April 5: Two force-multipliers shook up Uttar Pradesh today, setting the stage for communal polarisation 48 hours before the first round of Assembly elections.
Allahabad High Court struck first, a judge ruling that Muslims need not be treated as a minority in Uttar Pradesh because their number was much higher than those of other minorities.
The judgment, which the Samajwadi Party government said it would challenge before a two-judge bench, is likely to cause a churning in the state where the minority vote would be crucial.
If the BJP — which has fallen back on belligerence with the elections round the corner — raises the pitch and the Samajwadi Party plays on the fears of the minorities, polarisation is a certainty, which should benefit both parties.
More fuel was shovelled under the polarisation pot with the BJP getting caught in a CD controversy. The Election Commission has proceeded against the party for allegedly circulating an inflammatory CD in Uttar Pradesh.
FIRs have been filed against party leaders, including president Rajnath Singh, and the charge, if proved, carries disqualification.
The BJP, initially upbeat but now somewhat jittery as poll panels are known to spring a surprise or two, is planning to defend itself by citing a technicality.
But many leaders, who have not been too upbeat about the poll prospects in the state this time, are nursing hopes that the CD controversy will polarise the voters further.
The high court’s explanation for denying Muslims the minority tag was that the community now makes up 18.5 per cent of the state’s population while Christians lag at 8 per cent and Buddhists at less than 10 per cent.
“Muslims have ceased to be a religious minority in Uttar Pradesh on consideration of the material on record, which includes various census reports… of 1951 and 2001,” the single-judge bench of Justice S.N. Srivastava said.
The court argued that the state’s Muslim population had grown faster than that of other minorities — a claim that could play into the hands of saffron outfits. It asked the state to treat Muslims on a par with members of the “other non-minority religious community without discrimination”.
Legal experts wondered if the judgment would stand up to a challenge.
Lawyer Zafaryab Jilani, a member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said the ruling went against the last order on minorities passed by the Supreme Court on August 12, 2005. The apex court had left it to the governments to classify minorities, and held that any religious or linguistic group that made up less than half the country’s population could be regarded as a minority, Jilani said.
The National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992, also makes it a government prerogative, saying a community counts as a minority if it is “notified as such by the central government’’.
The high court verdict comes at a time Muslim leaders were figuring out which party to back in the state polls, with the focus on economic rather than religious issues. The verdict could drive many to support the Samajwadi Party.
The ruling came on a petition by a Ghazipur madarsa that had challenged out-of-turn grants to certain other minority institutions. The court rejected the plea and asked the state to treat Muslim institutions on a par with non-minority institutions in the matter of grants.
Last month, a division bench had stayed proceedings on another writ before the same judge, where the petitioner sought recognition as a minority institution.