RESERVATION FOR MINORITIES-Constituent Assembly Debate-Revisited

The recent offer of the UPA coalition to reserve 4.5 % seats for minorities within the OBC quota of 27% in Government jobs has once again reminded the people the evil effects of vote bank politics.

Without realising the reality of the centuries old communal mistrust between the two major religious communities from which the country is still suffering, the political parties in the country are not ready to abandon their game of vote baiting minority politics which is detrimental to the communal harmony in the country.

Whether it is the 4.5% reservation for minorities or reservation for them in Lokpal or proposed Prevention of Communal and targeted Violence Bill 2001 – all are rooted to vote bank politics for alluring the Muslim voters in elections.

As per article 2 of the Indian Constitution, the term minority includes Muslim, Christian, Shikh, Baudh and Parsi but in today’s political context it mainly signifies Muslims. The politics of minority vs. majority – thus read between Muslims and Hindus is in fact rooted to the issue of separate electorates for the Muslims raised by the British over a century ago in 1909. Losing their right to vote equally with rest of Indian population was therefore, the first political isolation of Muslims with the Hindus.

The leaders of Indian National Congress (INC) always opposed the campaign of Muslim League leaders for separate electorates and pleaded that reservation on communal line would undermine the objective of a united territorial nationhood. They however, failed to transform the separatist mindset of the Muslim League leaders. Jawaharlal Nehru in a note on minorities in Young India (15th May 1930) said: “In free India political reservation can only be on national lines”.

Constituent Assembly Debate on Reservation for religious minorities

To understand the evil effects of the reservation for the religious minority, we may like to have a look into the Constituent Assembly Debate (CAD) on this issue. Just before a week when India was formally declared Independent, the Advisory Committee on Minorities Rights debated the issue of reservation on 8th August 1947 and moved a proposal advising the CA to safeguard the political interest of the minorities with reservation for them in legislatures on the basis of population.

The issue was placed in Constituent Assembly (CA) for debate on August 27-28, 1947. However, in view of the experience of the alarming devastation of partition after the horrific and violent communal mayhem leading to the death of a million followed by huge- Trans border migration from both the countries, the House realized that if the proposal of the Advisory Committee on Minorities Right is accepted, it would further the already widened gap of communal mistrust between Hindus and the Muslims.

Gobind Ballabh Pant advised the minorities saying: “Your safety lies in making yourselves an integral part of the organic whole which forms the real genuine State” (Constituent Assembly Debate Vol. V).

Sardar Patel said, “If the process that was adopted which resulted in the separation of the country is to be repeated, then I say: those who want to have a place in Pakistan and not here. Here, we are building a nation and we are laying a foundation of One Nation, and those who choose to divide again and sow the seeds of disruption will have no place, no quarter here and I must say plainly enough” (CAD VOL. V).

Jawaharlal Nehru had slammed the idea of communal quota and said, “A safeguard of this kind would have some point where there was autocratic or foreign rule, it would enable the monarch to play one community off against the other.”

Even Muslim member like Tajamul Hussain, a barrister and member from Bihar maintained:

"The state in India being secular shall have no concern with any religion, creed or profession of faith, and shall observe an attitude of absolute neutrality in all matters relating to the religion of any class of its citizens or other persons in the Union" (Constituent Assembly Debate, Vol. 7, page 815).

The Advisory Committee on Minority Rights met again on May 11, 1949 when a Christian member H.C. Mukherjee moved a proposal: “That the system of reservation for minorities other than SC in legislatures be abolished (CAD, VOL. 8, Page 311). While the Sikhs and Christian members supported the motion, out of four Muslim members present in the meeting only one had opposed it.

Placing the recommendation of the Advisory Committee in CAD on May 25, 1949 Sardar Patel said that “ time had come when the vast majority of the minority Communities have themselves realized after great reflection the evil effects in the past of such reservation on the minorities themselves and the reservation should be dropped” (CAD, VOL. 8, page 270).

He recalled the 8th August (1947) proposal of the Advisory Committee advising the House to adopt certain political safeguards for the minorities by way of reservation of seats on the basis of population (CAD Vol.8, page 269) and said that even during debate there was difference of opinion on the issue. But with a view to allay the apprehensions of the minorities at that time the Advisory Committee recommended reservation for them.

Referring to Advisory Committee meeting on 11th May 1949, Patel said that in the house of “about forty members of Advisory Committee there was only one solitary vote against the proposal” (Ibid. Page 271). “So we thought that although these proposals were accepted in August 1947, it was due to us and to the House that we should advise the House to re-consider the position and put before the House a proposal which is consistent with the proclaimed principles of this House for the establishment of a genuine democratic State based purely on nationalistic principles” (Ibid. page 271).

