“I regard the Congress party’s green signal to the policy of communal reservations as the inevitable outcome of its pseudo-secular mindset and its complete surrender to the compromises and compulsions inherent in the politics of minorityism. It just goes to show that the Congress is willing to sacrifice the long-term interest of the nation and abandon its own moorings in the national movement for the sake of re-establishing its hold on the minority vote-bank. ”
“There is a real danger of more and more sections of the Hindu society wanting to be called a ‘minority’ since belonging to the majority community seems to attract discrimination and handicap. This extraordinary situation, where many segments of the broader Hindu society consider it a burden to be a part of the ‘majority’, where the majority feels disadvantaged in the constitutional scheme of minority rights, is a perversion of what the Constitution-makers had in mind. ”
“I have a strong apprehension that the demand for communal reservations, in some form or the other, is again going to be voiced in the years to come. There are even organisations that, every once in a while, call for proportionate reservation in Parliament and state legislatures. It is the duty of all nationalist and genuinely secular-minded people to be vigilant against these ideas which, if not effectively countered and smothered, can threaten the unity and integrity of India in the future. ”
* * *
(Read full excerpt on the issue from Shri L.K. Advaniji’s autobiography)
WHY I AM OPPOSED TO COMMUNAL RESERVATIONS
The subject of religion-based reservations had figured prominently—and divisively—during India’s freedom movement. Mahatma Gandhi had opposed the British government’s ‘Communal Award’ of 1935, under which seats were reserved in the legislature in favour of religious groups. The issue again reared its head in the immediate aftermath of Independence,
when the stalwarts of the movement were busy drafting a new republican Constitution for India. The matter had been conclusively settled: An emphatic ‘No’ to communal reservations. No less a person than Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had warned: ‘This way lies not only folly but disaster.’
I was, therefore, deeply distressed when the Congress, now headed by Nehru’s grand daughter-in-law, started raising, and endorsing, the demand for communal reservations. On 11 July 2004, the newly elected Congress government in Andhra Pradesh announced its decision to introduce five per cent reservation for Muslims in government jobs and educational institutions. I must confess that, although I am accustomed to the Congress party’s surrender to the politics of appeasement for the sake of perpetuating its hold over the minority vote bank, the AP government’s decision flummoxed me. The first question that cropped in my mind was: ‘Is it the same Congress party that was once led by Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru? Does the Congress party know the implications and consequences of what it is doing? Has the party that is principally associated with India’s freedom movement become so ideologically bankrupt and so politically perverted that it is willing to mortgage the nation’s unity and integrity for its own narrow and short-term political interests?’
Among the few non-BJP political leaders who opposed the AP government’s decision was Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Dr J. Jayalalithaa, who said: ‘Muslims are not the only minorities in the country. There are Christians and other minorities also. If they also demand religion-based reservations, where will we go?’ This is not a baseless concern. Lately, there have been a few voices—marginal, not mainstream—demanding ‘minority’ status for the Jain community. With the Congress and some other parties announcing religion-based reservations for minorities, some Jains think that securing a ‘minority’ tag would enable them to enjoy these benefits.
If this trend continues, there is a real danger of more and more sections of the Hindu society wanting to be called a ‘minority’ since belonging to the majority community seems to attract discrimination and handicap.
This extraordinary situation, where many segments of the broader Hindu society consider it a burden to be a part of the ‘majority’, where the majority feels disadvantaged in the constitutional scheme of minority rights, is a perversion of what the Constitution-makers had in mind. I have had several meetings with Acharya Mahapragya, whom I regard as one of the greatest living saints in the world today. He has categorically expressed himself against the idea of the Jains being declared as a ‘minority’ community and thus being separated from the larger Hindu family.
