MANINI CHATTERJEE, Indian Express ,November 15, 2006

Nov 14, New Delhi.   Taking the view that caste transcends both religion and class as the primary source of discrimination in India, Janata Dal(U) president Sharad Yadav today came out strongly against moves to provide reservations for Muslims as a whole but at the same time demanded that Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians should be constitutionally included in the Scheduled Castes category and benefit from existing quotas for SCs.

In a statement that takes a very different view from both the BJP’s stance against religion-based reservations as well as from the pro-reservation statements by leaders such as Ram Vilas Paswan, the JD(U) president said those who were advocating quotas on the basis of religion or economic grounds were actually seeking to dilute the centrality of caste and undermine reservations for OBCs in particular.

Without referring to the “creamy layer” controversy, Yadav also made it clear that his party would oppose any move to dilute quotas by citing class differences within OBCs. “Reservation is not an anti-poverty measure. It has nothing to do with the economic advancements of the beneficiary classes. It is a policy of positive discrimination to offset the discrimination that is institutionalised in the caste system. That is why the only criterion for reservation is caste,” the strongly worded statement said.

In reply to questions, he reiterated that “reservation has nothing to do with (economic) empowerment; it is to do with a sense of belonging, of inclusion.” That is why demands that the reservations be extended to the poor among upper castes were equally untenable, he asserted.

While sticking firmly to his Mandalite convictions on the importance of caste, Yadav — unlike his allies in the BJP — was also clear that the phenomenon of caste pervades not just to those who belong to the Hindu faith but to all religious denominations in India.

His argument, therefore, was OBC Muslims should continue getting reservations under the OBC quota and Dalit Muslims included under the SC quota but those who did not belong to either should not be given quotas on the basis of their religion. The Mandal Commission, he added, had already identified several Muslim groups — comprising as much as 80 per cent of the Muslim populace, including Dalit Muslims — as backward and they were availing reservations.

Attacking the Sachar Committee’s reported proposal that the whole Muslim community be characterised as a Socially and Educationally Backward Class, Yadav said, “It is a fact that Muslims are also divided into many castes and classes. It is also a fact that backward classes of Muslims are already getting the benefits of reservations in the Centre and states.”

Therefore, talking of reservation for Muslims on religious grounds actually went against the interests of OBC Muslims because “these classes cannot compete with the elite Muslim classes,” he said.

Besides, he added, the Sachar Committee was not competent to declare any class as backward — the National Commission of Backward Classes alone could take such a call.

Accusing the Congress leadership of being against reservations for OBCs right from the days of Jawaharlal Nehru, Yadav said the Congress under Sonia Gandhi was pursuing the same policy and “talk of reservations on economic and religious criteria is part of the conspiracy against OBC reservations, which is just 27 per cent.”

In this context, he also took umbrage at the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) figures for OBC population in the country. It had pegged it at 30 per cent in 1999 and has raised it to 41 per cent in 2005-06.

Yadav went on to demand the institution of “criminal cases of fraud and forgery against those involved in creating such data for OBCs” since the 1931 census data was the only authentic caste data on the basis of which the Mandal Commission had reached the figure of 52 per cent OBC population in the country.

Pointing out that the growth pattern of OBCs suggests that it would be well above 60 per cent of the current population, Yadav claimed that “80 per cent of Muslims, 60 per cent Christians and 85 per cent of Vaishya communities are already part of OBCs.” While OBC populations existed among Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Jains and Christians, today Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians were also being clubbed as OBCs instead of being characterised as SCs.

He went on to raise three demands to address these anomalies — the categorisation of Dalit Muslims and Christians as Scheduled Castes under the Constitution; the enumeration of castes in the next census to get a clear picture of caste figures; and a survey on the status of OBCs “in top Government jobs, judiciary, media, industries and highly paid professions.”

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