Opinion: Who gave OBC reservation to Muslims in Karnataka - Deve Gowda or Veerappa Moily?

The myth that Muslims should be indebted to JD(S) patriarch HD Deve Gowda as the architect of their OBC reservation persists without being fact-checked by the media or academia.
Veerappa Moily (left) & HD Deve Gowda
Veerappa Moily (left) & HD Deve Gowda
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The Janata Dal (Secular) and its chief HD Kumaraswamy, after the alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have demonstrated several instances where they appear more arrogant, feudal, and communal than the BJP. A prime example of this is the statement Kumaraswamy made in Channapatna on June 23. He lamented that even though his father HD Deve Gowda and he provided reservation benefits to Muslims, they betrayed his son (referring to Nikhil Kumaraswamy’s electoral defeat) in the Ramanagara Assembly election.

It is patently false that Deve Gowda, when he became the Chief Minister of Karnataka in 1995, provided 4% reservation to Muslims by bringing the community under the 2-B category within the reservation provided for Other Backward Classes (OBC). The myth that Muslims should be indebted to Deve Gowda as the architect of their OBC reservation persists without being fact-checked by the media or academia.

In reality, the 4% reservation for Muslims under category 2-B was implemented in 1994 by the then Congress government led by Veerappa Moily based on a report by the third Backward Class Commission headed by Justice Chinnappa Reddy and not by the Janata Dal government led by Deve Gowda which it came to power in 1995.

Deve Gowda continued the reservation matrix of the previous Congress government without any modifications. He did so by constituting a cabinet sub-committee that recommended the continuation of the Moily formula in substance. Similarly, one could allege that the Moily government granted reservations to Muslims for electoral purposes.

Above all, the strategic alliance of the JD(S) – fully blessed by the patriarch Deve Gowda – with the BJP, which had promised the withdrawal of reservation to Muslims by denying their social and educational backwardness, both during the 2023 Karnataka Assembly elections and Lok Sabha elections, exposes the political opportunism of both father and son.

Therefore, in the context of this misleading statement by Kumaraswamy, there is a need to examine the history of Muslim reservation in Karnataka, its constitutional basis, and finally, the decisions regarding the current 2-B reservation granted to Muslims.

Muslims belong to Backward Classes

There is a constitutional basis for this classification. Under Articles 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution, the government is obligated to scientifically identify socially and educationally backward classes and undertake affirmative actions, including reservations, to uplift them. Governments must grant reservations to any group identified as backward, regardless of religion, community, or caste, per the Constitution.  

Hence, almost 90% of Muslims are considered a backward community and granted reservations as part of the Other Backward Classes (OBC) not only in Karnataka but also in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Bihar. Various Muslim communities from 20 states are listed in the Union government's OBC list and receive reservations.

Almost 90-95% of the Muslim population are brought under OBC reservation in the south Indian states because, unlike North India, almost all the Muslims in this part are converts from the Hindu Shudra and Untouchable backgrounds. However, their social status did not change dramatically after the conversion, and hence, they carry similar social backwardness irrespective of their changed religious affiliation. 

In 2013, the BJP government in Karnataka, led by DV Sadananda Gowda, ordered that all Muslims, except for nine sub-castes, be considered backward classes eligible for central OBC reservations.

History of Muslim reservations in Karnataka

Looking back, the history of Muslim reservations in Karnataka began with the Miller Committee of 1918, followed by the Naganagouda Committee of 1960, followed by the reservation formula of the Devaraj Urs government in 1977, the Venkataswamy Commission report of 1986, and the report of the third Backward Classes Commission led by Justice Chinnappa Reddy in 1990. 

All these reports, based on scientific studies and data, classified the most backward among Muslims as extremely backward and considered the entire Muslim community as socially and educationally backward, thus granting them OBC reservations under different subcategories. 

For example, as of now, 17 Muslim communities like Nadaf, Pijar, Chapparband, Kasai, Phulmali, Bajigari etc., who are the most backward among the backward Muslims, are categorised under category-1, and another 19 communities are classified under 2-A. The rest of the Muslims are also considered backward socially and educationally when compared to dominant groups. This was scientifically proven by the Chinnappa Reddy Commission in 1990. 