In 2005, the Congress-led government at the Centre went a step further. It appointed a committee to study ‘social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community of India’ under the chairmanship of Justice Rajinder Sachar. This committee proposed something unprecedented, unthinkable and egregious: a head-count of Muslims in the Armed Forces. Thus, here was a government casting aspersions on the secular character and impartial conduct of the very guardians of our national defence. The ‘inspiration’ for carrying out a Muslim head-count in the Army, Navy and Air Force had come from a book Khaki and Ethnic Violence in India by Omar Khalidi, an Indian-born American citizen. The very title of the book suggested that its author held an accusing finger at the armed forces, paramilitary forces and state police for what is routinely publicised abroad as violence deliberately targeted against Muslims.
Only a strong outcry from all quarters, not the least from the chiefs of the Armed Forces, forced the government to drop this ill-conceived move. Similarly, the Andhra Pradesh High Court struck down the state government’s order on religion-based reservations in response to a public interest litigation. Nevertheless, the mindset of minorityism, which had engendered the above move, was very much active at the highest levels of the Congress party and its government. This became clear when Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, in his address at the National Development Council on 9 December 2006, declared that Muslims should have ‘the first claim on the country’s resources’.
I have a strong apprehension that the demand for communal reservations, in some form or the other, is again going to be voiced in the years to come. There are even organisations that, every once in a while, call for proportionate reservation in Parliament and state legislatures. It is the duty of all nationalist and genuinely secular-minded people to be vigilant against these ideas which, if not effectively countered and smothered, can threaten the unity and integrity of India in the future. It is for this reason that I consider it to be my duty to recall a highly instructive debate in the Constituent Assembly on how—and why—it rejected communal reservations.
The Constituent Assembly’s initial deliberations in August 1947 were so dominated by the issue of minority safeguards that the Assembly had contemplated reservation of seats in Central and Provincial Legislatures for Muslims, Christians and Sikhs on the basis of their population. Later, however, this proposal was considered more thoroughly by the Constituent Assembly’s Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights and Minorities, and Tribal and Excluded Areas headed by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. This Advisory Committee consisted of a galaxy of great leaders of the freedom movement including Dr B.R. Ambedkar, Dr S.P. Mookerjee, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Dr K.M. Munshi, Purushottamdas Tandon, Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant and Gopinath Bordoloi. Pandit Nehru was a special invitee to the meeting of the committee, which finally expressed that ‘the committee are satisfied that the minorities themselves feel that in their own interests, no less than in the interests of the country as a whole, the statutory reservation of seats for religious minorities should be abolished.’
Commending his Committee’s Report in the Constituent Assembly on 27 February 1947, Sardar Patel said:
Often you must have heard in various debates in British Parliament that have been held on this question recently and before when it has been claimed on behalf of the British Government that they have a special responsibility—a special obligation—for protection of the minorities. They claim to have more special interest than we have. It is for us to prove that it is a bogus claim, that nobody can be more interested than us in India in the protection of our minorities. Our mission is to satisfy every interest and safeguard the interests of all minorities to their satisfaction within the framework of the overall national interest…. In the long run, it would be in the interest of all to forget that there is anything like a majority or a minority in this country and that in India there is only one community.
In his five-volume monumental study Framing of the Indian Constitution, B. Shiva Rao records: ‘A lengthy discussion took place on these proposals of the Advisory Committee. The majority of the speakers—and these included members from all communities—Muslims, Christians, Anglo-Indians, Scheduled Castes, as well as Hindus—offered full support to the proposal to abolish reservations on communal grounds. Jawaharlal Nehru described the proposal as a “historic turn in our destiny”. Nehru added: “A safeguard of this kind would have some point where there was autocratic or foreign rule; it would enable the monarch to play one community off against the other. But where you are up against a full-blooded democracy, if you seek to give safeguards to a minority, and a relatively small minority, you isolate it. Maybe you protect it to a slight extent, but at what cost? At the cost of isolating it and keeping it away from the main current in which the majority is going—I am talking on the political plane of course—at the cost of forfeiting that inner sympathy and fellow-feeling with the majority”.’
