Kolkata: West Bengal on Monday announced 10% reservation in state government jobs for “economically, socially and educationally backward” Muslims, shortly after the Andhra Pradesh high court set aside a similar order passed in the southern state in 2007.
The West Bengal government’s move is being viewed as an attempt by the ruling Left Front to woo Muslim voters ahead of next year’s assembly elections.
Chief minister buddhadeb Bhattacharjee denied political considerations had motivated the decision.
He said the state was adopting the Ranganath Mishra Commission’s recommendations ahead of the Centre.
The panel, headed by former Supreme Court chief justice Mishra, had submitted a report in May 2007 suggesting reservation for Muslims in education and government jobs.
“We don’t know when they (Centre) are going to adopt the recommendations, but we are doing it in our state,” Bhattacharjee said at a news conference. Muslims, according to him, form a quarter of West Bengal’s population of 80 million.
Mamata Banerjee, chairperson of West Bengal’s main opposition Trinamool Congress party, had also recently promised reservation for Muslims in education and jobs if voted to power.
West Bengal will expand the quota for other backward classes (OBCs) in state government jobs from 7% to 17%, the chief minister said.
Members of the minority community with an annual family income in excess of Rs4.5 lakh would not be entitled to the quota. “We are excluding the creamy layer,” Bhattacharjee said.
The implementation of the quota will be expedited through a “government order”, or a decision of the state cabinet, said Abdus Sattar, West Bengal’s minister for minorities development and welfare. “A new legislation would not be required. But we would need the Centre’s approval.”
Abhirup Sarkar, professor of economics at Kolkata’s Indian Statistical Institute, said reservation in education should have preceded the quota in government jobs.
“What’s more, how can people with annual family income of Rs4.5 lakh be considered backward?” he said. “This indicates the Left Front is simply trying to garner support for itself ahead of the 2011 assembly election.”
Muslims’ traditional support for Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front has been flagging since an unrest in early 2007 over land acquisition in Nandigram—where Muslims led the protest against the state’s proposal to build a chemical hub.
“Most of those killed in Nandigram (in police firing and political skirmishes) were Muslims,” a state cabinet minister said on condition of anonymity. “What followed soon after was the Rizwanur Rehman case. These alienated us from Muslims to some extent.”
The minister was referring to the unnatural death of Rehman, a teacher at a private computer training centre, soon after he married the daughter of a high-profile Hindu businessman. An investigation found that the police had pressured them to separate.
“Even our allies were pushing for the quota,” the minister added.
Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala also have quotas for Muslims. Andhra Pradesh said it would move theSupreme Court against Monday’s high court order quashing 4% reservation for Muslims in education and jobs in the state.
PTI contributed to this story.