The Politics of Reservation

It always comes as a surprise whenever BJP or the right wing breaks from their usual behaviour and pays obeisance to Dalits. Their placatory signalling is considered tokenism by Dalits. They may have chosen a Dalit President for the same purpose and even talk mightily of Baba Saheb Ambedkar to win a vote or two. All of this placatory signalling and clamouring for the upliftment of Dalits may not match with their real work, but no one is surprised as the juggernaut of 2019 elections is upon us and especially BJP.

In this very literal and metaphorical “Acche Din”, one of the biggest hurdles the analysts at various “cells” have figured out that the key to their “Acche Din” lies within the unsaid alliance of Dalits-Muslims. However, following the by-elections of Uttar Pradesh, which saw the coming together of Dalit-Muslim unity as a danger to the current order and 2019; the Dalit question has taken centre stage in the political discourse right now.

Historically speaking, the very same people who are clamouring for reservation for Dalits in Aligarh Muslim University are the same people who wear their saffron robes with pride; the saffron which has always ousted the Dalits. Out of the two – Dalits and Muslim, the lesser Hindu is kicked out. Apart from instigating this debate of reservations of Dalits in Aligarh Muslim University, the Hindutva sect is speaking for Dalits too.

The Indian constitution grants certain rights to minorities in Article 30.  Minorities have the right to establish and administer their educational institution. The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh may be aware of this fact, but to break the Dalit- Muslim unity, he has raised the issue of SC-ST Reservation in Aligarh Muslim University. Data suggests that Dalit atrocities in BJP-led states are the highest, while conviction rate remains the least.  BJP and its allied leaders sometimes even openly support the perpetrators of these atrocities. So it is highly unlikely that Yogi Adityanath is speaking about reservation in AMU out of real concern for Dalits.

The whole discourse is a game of convenience.  The central idea of reservation is being ignored for political milieu. Reservation is meant to uplift and get the marginalized to the forefront for equitable representation in the society.  The representation in universities and institutions isn’t only limited to students, there must be equitable representation in professors and teaching positions.  According to various studies and reports, central universities around the country aren’t able to fill professorship positions, in reserved categories. There must be 15 per cent reservations for Scheduled Castes Professors and seven per cent for Scheduled Tribes’. According to a study, on an average fifteen out of these twenty-two teaching positions remain vacant. Undoubtedly, rather than singling out one or two educational institutions which’s status is pending, the government should work towards a goal that brings the underprivileged to the forefront of academia which would aptly represent the interests of the reserved categories.  If Yogi is gravely concerned about the upliftment of Dalits, then he would immediately instruct his administration to fill vacant teaching positions in AMU and other central

Article 15(5) of the constitution says that Article 30 shall be exempt from the mandate of reservation. This amendment was done in 2005 by the 93rd Amendment. BJP had then not opposed this amended. In fact, 379 out of 381 Lok Sabha members were in favour of this amendment. The amendment brought in by the BJP’s Vijay Kumar Malhotra for dropping the exemption of minority institutions got just 110 votes as 272 members voted against it. The constitutional validity of the amendment was upheld by the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court in Ashok Thakur (2008). The court has remarked then that the exclusion of minority educational institutions is constitutionally valid since these institutions serve another class and their interests all together.

There is “communal” nature being attributed to Muslim reservation in Muslim-minority educational institutions but it to be known that reservations on the lines of a minority can be both on the basis of religion as well as language. Hindi speaking people could be a linguistic minority in the North-East and can hence set up a minority institution. So, to paint the situation in communal colours isn’t only baseless but also unconstitutional.  It is Article 30 of the constitution that grants this right to minorities to set-up minority educational institutions. Even the disputed Azeez Basha vs Union of India case states explicitly that educational institutions mean Universities too. Also being aided by the government doesn’t take away from its minority character. The argument of Government Aid and taxpayers’ money is both irrational and unconstitutional.

Interestingly, since 96 years after its inception, Aligarh Muslim University has given reservation to Muslims just since 2005. Sir Syed was primarily interested in educating Muslims as he believed that religious fanaticism took over their better senses. Sir Syed when giving the rationale behind setting up MAO College, now Aligarh Muslim University, had said, “I shall feel sorry if anybody thinks that this college has been established so as to show discrimination between Hindus and Muslims. The main reason behind the establishment of this institution…was the wretched dependence of the Muslims…. Their religious fanaticism did not let them avail the educational facilities provided by the government schools and colleges. It was, therefore, deemed necessary to make some special arrangement for their education.” Even in 1898, when Sir Sayed breathed his last, around one-fourth students were Hindus at MAO College. There was a sizeable number of Christians and Parsis being educated in MAO College, or the now Aligarh Muslim University too.  The first graduate, as well as the postgraduate of Aligarh Muslim University, were both Hindus. The whole belief that minority educational institutions are just for the minorities is uneducated.

Through article 30 of the constitution, Aligarh Muslim University is granted the power to administer the institution and hence have its own rules and regulations. However, it is to be noted that there is no Muslim reservation in AMU. The tag of minority institution may be sub-judice but at the same time, the current situation differentiates AMU from other central institutions in the country. Even then, it’s only logical that those in power with a clear majority need not give speeches about what’s to be done, rather than focus on doing what they believe is to be done.