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The politics of religious quotas

The politics of religious quotas
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First Published: Thu, Mar 25 2010. 09 13 PM IST
Updated: Thu, Mar 25 2010. 09 13 PM IST
In a far-reaching order on Thursday, the Supreme Court gave an interim green signal to a law from Andhra Pradesh that provides reservation for backward classes of Muslims. The court also referred the case to a Constitution bench as it involves several constitutional issues.
The Andhra Pradesh high court had earlier struck down the law, the Andhra Pradesh Reservation in Favour of Socially and Educationally Backward Classes of Muslims Act, 2007. The law provides for 4% reservation for various categories of Muslims in education and public employment.
What is surprising in the apex court’s order is that while it recognized that several constitutional issues are at stake, it permitted the law to proceed as an interim measure. Further, the court also did not give any reason for this interim approval. Where was the need for an interim approval if a larger bench is to consider the case? Given the contentious nature of reservations based on religion, it is always better to be late and take a considered view of the matter.
While the court is considering a specific judicial problem, its wider political impact cannot be anything but negative. The prevailing political climate will ensure that. For example, the Women’s Reservation Bill, that allows 33% reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and state legislatures, ran into rough weather as, in the eyes of many, it does not take into account the interests of minorities.
One unintended consequence of the court’s order will be to greatly embolden such groups. There is a wide swathe of political opinion, both within the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and outside it, that sees great political potential in religious reservations. There will now be inexorable pressure on the UPA government to give in to these demands. These will include the implementation of the recommendations of the Rajinder Sachar committee and the Ranganath Misra commission. Among a plethora of other recommendations, these committees argue for reservations for Muslims in educational institutions and public employment. Proponents of sub-quotas and religious reservation will now say that the judiciary has given its stamp of approval to such reservations, even if the court has said no such thing.
Historically, reservations based on religion have only weakened national unity and can never impart strength to the country. It is imperative that the UPA government resist pressures and temptations to go in for generalized reservation based on religion.
Are religious reservations a threat to national unity? Tell us at views@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Mar 25 2010. 09 13 PM IST