A day before the winter session of the state legislature came to an end last December, the BJP-led state government decided in principle to scrap 5 per cent reservation for the Muslims in the state, but passed a bill which gave the Maratha community 16 per cent quota in jobs and education, though the High Court had rejected it. The state government notified last week that the ordinance passed in the Congress-NCP government regime had lapsed, and, hence, it would not facilitate quota for Muslims.
And while the Muslim quota was scrapped in December, the BJP was in the process of getting the Centre to endorse yet another decision that would impact the minority community. It asked the Centre to get the President to endorse the bill banning slaughter of cow progeny. The Narendra Modi government obliged quickly and sent the 19-year-old bill to the President, who, in turn, gave his assent. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and his BJP colleagues celebrated it as a dream come true.
The two decisions have made the Muslim community believe that the state government, supported by the Centre, is playing a communal card. Muslim leaders have said it was being done deliberately to alienate the community. They fear similar decisions will follow, citing several instances and utterances of the leaders of the BJP and its parent organisation, the RSS, and other Hindu right-wing groups, who have become more vocal after Narendra Modi’s ascent to power.
Exploited politically since independence, majority of Muslims have not benefited from the progress we have made in the past three decades. Maharashtra alone has more than 11 per cent of the Muslim population, with a sizeable presence in Mumbai, Thane, Bhiwandi, Malegaon, Dhule, Nagpur, Akola, Nanded, Parbhani, Aurangabad, Ahmednagar and parts of Konkan. All these places have Muslims who contribute to the local economy. But you may find most of them doing menial jobs. Lack of opportunity in education and job sectors has prompted them to bear contempt for the system. They have started scouting for political alternatives.
Maharashtra’s Muslims saw a ray of hope in the ordinance that the previous Congress-NCP government promulgated ahead of last year’s polls, to give them a 5 per cent quota in government jobs and educational institutes. The BJP and Sena were prompt enough in arguing that no community should be given quota based on religion. They cited court decisions in this regard. However, when the ordinance was challenged in the Bombay High Court, primarily because of Maratha quota, the HC approved 5 per cent quota for Muslims in education, but denied them the benefit in jobs. The court dismissed the reservation for Marathas in both jobs and education.
After coming to power last October, the BJP started appeasing Marathas, a politically influential community. The government is now fighting a legal battle to get their reservation approved. The Congress and NCP are awaiting the BJP’s failure, so that they get more firepower to attack the government.
By ignoring Muslims, the BJP has achieved communal polarisation. The section that opposes a quota for Muslims, one that has been branding the Congress and NCP as a tool to Muslim appeasement, will now see the BJP as their party. The Congress and NCP have now decided to fight the government over the issue in the legislature from Monday. The BJP has ensured that the focus stays away from other equally serious issue like law and order, drought mitigation, and damage to farms caused by unseasonal rains.
Surprisingly, the decision to ban cow slaughter saw the Congress and NCP taking different views. The Congress welcomed the ban, but warned the BJP against using it as a political tool to gather support. The NCP was smart enough in countering the BJP’s argument that the ban would benefit farmers. It has asked the state to set up a mechanism to take in all unfit animals and take care of them as long as they live.
The beef ban has really hit Muslims in many ways. It has taken cheap food off their plates and robbed butcher families of their means to livelihood. A large number of Hindus and Christians, who have been relishing beef, are ranting against the government. The festival of Holi indicated how expensive the meat market would behave in future. The prices of mutton and chicken, which the finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar want beef eaters to switch over to, saw a steep hike. Market experts say the trend will continue uncontrolled.
The writer is Political Editor of mid-day