Muslim Reservation-  A Redux of Partition Politics

In the just-concluded Karnataka state elections, the Congress party scored a sweeping victory riding on the back of renewed support of its traditional-yet-disgruntled vote bank cultivated over seven decades — Muslims.

So what prompted Karnataka Muslims to ditch their favoured regional party Janta Dal (Secular), JD(S), and switch to its old ally, the Congress this time?  There was a common perception among the Muslims that JDS is working as the B team of the BJP. The Congress had promised to restore the 4% Muslim reservation enjoyed by the community since 1977 and scrapped by the ruling BJP government days before the announcement of the 2023 Karnataka assembly elections.

Even as the matter of Muslim reservation is pending with the Supreme Court that recently reprimanded home minister Amit Shah for saying ‘Constitution does not permit reservation on the basis of religion’, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind president Maulana Arshad Madani has gone ahead and demanded the Congress to fulfill its poll-promise of restoring the quota on the basis of the so-called economic backwardness of the Muslims. If that was not enough, some Muslim leaders have started demanding the quota to be enhanced from the present 4% to 7% as Muslims constitute 15% of the state’s population. This latest demand is in sync with the ask of SDPI, the political arm of the banned terrorist organisation PFI, which made Muslim quota enhancement their poll plank.

During an election rally SDPI general secretary Afsar Kudlikere said: “While the Sachar committee report clearly states Muslims are the most backward, the Justice Ranganath Misra committee has recommended 10% reservation for the community. We will fight to achieve this through state elections.”

In this mad race of Muslim appeasement, Karnataka joins the states like Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. While Kerala is giving 12% reservation to Muslims, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are extending 4% each and Tamil Nadu provides 3.5% quota to appease the Muslim vote bank. 

Wondering why so many non-BJP governments are hellbent on giving quotas to Muslims that are psychologically linked to separate electorates, which led to so many disasters and dangerous history of partition?

Allow me to take you on a time travel to 1909 when the seed of communal reservation was first sowed. 

The British colonial masters awarded Muslims reserved seats in legislatures in 1909 on the argument that the “former ruling elite minority” had fallen behind the Hindu subject majority in accepting modern education. They were provided separate electorates and a 25% quota in civil services to reflect their 25% representation of the population. 

Do you see a striking resemblance between these century-old British gestures of divide and rule with the communal cards flashed by the contemporary champions of ‘secular’ politics by Congress and regional parties like Left, DMK, RJD, TMC, etc.?  

Back then these communal perks were meant to perpetuate British rule by winning over the support of Muslims who constituted 25% of the population in undivided India. 

It goes without saying that the allocation of separate electorates encouraged communal appeals to voters of the Muslim community, leading to the Pakistan Resolution of 1940 and the eventual partition of India in 1947. 

Merely 13 days after independence on August 28, 1947, the remaining members of the Muslim League who voted for creation of Pakistan but strangely did not move there, and Congress’ Muslim members were back demanding reserved constituencies for Muslims.

India’s first home minister Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel made very scathing remarks against those demanding religion-based reservations in free India.

Conniving Congress leader Syed Naziruddin covertly threatened saying, “Hindus are elder brothers & Muslims are younger brothers. If the elder brother obliges the demands of the younger siblings, they would surely get love in return, otherwise, you would be devoid of our love.”

Reacting to this veiled threat, Sardar Patel said: “Your words are sugar-coated, but they are mixed with potion of poison. I am ready to be devoid of the love of younger brothers (Muslims). We have witnessed your love first hand. Now, you should change your tack, otherwise, the elder brother might have to lay down his life to accommodate your demands…”

Patel added: “Just hollow assurances won’t work. You need to change your mindset. You have already got what you wanted in the form of Pakistan. It was not the people of Pakistan, but you were responsible for making Pakistan …”

“You spearheaded the Pakistan movement. Now, what do you want, we know it well. We don’t want another partition of this country. Those who wanted Pakistan, they got it. And those of you still longing for Pakistan can go there and live with peace.”

Now you know, the term “go to Pakistan” was not invented by BJP or RSS. At present, the very mention of the phrase is enough to trigger a meltdown of LeLis and closet Jihadists who still harbour the dream of Gazwa-e-Hind in their hearts.

Today, if a politician speaks in the same tone as Sardar, he/she would be outrightly branded ‘communal’ and ‘Islamophobic’.

Eventually, the final document provided for a common electorate and supposedly temporary reserved seats in legislatures, civil service and education for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes only. The promise of benefits to the OBCs, however, remained vague. It was activated at the national level only when Prime Minister VP Singh’s Janta Party govt implemented the Mandal Commission Report in 1990.

The Jinn of Muslim reservation, which had been hibernating in the bottle of secularism for half a century, was uncorked in public in 1994 in the form of demand for Muslim reservation in civil services and education during assembly by-elections in five states.

It happened so that Congress’ traditional vote bank Muslims ditched them for fledgling regional secular parties such as Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), reducing it to a number 4 party in the 1993 UP Assembly elections that took place after the Babri demolition. 

