Thursday, February 25, 2010

On the Reservation for Backward Muslims in West Bengal

8th February, 2010 is going to be regarded as a red letter day in the socio-economic history of West Bengal. On this very day Sri Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, chief minister of West Bengal, announced 10% reservation in the field of job for minority Muslims who remain economically, educationally and socially backward.

What is the government announcement?

Religion cannot be the basis of this reservation. The sole criterion is backwardness. From now on 10% job is reserved for Muslims who remain economically, educationally and socially backward. Already there is 7% reservation for other backward classes which reaches 17% with the addition of this 10%. This privilege is only for those Muslims who have been lagging behind. The leading Muslim population will not be under the ambit of reservations. Muslims having a yearly income of Rs.4.5 lakh or above are out of this reservation. Presently reservation will be provided in the job sector. The questions of providing reservations for backward Muslims in education are being discussed and will be finalised later.
What is the process for the identification of the backward Muslims? A commission has been working in West Bengal on this regard. After receiving application from relevant person the commission will investigate the case, summon the applicant as witness, visit the area if needed and will take the decision. 12 sections of Muslims are already in the O.B.C. list. 3/4 new sections are going to be included. Another 10/12 new applications are with the commission for consideration. Our honourable Chief Minister has declared to accelerate the total process.

The total process will consist of three stages. Firstly, identifying the backward section; secondly keeping aside the rich section among them whose yearly income is Rs.4.5 lakh or above; thirdly supplying the identified persons with certificates by the respective Govt. office at the earliest.

What will be the process of implementation? Whether it will be through a bill in the assembly or by an ordinance or by an administrative order—that will be finalised later after thorough observation. The Chief Minister himself has announced the formation of a committee that will look upon the entire situation Representatives from the state Minority Development, OBC Welfare Department and two commissions—Minority Commission and West Bengal Commission for Backward Classes would be engaged in this matter.

Who will benefit?

Muslim population in West Bengal is more than 2 crore. In percentage it is 25. 8.3% of the total Muslim population belong to the OBC list which numbers 16 lacs 38 thousand. In this state the OBC list comprises of 66 communities which include both Hindus and Muslims. Among them 12 communities are Muslim. These are – Jola, Fakir, Hawari, Dhuniya, Kasai, Nasya Sekh, Paharia Muslim, Sershabadi, Bayan, Hazam Choudhury and Pratidar. Apart from these applications from Khotta, Sardar, Beshdar are also under consideration. The number of ‘Khotta’s is greater in Murshidabad and Maldah amounting to about 10 lakhs. The number of these later three communities are as high as 10.5 lakh. In addition to these hearing is going on the basis of prayers from Mahaldar, Abdal, Basni and Kankhalifa. Presently, the number of persons who might be included in the OBC List other than those who already belong to the List is already 12-15 lakh. Apart from this there is a chance of three more communities to be included in the list.

A few examples in this case might be helpful. There is a community among Muslims named ‘Guri.’ Theyare basically fishermen.. Actually they are called so because they catch tiny (Guro) fishes. In my village only, there was a ‘Guripara’. Berhampore has a road named Gurimahal Road. Non-Muslims who catch fish enjoy reservations as schedule castes. The question is that why the Muslims doing the same work will be left out of reservation? In my village only, there was ‘Kolupara’. The Kolus make oil that means they produce mustard oil in wooden machine using cattle power. The number of Muslim ‘Patuas’ can not be neglected. They live in Midnapore and are inside reservation. But ‘Lodha’ Muslims in that same Midnapore are not under the ambit of reservation. The ‘Lodhas’ live on primitive hunting system and their behavior – custom are almost like tirbals but they are Muslims in their religious belief. In Midnapore there are also the ‘Kelas’ and ‘Kherias’ who have many things in common with the Hindu tribes. As Hindu the tribes are enjoying reservation but ‘Kherias’ miss it only on the ground of being Muslims. There is the ‘Ghoshi’ community in Barrackpore and Kharagpur who once came there from North India. They raise animals. ‘Tantias’ live at different places in Midnapore. They are connected with sericulture. There is a community named ‘Dhakuri’ at Amdanga a place very near to Kolkata. They are very few in number and very poor in status. They recycle old clothes by making ‘Dhokra’ (heavy bedspread). There is a community called ‘Penchi’ at Aurangabad in Murshidabad. Their number is considerable. Some Muslims earn their livelihood as cobblers. Hindu cobblers are inside the periphery of reservation but Muslim cobblers are left out of it.

These are the specific reasons for expansion of the OBC list. Presently there are 66 communities. The number will increase. When any community applies for inclusion in the OBC list, a hearing is taken to determine its status. The commission can also take initiative to do so. Today, some people question that number of applicants in this case will not be of a substantial amount and thus will include a negligible portion of the two crore Muslim population. But the reality is different. If all the backward Muslims are enlisted accordingly to the Chief Ministers announcement then the number will not be a small one. In this connection I am going to use some words of Dr. B.R.Ambedkar – Someone will get the advantage of reservation and some others will not as they have different worshipping process, it cannot be so. That means reservation is to be done on the basis of profession. If a fisherman or a cobbler gets the privilege of reservation, it will be so because he is a fisherman or a cobbler by profession, not that he is a Hindu or a Muslim.

