to ask: Independent India has seen three Muslim Presidents, vice-presidents, Chief Justices of the Supreme Court and high courts, governors, chief ministers, etc. Why, for example, could some of them not have taken the initiative in setting up educational institutions of excellence, which could then have opened avenues for others from the community?

I believe the Muslim leadership is to blame for much of the predicament that the community finds itself in today.


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