High-level meet to discuss quota

High-level meet to discuss quota for dalit minorities

Times of India,

LUCKNOW: The Congress-led UPA government has come under sharp criticism from minorities for ignoring their demand for reservation by refusing to scrap clause three of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950, which excludes Muslim and Christian dalits from reservation.

While the Samajwadi Party has taken the cause of minorities on the issue, the Congress has been forced into a damage-control exercise. A high-level meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is likely to discuss the matter in New Delhi on Thursday.

Criticising the Congress for its ambiguous stand, the UP Muslim Dalit Association (UPMDA) on Wednesday said that the above clause of the Constitution was discriminatory against minorities and the Congress was allowing it to continue.

When asked to comment, Abdul Naseer Nasir, a founder member and general secretary of the UPMDA, said: " Fed up with the Congress's ambiguous stand on the issue, minorities are now left with no option, but to mobilise people's support for its demand." Towards this end, he said, UPDMA had sought meetings with Union ministers Ghulam Nabi Azad, Salman Khurshid, Farooq Abdullah and Mamata Banerjee in New Delhi.

The issue has hogged the limelight as the Supreme Court, hearing a petition in this regard, has asked the Centre to file an affidavit by February 24. The petition, filed by Franklin Caesar Thomas and others in 2004, sought to challenge the clause of the Constitution and pleaded that it was was discriminatory against Muslims and Christians. Despite Supreme Court's repeated reminders, the Centre has been evading filing affidavit on the issue, predictably fearing a backlash from dalits. Now, the apex court has set a deadline.

In 2006, the Centre didn't file the affidavit on the ground that the matter had been referred to the Ranganath Mishra Commission for its opinion. Again it delayed the matter by referring the issue to the Sachar Commission. Set up by the Congress-led Central government, both these commissions in their reports had held the demand justifiable within the preamble of the Constitution and also recommended to do away with the contentious clause three of the Constitution.

But, now the Centre has pressed the panic button following the Supreme Court's deadline. Also, addressing the issue urgently is crucial to the Congress, which is trying to make a comeback in the 2012 assembly elections.

The demand to scrap clause 3 of the Constitution finds favour with all sections of Muslims, irrespective of their status and political leanings. Prominent cleric Khalid Rasheed Friangi Mahali said: "The Congress should come out with clarity on the issue, if at all it is honest to stop religious discrimination."

In the same vein, president of the UPMDA, retired IAS officer Anees Ansari

said the above clause of the Constitution was plainly arbitrary, unconstitutional and unfair. "The Congress government should have no hitch in doing away with it, as this had already been recommended by the Commissions set up by its governments," Ansari, who is also the vice-chancellor of Urdu Farsi University, said.

The biggest disadvantage of this clause, he said, was that it extends the benefit of reservation only to those declared as scheduled castes of Hindu, Sikh and Buddhism religions and not to dalit Muslims and Christians, even though they were engaged in the same job. "For instance, Muslim butchers, weavers, sweepers, vegetable seller etc were not treated at par with those of the same groups from Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist communities," he said.

Pleading that reservation should be extended only to socially and educationally backward classes of Muslims and Christians, Ansari said that a large number of minority problems would be solved, if the above clause was removed from the Constitution. This would not only increase the representation of Muslims in political institutions, but also make them eligible to get the quota benefit given to Scheduled Castes.


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