On a losing streak since 1989 at the centre and state elections, after opening the lock to the disputed Babari site and its eventual demolition in 1992,  the Congress is so desperate to win back its Muslim vote bank even at the cost of unleashing the jinn of communal reservation that was responsible for the partition of India.

With the tacit support of the Congress leadership, Janta Dal MP Syed Shahabuddin, former AMU VC Syed Hamid, Muslim League leader Ebrahim Sulaiman Sait and VP of AIMIM Maulana Mohammed Shafi Moins formed an association to ostensibly promote education and employment of Muslims. 

Next, they called a convention on reservations in New Delhi on October 9, 1994. Congress’ Dalit face and the then Minister of Welfare Sitaram Kesri stated the case for Muslim reservation before the convention on the grounds of economic, social and educational backwardness

Reacting to the development, BJP and RSS argued if Muslims or Christians want to be awarded reservations, they should reconvert to Hinduism as reservation on the basis of religion is not enshrined in the Constitution.

The demand for more and more rights and reservations for Minorities has a telltale sign of post-partition Muslims walking in the footsteps of their pre-partition brethren … going back to 1906. Look at the script of the dismemberment of India: the Muslim League was formed in 1906, and in 1909 British govt introduced the elements of reservation in the Government of India Act. The 1909 reservations were inherently political reservations (reservations in political seats) as opposed to the current economic reservations (in employment for state services). 

Next, religious reservation got a shot in the arm in the 1932 Round Table Conference when British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald proposed the controversial Communal Award that envisaged giving separate electorate representation to Muslims, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, and Europeans.

Earlier, Indians were given limited access to the electoral process with only the landed and high tax-paying citizens having the right to vote, making it an elitist affair, limiting the participation of the masses and undermining basic principles of democracy. Though the Government of India Act, 1935, significantly increased the number of eligible voters. Women too were allowed to vote. Despite this, only 20 percent of the adult population qualified as voters.

Congress swept the 1937 elections. Though Muslim League managed to perform well in the provinces of Assam, Bengal, Bombay, the United Province (UP) and Madras, it failed to get a majority in any of the provinces. The provinces of Bengal and UP elected the maximum number of Muslim League members. The most shocking results came from Punjab where the League managed to win only one seat. 

It was after the 1937 debacle Muslim League harped on the demand for a separate Muslim nation-state. One might wonder, how come Muslim League, a near failure in 1937, became the pioneer of partition in 1946. In the run-up to the 1946 provincial elections, the Muslim League went on a membership overdrive and transformed itself from an elitist organisation to a mass movement among Indian Muslims. 

Jinnah, who had just quit Congress to join the League, harped on Iqbal’s rhetoric of Islamic unity and concepts of a separate Islamic State in his speeches. The Muslim League’s 1946 election campaign was extremely communal where voting for the League was made a mandatory Islamic act.

The League had no ambiguity over its poll plank — a separate Islamic State carved out of India. The League roped in the Muslim community leaders, including Muslim communists who would propagate the League propaganda to the last mile. Jinnah was suddenly elevated to the status of a demigod. In the 1946 Sunni Conference at Varanasi, Jinnah was declared a custodian of God or a Waliullah. Fatwas were issued declaring any Muslim voting against the idea of Pakistan would be declared an infidel, underlining there won’t be any Namaz-e-Janaza offered for such people and they would not be allowed burial in the graveyards.

The toxic mix of Islamic fundamentalism with politics laid the grounds for the 1946 elections. Muslim Ulemas, community figures, students from Islamic seminaries and religious propaganda from mosques challenged the Muslims to come out and vote as believers and not as infidels. The Muslim League won 87 percent of the total Muslim seats in the elections, the biggest gains being in the province of Bengal, where it won 113 out of 119 seats. The provinces of Bombay and Madras gave a 100 percent win to the League. United Province and Bihar gave 82 percent and 85 percent Muslim seats to the League, respectively. The idea of a separate Pakistan was wholeheartedly supported by the Muslim electorate of India.

The slow-building rhetoric demanding a separate electorate, then an Islamic State, eventually transformed into a mass movement leading to the partition of India. The Muslim League may have lost the elections of 1946 to the Congress but it won the mandate for a separate Pakistan.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         As it happened in 1945, the Indian Muslims’ contemporary and consistent demand for reservation on the basis of economic and social backwardness would not take much time to galvanize into a demand for communal reservation. Once that is achieved, it is needless to explain what happens next. 

In fact, even without a communal reservation, Muslims have been able to put a lock on certain seats by sheer strength of their numbers and can influence the electorate in as many as 101 seats across the country.

Hindus have become a minority in 200 districts across 8 states in India, thanks to the dramatic demographic changes caused by the influx of illegal intruders from Bangladesh and Myanmar and rampant conversion by Christian missionaries across India.

Under these circumstances, one shouldn’t be surprised if the Muslims start demanding political reservation in proportion to their population, next. Desperate to return to power at any cost, the Muslim league of independent India — Congress and other opposition parties — might as well accept their demand, even at the cost of paving the way for another partition of India.



Sanjay Madrasi Pandey