The first Backward Classes Commission led by Havanur in 1974 did not grant reservations to Lingayats, Christians, and Muslims despite recognising them as socially backward since they do not come under discrimination within the Hindu caste order. However, the Devaraj Urs government granted them reservations overlooking the Commission’s recommendations.

The decision was immediately challenged in the Karnataka High Court.

Karnataka High Court ruling

On April 9, 1979, the divisional bench of the Karnataka High Court in WP 4371/77 case ruled that it was unwise to exclude Muslims from the list of Backward Classes.

"Regarding Muslims, the Commission was unwise in excluding them from the list of Backward Classes solely on the ground that they belong to a religious minority. The Commission has however found that the Muslims are socially and educationally backward and also do not have adequate representation in the service. The fact that they are a religious minority is no grounds to exclude them from the list of Backward Classes. The government in our opinion was perfectly justified in listing the Muslims in the list of Backward Classes."

This order was challenged in the Supreme Court. The constitutional bench of the Supreme Court, which reviewed this case, also ruled in 1985 that if Muslims as a community are found to be backward, the entire community is eligible for reservations. However, the Karnataka government, in the meantime, decided to constitute the second Backward Classes Commission under the leadership of Venkataswamy. The Venkataswamy Commission also declared that Muslims were socially backward and eligible for reservations.

Similarly, in the 1992 Indra Sawhney case, the nine-judge constitutional bench of the Supreme Court that examined the constitutionality of the Mandal Commission report was unequivocal about reservations for Muslims as Backward Classes.

"This inadequate representation is not confined to any specific section of the people, but all those who fall under the group of social backwardness, whether they are Shudras of the Hindu community or similarly situated other backward classes of people in other communities, namely, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, etc."

Thus, it is a constitutional duty of the government to provide OBC reservations to Muslims if they belong to socially and educationally backward classes. Denying them reservations based on religion would be unconstitutional, as determined by the highest courts. In this context, in 1988, the then Janata Party government in Karnataka appointed Justice Chinnappa Reddy as the head of the third Backward Classes Commission. The current 2-B classification for reservations for Muslims is based on this scientific report.

Before identifying who implemented it, let's review why and how the Muslim community is eligible for reservations under the backward classes, according to Justice Chinnappa Reddy's report.

Justice Chinnappa Reddy report

Justice Chinnappa Reddy's Commission began its study in 1988, collecting data for two years. It surveyed 543 villages, gathering information on caste-wise population, those who took SSLC exams and passed, those who enrolled in higher education, income data, and caste-wise representation in government services.

The Commission recognised that social and cultural deprivation along with denial of power and wealth contributes to social and educational backwardness. This disparity is evident in the relative lack of access to knowledge and economic resources. While poverty plays a role, caste exacerbates these inequalities. Those at the lower rungs of the caste hierarchy face greater barriers to education and economic advancement, highlighting a distinctive feature of Indian society.

Using the 1988 data for these studies, the Commission formulated three main criteria and gathered field studies and data to measure the backwardness. 

1) Comparing the percentage of SSLC exam takers in the state's population and their pass percentage by caste and community 

2) Enrolment in higher education by caste and community

3) Representation in government services in groups A, B, C, and D, government factories, and universities by caste and community. 

The commission collected data on 102 castes and communities, conducting comparative analyses to assess their levels of backwardness and recommended appropriate reservation percentages.

However, this article focuses on comparing data from the most advanced community, Brahmins, and the most backward community, Scheduled Castes, with data from the Muslim community. This comparison aims to shed light on the social and educational backwardness faced by Muslims in India.

Educational backwardness

The Chinnappa Reddy Commission regarded the percentage of SSLC exam takers as a critical indicator as it marked the initial milestone towards higher education and subsequent employment opportunities. The commission considered communities whose SSLC appearance exceeded the state's average of 0.77% of their respective population as relatively educationally advanced.

