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BJP condemns religion-based reservations

By Neena Vyas

NEW DELHI, JULY 16. The Bharatiya Janata Party has charged the Congress with surrendering to `minorityism' for consolidating the Muslim vote and vowed to "fight this tooth and nail.'' It has warned that this was a "retrograde move that would sow the dangerous seeds'' of a new "communal movement inspired by the two-nation theory,'' which had led to the Partition.

The cause of the BJP's ire is the Andhra Pradesh Government's decision to give 5 per cent reservation to Muslims in Government jobs and educational institutions. The party president, Venkaiah Naidu, today described the move as "anti-national.'' He pointed out that Jawaharlal Nehru, B.R. Ambedkar, Vallabhai Patel and other leaders of the freedom movement had rejected religion-based reservations during debates in the Constituent Assembly and later.

"We strongly condemn this move. It is a decision that will sow the seeds of a new communal movement,'' Mr. Naidu said. He pointed out that while the Andhra Pradesh Government's decision defied the Supreme Court "cap'' of not more than a total of 50 per cent reservations for all categories, it went against the Constitutional provision of reservations for only the "socially and educationally backward'' communities which were later covered by the Mandal Commission.

The BJP chief said that in many States some categories of Muslims were included in the list of backward communities covered under reservation for backward castes.

The BJP did not object to that. However, providing reservations to all Muslims would be tantamount to providing reservations on the basis of religion. That was a decision which would have "far-reaching consequences,'' as in other States also similar demands would be made. The BJP was determined to resist this.

A look at the Andhra Pradesh Government's order on this dated July 12 says that after a "careful consideration'' of an in-depth study on the socio-economic and educational conditions of the Muslim community in the State, the Government has decided to treat Muslims as backward classes under category `E' in addition to the existing categories.

The study has said that 65 per cent of all Muslims (comprising 8.5 per cent of the total population) live below the poverty line with an annual income of Rs. 11,000 or less; another 16 per cent have an income of Rs. 44,500 or less; literacy rate among Muslims was 18 per cent as against 44 per cent among other communities; and literacy rate among Muslim women was only 4 per cent.

The study also revealed that a large majority of Muslims were engaged in petty business activities such as running `pan' shops, small tea-stalls, repairing watches and radios, or selling fruits and flowers. In the rural areas, they worked as labourers and artisans.

Taking this into consideration the Commissioner of Minorities Welfare had recommended 5 per cent reservations for Muslims and the Government accepted this after "careful consideration.''

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