‘Modi’s information is all wrong’: C.S. Dwarkanath

The former chairman of Karnataka State Commission for Backward Classes says there is a need for empirical data to evaluate communities’ conditions.

Published : May 07, 2024 19:29 IST - 7 MINS READ

 C.S. Dwarkanath explains reservations for Muslims in Karnataka.

C.S. Dwarkanath explains reservations for Muslims in Karnataka. | Photo Credit: ARUN KULKARNI

C.S. Dwarkanath was chairman of the Karnataka State Commission for Backward Classes between 2007 and 2010. He is currently the chairman of the Social Justice Department of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee and the party’s chief spokesperson. In an interview with Frontline, he discusses the issue of Muslim reservations in Karnataka. Excerpts:

Karnataka’s four per cent reservation for Muslims as part of the larger pool of reservations of 32 per cent for backward classes has been in place for the past 30 years. This has become an election issue. During his campaign on April 23 in Rajasthan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused the Congress of “snatching the reservation of SCs, STs, and OBCs and providing it to Muslims through the backdoor.” He also specifically accused the Congress government in Karnataka of providing reservations for Muslims even though it was “against the spirit of the Constitution”. Considering these developments, can you provide the historical background of how Muslims were granted reservation in Karnataka?

Muslim reservation started in the pre-Independence era in the Mysore Princely State when Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar (reign 1902-1940) established the Justice (Leslie Creery) Miller Committee in 1919, which considered Muslims to be “backward” and provided reservation. After Independence, former Chief Minister D. Devaraj Urs constituted the (L.G.) Havanur Backward Classes Commission in the 1970s, which again advocated for a special status for the Muslim community as a backward class.

At the time, a petition was filed before the Karnataka High Court (HC) questioning categorising a religious community as a backward class. The HC, in its decision, disagreed with the petition that stated that a community could not be identified as a backward class just by virtue of its faith. Appealing this decision, the case was heard in the Supreme Court where Justice O. Chinnappa Reddy upheld the HC’s decision. This judgment was delivered based on Articles 15 (4) and 16 (4) of the Constitution of India as Muslims, as a community, were socially and educationally backward.

Even B. R. Ambedkar used the phrase “backward classes” and not “backward caste” or “backward religion” when his responses were recorded by the Kaka Kalelkar Commission (the first Backward Classes Commission of India). According to Ambedkar, communities that are educationally or socially backward can be considered as backward classes. So, other religious minorities such as Christians, Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists, apart from Muslims, also come under the designation of backward classes in Karnataka.

Former Supreme Court Justice O. Chinnappa Reddy (centre) upheld the HC’s verdict that disagreed with the petition that stated that a community could not be identified as backward class just by its faith.

Former Supreme Court Justice O. Chinnappa Reddy (centre) upheld the HC’s verdict that disagreed with the petition that stated that a community could not be identified as backward class just by its faith. | Photo Credit: SUDERSHAN V

Muslims were accorded reservation in government jobs and educational institutions in 1994 during the tenure of former Chief Minister H. D. Deve Gowda. What was the background for this?

It was not during the tenure of Devegowda but during the tenure of his predecessor, Congress Chief Minister Veerappa Moily. Before that, Justice Chinnappa Reddy, after he retired from the apex court, was appointed as the Chairman of the Karnataka Backward Classes Commission. His report analysed the socio-economic condition of Muslims and recommended the inclusion of the community under the backward classes category. Based on this recommendation, Moily included Muslims in the backward classes list under the category of IIB (More Backward). Some Muslim castes who are traditionally nomadic tribes were placed under category I (Most Backward) at the same time. This has continued from that time with Muslims also securing social justice and no one disturbed this till 2023.

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The Karnataka unit of the BJP put out a disturbing and provocative cartoon on X on May 4, which blatantly accused the Congress (represented by Rahul Gandhi and Chief Minister Siddaramaiah) of diverting the reservations provided to SCs, STs, and backward classes to Muslims. What do you have to say about this?

There is no question of taking anyone’s share and redistributing it to Muslims. This is blatantly false. If you actually read the recommendations of Justice Chinnappa Reddy, Muslims were supposed to be provided with seven per cent reservation but three per cent was slashed and only four per cent was provided finally. Muslims have not taken away anyone’s share and in fact, are underrepresented. That advertisement is misleading and a lie and has been put out by the BJP just to provoke the backward classes!

Leaders of the BJP cite the Andhra Pradesh case where the High Court there struck down reservations provided to Muslims on two occasions in 2004 and 2005. Even the Supreme Court, in its interim order in 2010, stated that status quo should be maintained.

There is a fine technical difference between providing reservation for Muslims or a religious minority based on its religious identity and as a backward class based on its social and educational backwardness. In the case of Andhra Pradesh, the reservation was provided based on religious identity because of which the HC dismissed it. If the State government had provided reservations for Muslims since they are a backward community, the decision would have been upheld. Most people are unable to appreciate this difference. Even a caste group cannot be provided reservation only on the basis of its caste identity; it has to be deemed backwards before this and that is why we have different degrees of backwardness in Karnataka even among the backward classes. There are five distinct categories within the backward classes in Karnataka.

How is a community’s backwardness gauged? Are there any objective indicators to designate a religious community or caste group as backward?

When Havanur studied the issue of Muslim backwardness in Karnataka, he looked at indicators such as how many Muslim students completed their SSLC (Secondary School Leaving Certificate) along with other educational indicators. Justice Chinnappa Reddy took it a step forward and even visited Muslim ghettos to understand the social status of the community’s members. According to Justice Reddy, the social status of Muslims was worse than that of Dalits in many parts. The Justice Sachar Committee and the Ranganath Misra Commission have subsequently reiterated this. This also shows that there is a need for greater and regular empirical data to evaluate the condition of various communities on the ground.

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Former Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai scrapped the reservation for Muslims just before last year’s Assembly election and redistributed it among Lingayats and Vokkaligas. When the order was challenged in the Supreme Court, the three-judge bench hearing the issue observed that the move was “highly shaky and flawed”. After this, the status quo was to be maintained in Karnataka and reservation for Muslims continues in the State. Why has Modi continued to pick up this issue even after the Court’s observations?

Modi’s information is all wrong. His informants are giving him the wrong advice. During Bommai’s tenure, former Law Minister J.C. Madhuswamy prepared the report that recommended the scrapping of reservations for Muslims and there was no basis for dismantling Muslim reservations and redistributing it among Lingayats and Vokkaligas in the ratio of 2 per cent for each community. Even leaders of these two communities refused this reservation that had been snatched away from poor Muslims. Modi is picking up issues without scrutinising them. He is the Prime Minister but his system of procuring data is so poor. He goes all over the country talking about Karnataka without understanding what is in place here.

Hansraj Gangaram Ahir, the chairman of the National Commission for the Backward Classes (NCBC) has questioned the 4 per cent blanket reservation provided for Muslims in Karnataka. What is your opinion on this?

Does Ahir think he is chakravarti (king) and we are all his subordinates? The Karnataka State Commission for Backward Classes has its own authority and autonomy and is not answerable to the NCBC. What nonsense is this? We have our own independence and can take decisions regarding the implementation of social justice in our State.

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