The two-day prolonged debate in CA on May 25-26, 1949 was an eventful chapter of the post-Independence Indian history when the founders of our constitution abolished the system of reservation for minorities in any form. So much so even majority of the Muslim representatives pleaded that “all these reservations must disappear and that it was in the interests of the minorities themselves that such reservations (as proposed on 8th August 1947) in the Legislatures must go” (CAD Vol. 8, page 270).

Naziruddin Ahmad, a member from West Bengal said, “If we accept reservation and go to the polls, the relation between Hindus and Muslims which now exists will deteriorate …... The Hindu-Muslim relation of the immediate past will be recalled and feelings will be embittered” (Ibid. Page 296).

A lady Muslim member Begum Aizaz Rasul from then United Province said, “To my mind reservation is a self-destructive weapon which separates the minorities from the majority for all time” (Ibid. Page 300).

Tajamul Hussain was extra vocal when he strongly pleaded against reservation: “The term minority is a British creation. The British created the minorities. The British have gone and the minorities have gone with them. Remove the term minority from your dictionary. There is no minority in India …. .” “I would like to tell you that in no civilized country where there is parliamentary system on democratic lines; there is any reservation of seats”. “We want to merge in the nation”. (CAD VOL. 8, Page 333).

He rebutted the plea of Sir Saadulla, ex premier of Assam that majority of Muslim members in Advisory Committee meeting were opposed to the motion, Tajamul said that of the four Muslim members namely Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Hifizur Rahman, Begum Aiaz Rasul and Jafar Imam present in the debate; only Jafar Imam had opposed it. While Maulana Azad and Hifizur Rahman did not speak, Begum Aiaz Rasul supported the motion. He maintained that out of seven Muslim members in the Advisory Committee only Saadulla and Jafar Imam were opposed to the motion.

About the number of Muslim members against the reservation he said that out of 33 Muslims in Constituent Assembly 10 had migrated to Pakistan. Of the remaining 23, 13 were strongly opposed to reservation whereas 10 were also divided. While some of them were in favour of reservation of seats in Legislatures, others were favouring separate electorates for the Muslims.

On May 26, 1949, Jawaharlal Nehru while supporting the motion said, “It is a motion which means not only discarding something that was evil, but turning back upon it and determining with all our strength that we shall pursue a path which we consider fundamentally good for every part of the nation” (Ibid. 331). He added, “Now all of us here, I believe, are convinced that that this business of separatism, whether it took the shape of separate electorate or other shapes, has done a tremendous amount of evil to our country and to our people” (Ibid. Page 331).

The long speech of Muslim member Tajamul Hussain on 26th May 1949 (vide page 332 to 338 in CAD Vol.8) opposing reservation for Muslims should be an eye opener to our vote baiting political hawks who in their game of Muslim-appeasing politics overlook the danger of its communal fall out as envisaged by our national leaders during CAD and abolished such divisive issue. But instead of respecting the constitutional commitment, our political class has revived the divisive policy of the British only for self seeking political interest.

Those who are now resurrecting quota on religious basis would do well to see what these great elders had said at the time of making the constitution.

1. Political Representation of Muslims in India -1952-2004 by Iqbal A. Ansari, Manak Publications, 2006.
2. Constituent Assembly Debate Vol. 2, 5, 7 and 8.
3. Descent into Chaos By Ahmad Rasid, Penguin Books, 2008.
4. Muslims in India by Yoginder Sikand, Hope India Publication, Gurgaon, 2006.
5. Islam and Muslims of India by S.S.Gill. Penguin Books. 2008.
6. Muslim Minority by Asghar Ali Engineer.Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi. 2008.
7. The Muslims of India – Edited by A.G.Noorani. Oxford 2003.

First published in

Also read-
1. Who is a Minority
2. NAC’s idea of minority is irrelevant and dangerous
3. Why did the Ramakrishna Mission say they are not Hindus
4. Are Jains a Minority?

Editor –
The Indian Constitution does not define the word Minority. In 1947 Muslims and Christians were considered minorities for the purposes of Art 29/30. Somewhere in the 1980/1990’s Sikhs were included as a Minority, probably after the Khalistani terrorist movement. Some states have declared Jains a Minority for the purposes of Art 29/30 i.e. educational institutions. The Reserve Bank of India does not consider loans to Jains as loans to a minority (some of the country’s biggest industrialist are Jains) whilst setting targets for bank lending to minorities. The U.S. Constitution does not define who is a minority.

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