Mid-poll pitch: Congress sub-manifesto promises OBC quota for Muslims

NEW DELHI: Midway through the Lok Sabha polls, Congress has launched an aggressive minority outreach, committing itself to "finding a way forward" on quotas for backward Muslims and Scheduled Caste status to all dalit minorities.

In its additional manifesto on "empowerment of minorities", Congress has said it will work towards earmarking a quota of 4.5% for backward Muslims in the existing other backward caste (OBC) reservations.

Though Congress's main manifesto released on March 26 mentions quotas for backward Muslims, the new document specifically reiterates the 4.5% sub-quota announced by the Manmohan Singh government but which was stalled in courts.

The fresh minority pitch - available on the manifesto link on the Congress website - goes further, speaking of "extension of Scheduled Caste status to all dalit minorities", a demand opposed by many dalit groups currently accessing quotas.

Amending the SC criteria - currently available to Hindus and Buddhists — will allow 'dalit' Muslims and Christians to access quotas and has been strongly opposed by BJP on the ground that there is no caste-based discrimination in both religions.

The document also says a Congress government will examine the feasibility of the next delimitation commission being mandated to ensure minorities are not "disenfranchised" by constituencies where their population is equal or more than dalits or tribals being declared as reserved.

The major outreach to Muslims could indicate Congress's bid to consolidate minority support amid signs that BJP could be benefitting from a polarization in many states. Congress's alliance with Lalu Prasad's RJD seems to be working in Bihar, pulling in Muslim support, and the party may be seeking similar results elsewhere where the minority votes appear split.

Congress has also said it will work to ensure adequate representation of minorities in all public positions and in student and faculty positions in educational institutions. The equal opportunity commission will be empowered to check discrimination against minorities in employment and education opportunities.

The to-do list ends with an appeal: "We appeal to all our friends from minority community to support the INC so that we can fulfill promises made in the Election manifesto to the minorities communities."

The clutch of additional manifestos that include documents on agriculture, panchayati raj, SCs, OBCs, youth and women, are placed under "suggested policies and programmes for Congress government (2014-19)" and have been culled out of manifesto consultations.

Congress had earlier said that the additional manifestos, addressing sectional concerns, will include hundreds of suggestions received during the "open manifesto" discussions launched by Rahul Gandhi with various stakeholders.

On quotas for backward Muslims, the document says, "The Congress-led UPA government has taken steps to address conditions of backward minorities by providing for reservation in educational institutions and in government employment. We will pursue this closely in Supreme Court and ensure the policy is implemented through proper legislation."

In 2011, the Centre had announced a sub-quota of 4.5% for socially and educationally backward persons belonging to minority communities, but the proposal was stalled due to judicial scrutiny.

The pointed reference to the 4.5% quota, omitted in the main manifesto perhaps due to concern that it may help BJP harp on "minority appeasement", could mean Congress has jettisoned the more cautious approach in favour of aggressively wooing a key voting segment.

The strategy, however, is not without risks as BJP has been accusing Congress of pampering Muslims at the cost of dalits and backward castes.

Congress has reiterated that Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2013 will be passed as a matter of priority when it comes back to power.

The party promised to empower equal opportunity commission to check discrimination against minorities in employment and education opportunities.

The commitment was made to set up a panel to enquire into the socio-economic status of all minority groups — Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists and Parsis so as to ensure equitable access to government benefits for welfare of minorities.



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