The only type of reservations, for which there was unanimous support and that found ready acceptance in the Constituent Assembly, was for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. These have accordingly found place in Article 341 of the Constitution. It is instructive to note that in the operationalisation of this provision, the Congress government specifically defined the beneficiaries to be Hindu Scheduled Castes and four Scheduled Castes among the Sikhs (Kabirpanthis, Ramdasias, Sikligars and Mazhbis) only. The Nehru government kept Muslims and Christians outside the purview of reservation for SCs in education and government jobs. This was done through a Presidential Order amending Article 341 of the Constitution, which enables the President of India to notify a particular caste as a Scheduled Caste. According to the amended law, only those Dalits who were Hindus could be considered members of a Scheduled Caste and hence eligible for the benefits under reservations. In 1956, this was extended to include all scheduled castes professing Sikhism. In 1990, dalits who had embraced Buddhism (Neo-Buddhists) were also included among the Scheduled Castes.
For a long time, there have been demands for extending reservations to so-called ‘Dalit’ Christians and ‘Dalit’ Muslims. However, successive governments have not paid heed to these demands. Why? This is because the framers of the Indian Constitution were very clear in their minds that caste is a feature of the Hindu society. If some lower caste Hindus converted to Islam or Christianity in the past, it was because of the claim and the promise of these religions that they were casteless and hence offered an equal station to the converts vis-à-vis original Muslims or Christians. It is instructive to refer to an important circular issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (Govt. of India/No 18/4/58–SCT IV dated 23 July 1959) during Pandit Nehru’s rule.
Sub: Status of Scheduled Castes converts to Christianity on their reconversion to Hinduism.
Government of India have recently occasion to consider the question whether a person belonging to a Scheduled Caste, who has renounced Hinduism by converting himself to another religion, will revert to his original Scheduled Caste if he becomes a Hindu again. After careful consideration the Government of India are advised that such reconvert, who originally belonged to a Scheduled Caste, should be deemed to have reverted to his original caste and would be eligible for the privileges and assistance provided for the members of the Scheduled Castes. This decision is brought to the notice of the State Governments/Union Territory Administrations for their information and guidance.
This circular makes the thinking of the Nehru government absolutely clear on the issue of caste as an exclusively Hindu social category. In other words, Congress governments at the Centre—right from Nehru to Narasimha Rao—were never in favour of extending the benefit of reservations even to so-called ‘Dalit’ Muslims and ‘Dalit’ Christians, since they could not be considered Scheduled Castes.
It is a moot point to note that religious affiliation does not bar Scheduled Tribes from enjoying the benefits of reservations. Religion is not a criterion for specifying Scheduled Tribes. Scheduled Tribe converts to Islam or Christianity will continue to have the status of STs. This again shows why the Constitution-makers treated caste as a category specific to the Hindu society.
The present leadership of the Congress neither knows nor seems to care for the history of India. However, one would expect it to know at least the history of the Congress party itself and be consistent with its own thinking on the issue of reservation. In other words, today’s leaders of the Congress party would do well to recall the views of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Rajiv Gandhi. In a letter addressed to all Chief Ministers on 27 June 1961, Nehru said:
…I have referred above to efficiency and to our getting out of our traditional ruts. This necessitates our getting out of the old habit of reservations and particular privileges being given to this caste or that group…. I dislike any kind of reservation, more particularly in services. I react strongly against anything which leads to inefficiency and second-rate standards…. If we go in for reservations on communal and caste basis, we swamp the bright and able people and remain second-rate or third-rate. I want my country to be a first class country in everything. The moment we encourage the second-rate, we are lost. I am grieved to learn how far this business of reservation has gone based on communal considerations…. This way lies not only folly but disaster.’ (emphasis added).
I have not cited Nehru’s views to endorse them in their entirety but to bring it to the attention of the present Congress leadership. The BJP, on its part, believes that reservations are indeed needed to help SCs, STs, and OBCs to overcome their social and economic backwardness. The point I wish to make is two-fold: Nehru was aware of the limitation of reservations as the sole instrumentality for the socio-economic uplift of those who are socially and economically backward. Secondly, and more relevant to our present context, he was totally opposed to reservations on communal considerations.
