The issue has a fraught history in undivided AP and Telangana. When Congress introduced 4% quota for Muslims in 2004, it drew flak from several quarters.
In July 2023, 40 representatives of the Muslim community came together to put forth a list of demands, ahead of the Telangana Assembly elections that are scheduled for November 30. Titled the Muslim Declaration 2023, the demands included, among other things, the implementation of 10-12 percent reservation for Muslims in the state.
While the reservation policy has been discussed for over nine years since the state’s formation, it is yet to see the light of day owing to several complications.
A 12 percent quota was first promised at a public meeting in Shadnagar, Telangana, in 2014. Addressing the Muslim community, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS, now BRS) chief K Chandrashekar Rao had said, “The Congress and the Telugu Desam Party have done nothing for Muslims. Give us a chance and we will ensure that the 12 percent quota is implemented.” The BRS came to power that year.
In 2017, the BRS government passed the Telangana Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes (reservation of seats in educational institutions and of appointments or posts in services under the state) Bill. Through the Bill, the Telangana government aimed to hike the quota for Muslims and Scheduled Tribes. Up until then, Muslims were allotted a four percent quota under the Other Backward Classes category, while STs were given a six percent quota.
However, when the state government forwarded the Bill to the union government asking for it to be cleared and incorporated in the ninth schedule of the constitution, it was denied. The Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government categorically refused Telangana’s request, stating that it cannot allow for religion-based reservations.
The Muslim Declaration of 2023 is of the view that the Bill was nothing more than a gimmick.
“They [the TRS government] passed the Bill and sent it to the BJP government at the centre, knowing full well that they would trash it. He [KCR] supported many bills brought by the BJP-led NDA government in the Parliament. Nevertheless, no pressure was exerted on the Central government to approve the Bill increasing Muslim reservations,” reads a part of the declaration.
It is also worth noting that despite being a part of the party’s manifesto in 2014 and 2018, the 12 percent reservation does not figure in the BRS’s manifesto for the 2023 elections.
KCR’s plan and what followed
While introducing the Bill to increase Muslim reservations from four to 12 percent in January 2017, KCR had argued that the legislation will be along the lines of that formulated by Tamil Nadu in 1994, which took the overall quota in the state to 69 percent.
He had also said, “In order to provide 12 percent reservation to Muslims, a relaxation should be given to the stipulation that the reservations should not exceed 50 percent. The government of Tamil Nadu introduced Act 45/94 and with the consent of [the] Indian parliament and incorporated the issue of enhancement of reservation in the ninth schedule of the Indian constitution. We will follow the same policy in our state as well.”
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While the move was dubbed a gutsy wave of support for minorities, relying on Tamil Nadu alone has proven to be tricky. Despite several experts arguing that the Tamil Nadu reservation policy of 69 percent will remain untouched, multiple pleas over the years have questioned the inclusion of Tamil Nadu’s Act under the ninth schedule, stating that it is unconstitutional and in violation of Article 14 (equality before law).
The Supreme Court remarked that it will only hear the plea against Tamil Nadu’s 69 percent reservation policy after the five-judge constitution bench decides the pending pleas on Maratha reservation. In May 2021, the apex court declared the Maharashtra law – which provides reservation benefits to the Maratha community, taking the quota limit in the state above 50 percent – as unconstitutional . The court’s ruling has been contested since.
History of Muslim reservations in Telangana
Muslim reservation in Telangana (and united Andhra Pradesh) has a fraught history. In July 2004, the then Congress government led by YS Rajasekhara Reddy issued a government order allowing a five percent quota to be provided to Muslims by treating them as OBCs and creating a fifth category (OBC-E).
The Andhra Pradesh High Court struck down the government order in September 2004, citing the 50 percent ceiling as dictated by the Supreme Court in the Indra Sawhney vs Union of India judgement. The verdict limited the powers of a state and set a 50 percent ceiling on quotas and prescribed 11 indicators to ascertain backwardness.
Following this, the quota was brought down to four percent. Even this four percent reservation for Muslims had drawn flak in united Andhra Pradesh.
A year later, in October 2005, the YSR government issued an ordinance providing a five percent quota to Muslims in educational institutions and state government jobs. The ordinance, which was later made an Act, was titled Andhra Pradesh Reservation of Seats in the Educational Institutions and of Appointments or Posts in the Public Services under the State to Muslim Community Act, 2005.
In November 2005, a five-member bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court struck down the Act, faulting the procedure followed in including Muslims in the list of notified Backward Classes.
Yet again, in July 2007, the YSR government promulgated an ordinance and later passed a legislation titled the Andhra Pradesh Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes of Muslims Act. It provided four percent reservations to 14 categories of poor Muslims, keeping with the 50 percent limit. The high court quashed it in February 2010, stating that it was unsustainable and violative of Article 14 and other provisions pertaining to prohibition of discrimination.
The Andhra government approached the Supreme Court which, through an interim order, allowed the reservation to continue until a constitutional bench decided on the issue. Ever since, the issue has persisted with no solution in sight.
Political back and forth
Several leaders of the BJP and Hindu right-wing groups have time and again called the attempt to grant reservation to Muslims a ‘religion-based’ policy with no bearing on social backwardness. In April 2023, Home Minister Amit Shah termed Muslim reservation and welfare schemes such as double-bedroom houses in Telangana as “unconstitutional”. He warned that it would be withdrawn once BJP comes to power in the state.
Responding to similar statements made by other BJP leaders, the BRS and the Congress called it yet another case of BJP’s anti-minority stance.
It is also worth noting that the decision to implement 12 percent reservation for Muslims was taken by the Telangana government following a report published by a four-member commission led by Telangana bureaucrat G Sudhir. The Commission of Inquiry on Socio-Economic and Education Condition of Muslims in Telangana recommended 12 percent reservation for Muslims, or a minimum of nine percent to the community in social and educational sectors.
KCR backtracks on Muslim quota
The issue was further compounded by the introduction of the Economically Weaker Sections reservation. The Supreme Court in 2019 had allowed 10 percent reservation for EWS with the five-member bench holding that the 50 percent cap on quota as enforced by the Indra Sawhney judgement is not inviolable. Affirmative action on economic basis may go a long way in “eradicating caste-based reservation”, the court had observed.
While the 12 percent Muslim reservation hasn’t found a place in Telangana, the state government did implement the 10 percent EWS reservation in February 2021 – two years after the union government announced it – in state-run educational institutions and government recruitments.
In addition to this, the state government increased the ST reservation from six to 10 percent in September 2022. Considering this and the EWS reservation of 10 percent, total reservation in the state has been raised to 64 percent.
The increase in quota for STs was carried out by the Telangana government through a government order. As it was an executive order, the issue did not need to be referred to the union government. However, the order might not stand legal scrutiny if it were to be challenged in the Supreme Court as a violation of the upper limit. In September 2022, National Backward Class Welfare Association president R Krishnaiah told Deccan Chronicle that the state government’s hurry to implement the quota could result in possible legal hurdles.
Moreover, the move of the state government to increase ST reservation through an executive order invited the ire of Muslims.
“When the reservation for STs was increased, the 12 percent for Muslims too could have been implemented. However, KCR failed to do so...KCR deceived Muslims during the Telangana movement and the first elections by making numerous false promises,” the Muslim Declaration 2023 said.
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