The Maharashtra government recently announced a decision to commission a study on the social, educational and economic status of the Muslim community in the state.
The decision, which comes as a surprise to the state’s political circles, is being hailed by BJP as a part of its ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vishwas’ campaign, while the opposition questions the implementation of the previous committee report’s recommendations.
What is the latest study by the Maharashtra government about?
The Minority Development Department in Maharashtra, currently headed by Chief Minister (CM) Eknath Shinde, has commissioned a study on the “social, educational and economic status of the Muslim community” in “56 cities in six revenue divisions of the state which have a sizeable Muslim population”. The study will be conducted by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).
The study will also examine the impact of the various state policies in the fields of education, health, employment, housing, credit access and infrastructure on the community.
What could be the reason behind this decision?
The move comes amid repeated claims by the Shinde-led Maharashtra government, that his rebellion against former Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray was to keep the flag of Hindutva flying high. Shinde and his rebel camp have consistently stated that they are proponents of the Hindutva ideology propagated by Shiv Sena founder late Bal Thackeray, unlike his son Uddhav who joined hands with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
There is growing concern that a large section of Muslims is gradually feeling alienated due to issues over the hijab, madrasa surveys and the Gyanvapi mosque dispute, and that the government has been unable to engage with them. Thus, the decision to set up the study was planned as an outreach measure to the state’s Muslim community.
A similar strategy by the RSS
The decision was announced amid the outreach campaign undertaken by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) toward Muslim organisations. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat on Thursday (September 22) met All India Imam Organisation chief Umer Ahmed Ilyasi and visited a Madrasa run by the group in Delhi. This was the first time that an RSS chief visited a Madrasa.
Earlier, a delegation of eminent Muslim intellectuals like former Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi, former Delhi Lieutenant-Governor Najeeb Jung, and former Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University Lieutenant Zameer Uddin Shah met Bhagwat as a part of the ‘Samvad process’.
Has the Maharashtra government conducted a similar study in the past?
In Maharashtra, the last such survey of the Muslim community’s socio-economic conditions was done by the Mehmood-Ur-Rehman Committee, set up in 2008 by the then Congress-NCP government.
The committee, which submitted its report in 2013, had said that nearly 60 per cent of Muslims in Maharashtra lived below the poverty line. The community’s share in government jobs was only 4.4 per cent, and its total number of graduates stood at 2.2 per cent, the report said. The committee had recommended an 8 per cent reservation for the community in state jobs, education and housing.
What was the outcome of that report?
Based on the Rehman committee report, ahead of the Assembly elections in 2014, the then Congress-NCP government had announced a 5 per cent quota for Muslims in government-run schools/ colleges, as well as jobs. The decision was challenged in the Bombay High Court, which struck down the quota in jobs but said the community should get a 5 per cent reservation in education.
The BJP government, which was voted to power in October 2014, did not implement the recommended reservation, claiming that it did not support quotas based on religion.
How have political parties in Maharashtra reacted to this development?
Maharashtra Congress unit chief spokesperson Atul Londhe said that while the state government is planning another survey of the Muslim community, it should first reveal the steps it has taken to implement recommendations of the 2013 Rehman committee report. “The government needs to come up with concrete steps for the community, instead of setting up committees. It should also focus on betterment of the community, rather than spreading hatred between Hindus and Muslims,” Londhe said.
NCP chief spokesperson Mahesh Tapase said that while the survey is a welcome step, the government must clearly explain its position on the five per cent reservation for Muslims in education. “Surveys must be reflected in action on the ground,” he said.
BJP leader and spokesperson Keshav Upadhye said that his party believes in its agenda of ‘Sabka Sath, Sabka Vishwas’. “Whether Muslim or non-Muslim, we believe in all-round development. This survey is out of that belief that all sections of the society should progress,” he said. He also stated that his party continues to oppose reservations based on religion, as the constitution has no such provision.
However, a section within the government is still uncertain about the decision to commission the study. Sources within the department have told The Indian Express that CM Shinde will take the final call on the matter.