Kolkata: At least three public interest litigations (PILs) challenging reservations granted by successive West Bengal governments to dozens of communities—most of them Muslim—between 2010 and 2012 highlight how rivals Left Front and Trinamool Congress followed the same strategy to gain the support of minorities.
The PILs are currently being heard by the acting chief justice of the Calcutta high court, Jyotirmay Bhattacharya.
The petitioners have alleged that between 8 March 2010 and 24 September 2010, the Left Front gave 42 new communities reservations as other backward classes(OBC), of whom 41 were Muslim. Later, in March 2012, under the Trinamool Congress rule, 35 more communities were recognized as OBC, 30 of them Muslim.
According to a statement by the state government, West Bengal had by November 2010 recognized as many as 86% of the state’s 20 million Muslim population as OBC.
In the 15 years till 2009, West Bengal had recognized only 66 communities as OBC, of whom 12 were Muslim. The PILs allege that the state government, before and after 2011, when the Trinamool Congress ended the Left Front’s 34-year rule, did not follow the due process to determine if these communities required reservation. The petitioners seek cancellation of the recognition.
In 2010, the West Bengal government asked the University of Calcutta to conduct a survey to identify the “more backward" from backward classes, according to the petitioners. On 15 September that year, the university submitted a preliminary report, but without waiting for its final report, the state government decided to expand reservation for OBC from 7% to 17%.
On 24 September, the state created two categories: one with 10% reservation, and the other with 7%. The petitioners have alleged that the state government acted for the political benefit of elected representatives by creating religion-based reservation which was unconstitutional.
Tapan Kumar Mukherjee, a lawyer for the state, submitted in court that laws had been amended to empower the administration to recommend on its own communities that could be recognized as OBC. Subir Sanyal, the lawyer for the petitioners, however, said by the time that amendment was passed on 21 September 2010, 42 communities that were granted reservation that year had already been identified.
After the 2009 general election, the Left Front led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, realised that the Muslim community was drifting away, said a political analyst, who asked not to be named. From 2009, the CPM had a lot of discussions internally and it was decided that Muslims were to be granted reservation, this person said.
Politically, however, it did not benefit the CPM because it had no time to show how the reservation helped, according to the political analyst. The Trinamool Congress carried on with it, and now appears to have gained from it, he added. “But for the community it means little because reservations would help only if new jobs were created," he said.
“OBC or not, Muslims still have to bribe government officials for jobs," alleged Qazi Fazlur Rahman, a respected community leader in Kolkata. “The aim of declaring Muslim communities as OBC appears to be political gains only."
Abdus Sattar, a CPM leader and a former minister for minority development, said it was found that Hindu communities were benefitting from reservation whereas Muslims in the same profession were not recognized as OBC. The aim was to create “equal opportunity" for all communities in the same situation, he added.
However, things may not have improved much. Muslims accounted for a little over 9% of people employed with the state police, but even with almost eight years of reservations, things have not improve much, he claimed. If reservations were to succeed in giving backward Muslim communities a fillip, the process of obtaining OBC certificates should be simplified, he added.