The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Minority community blow to Gogoi

Guwahati, Oct. 13: The Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government has suffered a major setback, with the state’s Muslim community today rejecting the proposal for granting of “backward class” status to it.

Attributing a “political motive” to the government’s proposal, political leaders and intellectuals, after a threadbare discussion, were unanimous that only Muslims living in the char areas — not the entire community — needed such a classification.

Sources said a “formal intimation” would be sent to the government soon, outlining why the community is not keen on the proposal, one that the ruling Congress hoped would galvanise its support among Muslims.

“It is nothing but vote-bank politics and an effort to create a schism between indigenous Muslims and those who have settled from other places,” Gauhati High Court lawyer Hasibur Rahman, a signatory to the memorandum submitted to the government opposing the move, said.

What has irked the community is a phrase used by the government in the notification on the proposal “to examine the question whether the prevailing socio-economic conditions of the Muslims now residing in Assam justify them to be declared as backward class under the Constitution of India”.

“The word ‘now’ is humiliating and insulting to the entire Muslim community, which is an inseparable part of the indigenous population of Assam, occupying a respectable position during Ahom and British rule,” Rahman said.

The rejection comes as a major embarrassment for the Congress, which is apparently attempting to consolidate its vote bank among a community that has traditionally supported it.

Most speakers in today’s meeting felt that rather than brand the community backward, the government would do well to tone up the department of minority welfare and development and the directorate of char areas development. They also called for time-bound programmes so that the funds for development of Muslims are not misused.

The state unit of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind had prodded the government into coming out with the proposal, but the organisation itself is divided on the issue now, with a section of its leaders falling out with the Tarun Gogoi government recently.

The government’s move is also being viewed as an attempt to pacify the Abdul Jalil Ragibi faction of the Jamiat, which had threatened to withdraw its support to the Congress in the next elections.

The rejection is music for the BJP’s ears, which had dubbed it as an “attempt to divide the people of Assam on religious lines”.

Burhanuddin Ahmed, another prominent leader, pointed out that the plan, if implemented, would fail to do much for the community as there are already 33 communities listed as “backward class” in Assam.

“As the 34th on the list, there is very little scope for any benefit from reservation,” he added.

AGP leader Ali Akbar Mian had made a cause for reservation for Muslims living in the char areas, as did United Minority Front leader Hafiz Rashid Ahmed Choudhury.

One of the memorandums submitted to the government even pointed out that government did not have the authority to declare any community as backward class under the Constitution. “Under Article 340, an OBC commission under a retired chief justice is already functioning in Assam to examine the matter under a Supreme Court directive in view of the Mandal Commission report,” a signatory said.

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