Quotas in educational institutions and government jobs, known as reservations in India, have long been a subject of debate. Different states have instituted reservations in state-backed institutions for members of Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Other Backward Classes (OBCs), and for women as well. Increasing or decreasing these quota percentages is usually a move that governments cannot make easily because of the high degree of politicization associated with any moves. The Indian state of Telangana just discovered that first-hand.
The state’s reservation was set at 4 percent for Muslims and a move was made to raise it for specific sections among Muslims, as well as Scheduled Tribes. This required approval from the central government since it would potentially increase the overall percentage of reservation in the state above the 50 percent mark. This was part of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti’s (TRS) poll promises and they were intent on pushing it up to 12 percent.
Chief Minister K Chandrasekar Rao, to this end, pointed to the precedent set by the state of Tamil Nadu which had 69 percent reservations and argued that it was unfair to not grant Telangana a similar leeway. He pointed also to the high numbers of Muslim families that belonged to lower socioeconomic backgrounds and a stagnation in their participation in both higher education and the government job market.
Grounds for this move were also rooted in the findings of a government-instituted commission that looked into the enhancement of reservations. The commission found that since the state of Telangana split from Andhra Pradesh, it had a higher population of both groups and a disproportionately larger number of people within them who belonged to economically backward classes.
With the support of the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the bill to make the change was passed in the Telangana Assembly in mid-April 2017, increasing the rate of reservation for Muslims from 4 to 12 percent and for STs from 6 to 10 percent. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was displeased with the move and opposed it, with 5 members eventually getting suspended for raising slogans that obstructed the proceedings. Directly opposing the increase in reservations for Muslims, they argued that such quotas on the basis of religion are unconstitutional, with one member staging a walkout.
The bill will now need the central government’s approval for going above the 50 percent cap. While the TRS can celebrate its temporary win on this issue in the State Assembly, the bleak prospects of a nod from the center indicate that they have a larger battle in their hands.