Opinion: Reservation for minorities takes Indian politics to old terrain
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Opinion: Reservation for minorities takes Indian politics to old terrain

After having spent almost a year in getting polarized on the issue of corruption in low and high places, Indian politics appears to have returned to the precipice of its old fault line –schism on basis of religious identity.

By announcing a sub-quota for religious minorities under Other Backward Castes category for reservation in government jobs and in educational institutions, the United Progressive Alliance government is likely to have considerably deflected attention from the contentious anti-graft legislation. How the reaction to the government decision unfolds over the next few days will determine the success or failure of Round III of Anna Hazare’s agitation. It would also have direct bearing on the electoral issues in the five states that go to polls in 2012. That this would also impact the fortunes of all political parties is also a foregone conclusion.

Common logic and past societal responses suggests that the government’s move will be projected as another instance of “appeasement of minorities”. There is also likelihood that OBCs would turn resentful not just towards the government and political parties perceived as being prime movers of this decision, but also towards minorities – especially Muslims with whom castes Yadavs forged a successful political alliance in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Rounds I and II of Anna Hazare’s movement were criticized because of lack of representation of religious minorities and Dalits. The predominantly caste-Hindu social base of the anti-graft campaign would undoubtedly be critical of the sub-quota decision. It is too early to assess whether this group would join Hazare’s Round III with the same enthusiasm or rein in their horses for a possible battle on the issue of reservation for religious minorities.

In August 1990 VP Singh announced his intention to implement a part of recommendations of the Mandal Commission Report. The decision sparked violent protests dividing Hindu society and forced LK Advani to launch his first of many Yatras. Till December 1992, the Ayodhya agitation was used as a countervailing force to the schism created by Singh’s decision. One tried to widen inherent contradictions in Hindu society and the other tried to forge all-encompassing pan-Hindu political unity.

The basic issue now is whether OBCs will share their slice of reservations with Muslims and other minorities. The reaction of Upper Caste Hindus needs to be tracked to assess if the occasion is used by them to forge pan-Hindu political unity in favour of any political group like in several parts of India in 1991.

Muslims on their part – especially in UP – will also have to decide who is to be credited the most for the sop: Congress, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Yadav or Mayawati. It is too early to state if Muslims would opt for one political party or support pro-reservation candidates with the best chance to win. The BJP would hope for a strident reaction against the sub-quota decision to enable them to consolidate their fractured vote bank. And Team Anna will hope that identity-based politics does not stage a comeback. It surely is turning out to be a cracker of a year-ender.