I have mentioned in an earlier chapter what Rajiv Gandhi had to say about reservations, when they are introduced primarily for considerations of partisan politics and electoral benefit. In the debate on Mandal Commission recommendations, the then Leader of the Opposition made a marathon speech in September 1990, accusing the then Prime Minister V.P. Singh of threatening the unity and integrity of India. ‘You have ignited caste violence all over the country,’ Rajiv Gandhi thundered. Specifically, he had questioned the propriety of providing the benefit of reservations for the privileged sections in society—the so-called ‘creamy layer’.
Those who remember the Mandal Commission debate know that on the question of excluding the ‘creamy layer’ from the beneficiaries of reservations, there was unanimity between the BJP, Communist parties and the Congress. Also, the Supreme Court in its judgment on the implementation of Mandal Commission recommendations upheld the exclusion of the ‘creamy layer’ for the consideration of reservations. My reason for referring to the ‘creamy layer’ principle in the present context is simply to point out that, in proposing to provide reservations for the Muslim community as a whole, the Congress has disregarded Rajiv Gandhi’s own concerns over this principle. In this context, let me quote what the Chairman of the first Backward Classes Commission, Kaka Kalelkar, a respected Gandhian, said in his letter to the government while presenting his report: ‘For the purpose of the Backward Classes Commission, we could not accept the view that all Indian Christians and Indian Muslims were backward, without accepting the logical conclusion that all Hindus were also in the same sense equally backward.’
I regard the Congress party’s green signal to the policy of communal reservations as the inevitable outcome of its pseudo-secular mindset and its complete surrender to the compromises and compulsions inherent in the politics of minorityism. It just goes to show that the Congress is willing to sacrifice the long-term interest of the nation and abandon its own moorings in the national movement for the sake of re-establishing its hold on the minority vote-bank.
It is apposite for me to quote here a passage from Durga Das Basu’s monumental work Introduction to the Constitution of India. An acclaimed scholar on Constitutional matters, Basu writes about the ‘ominous trends which have been revealed since the General Election of 1980 as regards the ever-aggressive demands of the religious minorities, which run counter to the very foundations of the existing Constitution and which seek to ride roughshod over the pronouncements of the highest tribunal of the land—not on the ground that they are inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution but because they are not consonant with the separatist ambitions of the religious minorities. The most grievous feature of this post-Independence development is that the minorities have held up their vote as a bait and political leaders of the majority community belonging to different parties have indiscriminately swallowed that bait in their election manifestos and alliances, irrespective of the ideologies that ushered in the Independence of India and which form the bedrock of the existing Constitution. In this background, it is the duty of an impartial academician to point out to a nationalist Indian (every Indian citizen cannot be assumed to have narrow political ambitions) that to accept such anti-nationalist demands of the minorities would be to tear India into pieces.’
I urge all the right-minded people in the country, including silent but concerned Congressmen, to raise their voice against the politics of minorityism. Since India is not a theocratic state, the religious rights and the identities of the various faith-based communities that constitute the Great Indian Family must indeed be protected. But notions of ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ should have no place in the politics and statecraft of our nation much less manipulated for vote-bank considerations. This divisive mindset jeopardises India as one united, integral and harmonious nation. The Congress party is trying to the divide the nation by continuously harping on ‘minority protection’ in the same way that the British rulers did for their own ulterior motives.
Let me make it clear: my party is neither against minorities—Muslims or others—nor against any minority faith in India. We respect all faiths, including Islam. India belongs equally to all Indians, irrespective of their caste or creed. Our ideology of nationalism is inclusive and nondiscriminatory. I appeal to the Muslim community to introspect: ‘Has your present negative outlook towards my party helped either your own community or the nation at large? Does the Congress party really deserve your support after its irrefutable record of betrayal and its contribution to keeping a large section of your community poor and backward even after nearly sixty years of Independence? The progress, welfare and security of all sections of India’s diverse society are inter-related and indivisible. Therefore, come out of the trap of the minority mindset and join the national mainstream with equal rights and responsibilities to build a strong, prosperous and just India.’