The SSLC exam-taking percentage for Brahmins was 1.41%, almost double the state's average. For Scheduled Castes, it was 0.59%, about 30% below the state's average. For Muslims, it was only 0.48%, indicating their educational status was worse than that of Scheduled Castes and four times lower than that of Brahmins.

Similarly, the percentage of Brahmin students taking the SSLC exam was 6.37%, compared to their 3.4% population. For Scheduled Castes, it was 7.41% (16.7% population) and for Muslims, it was only 7.41% (11.67% population).

The commission also examined the caste-wise distribution of students pursuing medical, engineering, and postgraduate degrees. Despite constituting only 3.4% of the population, Brahmins accounted for 21.46% of students in higher education. Lingayats had 15.68% representation (15.3% population). Vokkaligas had 11.63% representation (10.8% population).

However, Scheduled Castes, with 16.7% of the population, had only 14.44% representation in higher education.

For Muslims, the situation was dire. With 11.67% of the population, Muslims had only 5.71% representation in higher education. This was the situation even with separate reservations for Muslims. Removing these reservations and making them compete with Brahmins would only worsen the situation.

Economic and social backwardness

After estimating educational backwardness, the Chinnappa Reddy Commission used the report by Prof G Thimmaiah from the Institute of Social and Economic Change, Bangalore, to estimate economic and social backwardness. According to this report, around 56.5% of Muslims lived below the poverty line in 1974-75. Among 102 caste communities, only Scheduled Castes (58.4%) and Scheduled Tribes (66.3%) had higher poverty levels than Muslims. This indicates that the economic and social conditions of Muslims were very close to those of Dalits.

Additionally, the commission examined the community-wise representation in government services in 1988.

For these reasons, the Chinnappa Reddy Commission concluded:

"The picture presented by the Muslim Community as a whole is that of a socially and educationally backward class."

Though this observation might now need a further classification among the Muslims based on the class and caste stratification within the community, the Chinnappa Reddy Commission had scientifically explained how Muslims qualify for OBC reservation. The commission categorised overall backward classes into three groups and included Muslims in the second group, along with Buddhists.

Veerappa Moily government's 2-B reservation order

The Chinnappa Reddy Commission submitted its report in 1990. However, by then, the country was witnessing upper-caste resistance against the Mandal Commission report, and the BJP had launched its Ram Rath Yatra against it. In 1991, a midterm election was held for the Lok Sabha. Amidst this political turmoil, the then Congress government did not move on to the Chinnappa Reddy report.

Meanwhile, despite a landslide victory in the 1989 elections, internal conflicts and factional politics plagued the Congress government in Karnataka, resulting in three chief ministers between 1989-1994: Veerendra Patil, Bangarappa, and Veerappa Moily.

Towards the beginning of 1993, the Veerappa Moily government began steps to implement the Chinnappa Reddy report. In July 1994, it ordered a 58% reservation formula with 7% reservation for Muslims under the 2-B subcategory. By then, the nine-judge constitutional bench of the Supreme Court in the Indra Sawhney case had upheld the Mandal Commission report and the upper limit for all classes of reservation was capped at 50%.

Given this context, on September 17, 1994, the Veerappa Moily government issued a government order implementing the backward classes reservation formula, which included a 4% reservation for Muslims under category 2-B.

In November-December 1994, the Congress lost to the Janata Dal led by Deve Gowda in the state Assembly elections. The Deve Gowda government continued the reservation formula of the Veerappa Moily government. Until the Bommai government cancelled this formula in 2023, all subsequent governments had continued the 1994 formula with occasional adjustments within the categories and inclusions.

This, however, does not mean that Congress governments are firmly committed to protecting Muslims. The absence of the word ‘Muslim’ or ‘secularism’ in the 2024 Lok Sabha election manifesto, the inadequate representation of Muslims in the party and government and several other examples can be cited to show the insincerity of the Congress government and its claims.

Nevertheless, it was the Congress government – led by Veerappa Moily – that granted the 4% reservation under category 2-B to Muslims, not  HD Deve Gowda. He merely continued the existing formula.

Shivasundar is an activist and freelance journalist. Views expressed are the author’s own.

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