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Religious quota by another name

Chennai, April 5: Christians and Muslims are to get separate reservation in education and state government jobs in Tamil Nadu, chief minister M. Karunanidhi announced today.

The state has decided to accept the recommendation of the Tamil Nadu Backward Classes Commission, a statutory body, to grant quotas to people from the two communities, he told the Assembly.

However, the quotas will be on the ground of backwardness, not religion. The Constitution does not allow reservation based only on religion.

Figures on “social and educational backwardness” among Hindus, Muslims and Christians, respectively — documented by an earlier State Backward Classes Commission in 1980 when MGR was the chief minister — could form the basis of the quota.

All parties, including the Opposition ADMK, greeted the news with a thumping of desks.

The Backward Classes Commission is empowered to decide on requests for inclusion and exclusion of communities from the list of‘ backward classes/most backward classes (MBC) and denotified communities.

Tamil Nadu at present provides for 69 per cent reservation in education and government jobs. That includes 30 per cent for backward classes, 20 per cent for MBCs and denotified communities, 18 per cent for Scheduled Castes and 1 per cent for Scheduled Tribes.

But petitions challenging the 69 per cent reservation are pending in the Supreme Court.

Karunanidhi said further “positive, legal steps to make separate quotas for Christians and Muslims a reality will be taken only after the apex court’s verdict in that case”.

It is not clear whether Karunanidhi proposes to include the quota for Muslims and Christians within the 30 per cent already allotted to the backward classes or plans an additional quota.

The DMK chief said he would consult allies Congress and the Left before finalising the details.

Even before he could ask, a Congress MLA came up with a suggestion. Ramanathapuram’s Hasan Ali pointed out that the Sachar committee holds that 95 per cent of Muslims in Tamil Nadu “are backward”. So the state could straightaway offer Muslims and Christians a quota within the quota for the backward classes. The state could also adopt the Bengal model, where 15 per cent of the funds for various schemes were being set aside for the minorities under the Prime Minister’s “new 15-point programme”, he said.

Karunanidhi recalled that in the early 1920s when reservation was first introduced in the erstwhile Madras Presidency, Muslims and Indian Christians had “separate reservation”. The DMK had in the early 1970s included the Urdu-speaking Labbais and Dekhani (sub-groups of Tamil Muslims) in the backward classes list that enabled them to get the benefits of reservation.

But the demand for a separate quota for Christians and Muslims has been long pending and the DMK had made a commitment in its poll manifesto last year, he added.

The states are empowered to introduce reservation — for jobs, they only need to issue a notification while for education, the Assembly has to pass a law.

Andhra Pradesh, which had brought in reservation for Muslims only to have it scrapped by the high court because it was on the ground of religion, is fighting a case in the Supreme Court. But Tamil Nadu could be better placed than its neighbour because the quota has been recommended by the Backward Classes Commission.

According to the 2001 All-India census, out of Tamil Nadu’s total population of 62.41 million, 5.56 per cent are Muslims and 6.07 per cent are Christians.

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