Now ‘Quota within Quota’

Once again the Opposition exposed its utterly dis-united face in the recently held Vice-Presidential election. Jagdeep Dhankar, a former West Bengal Governor got 528 votes against opposition candidate Margaret Alva who somehow managed to have just 182 votes. In a sense it revealed the future alignment in the coming parliamentary polls in 2024. Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Janata Dal (United), YSRCP, BSP, AIADMK supported NDA candidate Dhankar while the Aam Admi Party (AAP), Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and Telengana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) voted for former Congress minister Alva and strangely the Trinamul Congress (TMC), true to its opportunistic political exercise, abstained from the vote. In other words TMC helped Dhankar win the election smoothly though he had always been the main target of TMC’s attack because of his alleged partisan role from the governor’s office. In parliamentary gambling strange bedfellows are so common that people don’t bother about it. With their electoral fortunes diminishing the Opposition gets further fragmented dashing the hope of a grand alliance against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP is a master player in horse trading, rather donkey trading. After Maharashtra they are now trying to recreate the Shinde syndrome in Jharkhand and Bihar. The reason is simple: the party in power always has advantage of manipulating the outcome of elections.

But the BJP is brilliantly successful in articulating the art of ‘divide and rule’ to gain extra-mileage in electoral politics while the Opposition miserably fails to combat its nefarious design. Having failed to win the hearts and minds of Muslim voters they are now trying to divide the Muslims on caste lines. The Pasmanda issue vigorously pursued by the BJP threatens to snowball into the Muslim community’s Mandal moment. Only the other day the BJP OBC Morcha national president K Laxman demanded a 50 per cent reservation for the Pasmanda community in Muslim institutions such as Aligarh Muslim University, Jamia Millia Islamia and Hamdard. Muslims too are divided on caste lines. So politics of caste-based reservation has immense scope in parliamentary culture. Caste is such an all pervasive ailment that no religion in India can get rid of it. Low caste is not a Hindu-only phenomenon; in India it affects Sikhism, Christianity and Islam as well. For the Muslims it appears to be a “quota within quota” episode. The Pasmandas are actually asking for a quota within the quota already in practice.

The hard fact is that the Pasmandas are around 80 per cent of the Muslim population. As in the case of the upper caste Hindus, most of the government jobs and college seats are cornered by just 15 per cent of upper caste Muslims or Ashrafs as they are popularly known. Sheiks, Sayeds, Mughals and Pathans rule while Ajlafs, roughly equivalent of Dalits are at the bottom of the pile. The bitter truth cannot be denied that caste discrimination is no less inhuman in the Muslim community. For one thing many low caste Muslims are possibly converts from the so-called low-caste Hindus. Ironically enough, they switched over to Islam to escape from the brutalities of Hindu upper caste people only to find themselves trapped in the same hell after conversion. Quite expectedly leading Muslim organisations like Jamat-i- Islami rejected the idea of caste-based discrimination in Islam. As the BJP is interested in dividing the community on caste-lines the Pasmanda reservation movement is likely to gain momentum in coming days. The Mandalites in general are no less enthusiastic about the Pasmanda question as they see in it a new area to extend reservation agitation.

Caste is such an institution in India that no political party, left or right, can ignore it anymore. The communist left in India never took the caste factor seriously. Nor did they ever devise any appropriate programme to address the problem. In truth they never recognised caste oppression or for that matter the importance of Ambedkar in his crusade to annihilate caste. Ambedkar remained untouchable to the communists because of his ‘pro-British outlook’. They thought caste would automatically vanish with the progress of industrialisation and labour organising. No, that didn’t happen. Caste prejudices continue to affect toilers. In many cases workers are no less caste conscious than their employers. The communists’ attempt to equate caste with class never really took any concrete shape. Even in the same industrial establishment ‘upper caste’ workers are in permanent category but Dalits toil as contractual or casual workers. The country is likely to witness a new bout of quota stir; this time in a completely different setting. Caste annihilation is not on the agenda of any political party. What all they want is to create a creamy layer from the oppressed caste segments and keep the system as it is. But danger lies in BJP’s dubious way of creating division among Muslims.

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Vol 55, No. 8, Aug 15 - 21, 2022