Karnataka has scrapped OBC quota for Muslims, but can it be implemented? No, say experts

A number of arguments, from the non-existence of religion-based quotas to due process not being followed, can be raised against the move.

ByBellie Thomas

Published Mar 30, 2023 | 9:00 AMUpdatedMar 30, 2023 | 9:00 AM

Chief Minister Bommai briefing the press after the reservation proposal in the last cabinet meeting

The BJP-ruled Karnataka government on Friday, 24 March. decided to scrap the four percent reservation for backward classes among Muslims under Category 2B of Other Backward Classes (OBC).

Constitutional experts opine that the decision is legally untenable, and hence cannot be implemented.

After making Category 2B redundant, the four percent reservation exclusively for Muslims would now be divided into two equal parts and added to the existing quotas for the electorally significant Vokkaliga and the Lingayat communities.

Two new reservation categories — 2C and 2D — were created for them during the Belagavi Assembly session in December.

The Congress and the JD(S) have protested against the move, with the former even announcing a rollback on the decision if it came to power in the state. The Karnataka Assembly election will be held on 10 May.

“It is not about accommodating us in the EWS (Economically Weaker Sections) quota, but about removing us from the OBC category. This is a process of ‘othering’,” Congress MLA Rizwan Arshad told South First.

“They have, just for political reasons, taken away something that was given on a scientific basis after due process was followed. This is an attempt to pit one community against another and create confrontation,” he added.

Related: Panchamasali sect opposes new 2D category announced for it

Experts punch holes in BJP claims

During his recent visit to Karnataka, Union Home Minister Amit Shah defended the BJP state government’s decision, insisting that the Constitution doesn’t allow for reservation on the basis of religion.

Experts have pointed to how the statement is misleading.

“Does the Union home minister not know that there are no reservations at all based on religious minority status?” asked Dr CS Dwarakanath, former chairman of the Karnataka Backward Class Commission.

“From the Nagana Gowda Commission report, Havannur Commission report, Justice Chinnappa Reddy Commission report to the Venkataswamy report, all of them categorise Muslims under backward classes. There is no religion or caste, but they used the word ‘class’,” he pointed out.

Dwarakanath added that the community was deemed “backward” because of its social and educational backwardness, not just economical backwardness.

“Articles 15 (4) and 16 (4) of the Constitution point to the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth; and equality of opportunity in matters of public employment,” he told South First.

“These people say we are going to remove them from the backward class list and we will put them in the EWS. How can the socially and educationally backward class people fit into the economic reservation category? How can that be possible?” he asked.

The bigger picture

“Let us assume that we still go ahead. Even then, we have to go for the amendment of the Economically Weaker Section category. Even if we accept that, can it be possible to only put the Karnataka Muslims into the EWS list? What about the other states? If they want to remove all the religious minorities — Christians, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Dalit-converted Christians — (they are all) there in the OBC list; what is the fate of all these communities?” asked Dwarakanath.

He also said that this was a mere political gimmick, and cheating voting communities, adding that what the BJP government in Karnataka had proposed could not be implemented — legally or morally — because these proposals run afoul of many court rulings.

“Category 3A consists of three communities — Vokkaligas, Kodavas and Balijas. In Category 3B, there are Bunts, Christians, and Jains. So, what about the fate of these communities?” asked Dwarakanath.

However, defending the move, BJP’s law minister JC Madhuswamy said: “We have 10 percent EWS quota but there are only 3-4 percent of communities like Brahmins and Vaishyas in Karnataka. It is unscientific to give 10 percent quota to such a small section.”

He added: “We needed to find a bigger block that can benefit, and Muslims make up 8-10 percent of the population. To allow them to avail EWS quota, we had to remove them from the existing reservation. You may ask me how they would compete with forward castes, but even among forward castes only the poor are eligible for EWS.”

Related: Scrapping of OBC quota for Muslims: Karnataka a test case?

Another point of view

Political scientist Professor Muzzafar Assadi told South First that the move was completely absurd and could be challenged in a court of law mainly because EWS was not a religious quota or category.

“There is a mismatch between the arguments of religion versus castes. First of all, the reservation was not given on the basis of religion, but on the basis of socio-economic category; the only thing is that in the Category 2B they should have mentioned the different castes,” Assadi said.

“Secondly, this proposal was hurriedly passed without any report being submitted by the Backward Class Commission. And last, but not the least, there was no independent research done about the socio-economic status of Muslims.

“Most importantly, no independent work or research has been done to analyse the diversity among Muslim community members. For example, a number of castes appear or exist among Muslims in the state or the country,” he noted.