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AIMIM Muslim quota demand stirs troubled waters for MVA

The demand by the AIMIM, which first entered the Maharashtra political scene in 2012, coincides with the party's attempts to consolidate its footprint in the state.

Written by Zeeshan Shaikh | Mumbai |
Updated: December 14, 2021 7:26:58 am
AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi during a rally in Mumbai on December 11. (Twitter/asadowaisi)

At a time when the Maharashtra government is struggling to provide reservation to both the Marathas as well as OBCs, the AIMIM has bowled a googly with the demand for a quota for Muslims in the state. First offered by a Congress-NCP government seven years ago, the quota remains a non-starter.

Addressing a rally in Mumbai on December 11, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi asked why the Maharashtra government, including the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress, had made no efforts to implement the Muslim quota, a part of which had cleared High Court scrutiny.

The demand by the AIMIM, which first entered the Maharashtra political scene in 2012, coincides with the party’s attempts to consolidate its footprint in the state. Maharashtra was the first place where the AIMIM achieved electoral success outside its base of Hyderabad. Owaisi’s demand for reservation is bound to find some resonance among Muslims, who feel they have been taken for a ride by the MVA government over the issue.

The idea was first floated by a Congress-NCP government, which in 2008 set up a committee under retired IAS officer Mehmood-ur-Rahman to look into the socio-economic conditions of Muslims in Maharashtra. The community accounts for 11.54% of the state’s total population as per the 2011 Census.

The committee’s report, which came after five years, painted a dismal picture. Nearly 60% of the Muslim population in the state fell below the poverty line, their share in government jobs was only 4.4%, and just 2.2% of them had studied to the level of graduation and above, the committee said. It recommended 8% reservation in education and housing, both public and private.

In July 2014, two months before the state elections were announced, the Congress-NCP government passed an ordinance allowing 16% reservation for Marathas and 5% for Muslims in government-run schools or colleges, and jobs.

The decision was challenged in the Bombay High Court. Soon after, the BJP came to power. On November 14, 2014 the Bombay High Court struck down Maratha reservation but allowed a 5% quota for Muslims in education. It said staying the ordinance in case of Muslims would impede attempts to draw them into mainstream ‘secular’ education.

While the BJP government decided to challenge the overturning of the Maratha reservation and appointed a committee to look into possible solutions, there was no such move in case of Muslim reservation. In March 2015, the government allowed the ordinance on Muslim reservation to lapse.

After the MVA came to power, in February 2020, Minister for Minority Affairs Nawab Malik announced in the Legislative Council that the government would bring a law to provide 5% reservation in educational institutes for Muslims. A week later though, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, mindful of the BJP’s attacks saying the Sena had “forgone Hindutva”, said there was no such proposal.

A Muslim quota will also test the MVA’s other partners. Both the NCP and Congress could face uncomfortable questions given that quotas for the Marathas and OBCs are stuck.

Attacking Owaisi after his rally, Malik said: “Some political parties are raising the issue of Muslim reservations. When the reservations were scrapped by the previous BJP government, these parties did not question the BJP.” While Malik also said that the MVA government was committed to ensuring that Muslims get reservation, sources admitted it was unlikely.

Former Minority Development Minister and senior Congress leader Arif Naseem Khan, under whom the Muslim reservation proposal was cleared in 2014, also questioned the AIMIM. “During the five years when the Congress was fighting the Devendra Fadnavis government for Muslim reservation, the AIMIM did not utter a word,” Khan said, adding that the MVA was committed to ensuring reservation for Muslims.

The BJP has said such a quota would be unconstitutional as there is no provision for reservation based on religion in the Statute. Fadnavis said earlier: “If additional reservation is given (to Muslims), the OBCs stand to lose their quota. Maratha reservation too will be affected.”

The Hyderabad-based AIMIM first made its political foray into Maharashtra in 2012, when it won 11 seats in the Nanded Municipal Corporation. In 2014, it won the Assembly seats Aurangabad and Byculla. In 2019 it created history of sorts by breaking the Sena’s two-decade-long hold on Aurangabad Lok Sabha seat. While it did not retain Aurangabad and Byculla seats in the Assembly polls, it picked up two others, Dhule and Malegaon.

Now the party has over 120 corporators and councillors across cities and towns in the state.

The AIMIM’s immediate focus is the coming elections to 15 civic bodies in Maharashtra, including major cities like Mumbai, Thane, Pune and Nashik. A large chunk of the Muslims in Maharashtra are settled in urban centres, where the polls will be held.

In Mumbai, Muslims number over 20% of the population, but form only 29 of its 227 corporators. The community is believed to play a key electoral role in around 50 of the 227 BMC seats.

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