The Perspective of Reservation

The first and foremost perspective for reservation is the constitution of India. The constitution makes it very clear that religion cannot be the basis for providing reservations as far as education and job are concerned. This very belief is the manifestation of modern society. Expansion and strengthening of this value stands to be one of the main pillars of modern state polity. But some questions still remain unanswered – what will happen to them who are socio-economically backward due to various historical reasons? The Constitution itself provides the answer.” “Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of article 29 shall prevent the state from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. “– [Art. 15(4)] It is again stated “Nothing in this article shall prevent the state from making any provision of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the state is not adequately represented in the services under the state.” – [Art. 16(4)]. I would like to present the relevance of article 29(2) in this case, – “No citizens shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the state or receiving aid out of state funds on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them.” So it is clear that the Constitution provides enough imperative to the subject of reservation for economic, educational and social backward classes. The second cause is the actual situation of Muslims. A careful observation of the Indian Muslims clearly reveals the intensity of their backwardness. However this backwardness varies from states to states. Rich cultural diversities are integral part of the concept of India. It has many different languages and opinions and as far as the concentration of Muslims habitats is concerned those remains to be scattered regionally. The socio-economic status of Muslims in West Bengal and Kerala varies. But this is a fact that the Muslims overall could not achieve equality as far as job and education is concerned. One cannot find Muslims in sectors like banking service and private educational institutions. Muslims are lagging behind in getting govt. loans. A ‘Fearless’ Bengali Daily has brought out its editorial column ridiculing the CM’s declaration about reservation. It is titled as ‘Love for Interest’. If I humbly ask, how many Muslims work in that particular daily, I am sure of receiving a number which will be microscopic.. The practical situation of today has become the prime force behind reservation. Although it cannot be denied that mere reservation can never be the gateway of development – political and social honesty is needed. If it is not there all facilities are going to leak out through the gaps of law.

A third reason behind reservation is the report of Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission. In 2004 a national commission was constituted under Justice Ranganath Mishra to identify the socially and economically backward people among religious and linguistic minorities. The commission was meant to recommend about the reservation and other development-oriented matters in the fields of job and education for this portion of the Indian citizens. The commission submitted its report to the Prime Minister in 2007. After that no proceedings and movements were seen in this regard. The leftists repeatedly pressurized to bring out the report before the Parliament. Some part of the report got leaked and was published in the Hindu newspaper. Later it was produced in the winter session of the Parliament in December, 2009. The commission has given suggestion on many issues like education, job, administration and legislative system. I am not going very deeply in this matter. Our friend comrade Sk. Saidul Haque has already discussed it on the pages of Ganashakti. I am going to mention the job oriented matter. The recommendations are made considering the 16(4) of the Constitution. While the recommendations were made, the provisions of article 16(4) were kept in mind. I have mentioned about the article earlier. Two recommendations are made. Firstly, 15% post in every Central and State Government department must be reserved for minorities. 10% would be for Muslims and 5% would be for other minorities. If Muslim candidates are not found for the above mentioned 10% posts, then those would be filled with candidate from other minority communities. By any means it must not be done with candidate from the majority part. Secondly, if it becomes a judicial deadlock with the situation which cannot be avoided, the recommendation is that among the total population of other backward classer 8.4% is minority. For that reason from the total 27% reservation for OBC’s 8.4% seat must be kept aside for minorities. This 8.4% would be divided into two parts – 6% for Muslims and 2.4% for other minorities.
Two things are also attached with this issue. One is that in the 3rd paragraph of 1950’sdirective principles of the Constitution, only the backward part of Hindu population was considered and they were recognized as Scheduled Caste. Sikhs and Buddhists were included later. It was done clearly on religious basis. Muslims, Christians and Parsees were not included and the reason behind that was an also religious consideration. Then how does reservation remain a secular process. The commission justly recommended abolishing the directive principles of the Constitution of 1950’s. The recognition of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes should be done secularly. That means, the manner in which a portion of the Hindu population namely Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are given recognition and reservation, Muslims and other minorities should also be given the same privilege of reservation like them.

The Chief Minister of our state welcomed the Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission’s Report on the very next day of its submission to the parliament. West Bengal Government has taken the recommendation and started to work on this matter not bothering about what the Central Government wants to do with the report or about the ‘Action Taken Report’ which has to deliver. The commitment of Left Front Government for the all round development of minorities has been proved once again.


Leftists do not support reservation based upon religion. The Constitution of the country also carries the same essence. But for the upliftment of the backward classes the left has been constantly waging struggles in and out of the parliament and will also continue to do so as far as the fight for ensuring social justice are concerned. But to our greatest surprise we are watching those people are making the highest form of opposition who till yesterday believed reservation to be the only solution for upliftment of the minorities. The basic reason behind this has been envy of the ugliest order. They are actually scared about the reality. They are realizing that their existence will be at stake. The so called movements they were spearheading will now be blunt. The Left Front Government has excluded the ‘creamy layer’ from the ambit of reservation. Two or three days back a traditional organization of Muslims (led by incompetent leaders) has suddenly come up with a war cry-“we want reservations for all Muslims”. The Ranganath Mishra Commission however, has suggested for the exclusion of the creamy layer. If owners of Pataka Industries, Howrah Biri or Wipro start demanding reservations it is going to be an absurd thing. Alas! Many people are forgetting that a minimum level of common sense is required even when you are blindly opposing something. The Left Front Government is committed to ensure the forward march of backward Muslims. The commitment is not only limited to the sphere of providing jobs; it also covers the basic and important questions of expansion of modern scientific education. The entire process is integrally associated with the overall development of West Bengal. And the present decisions of the Government will be recognized in that very spirit.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

West Bengal LF Govt’s 10 % Reservation for Muslims

Affirmative Action Must Be Welcomed

THE decision of the Left Front government in West Bengal to give a reservation of 10 per cent in government jobs for socially and educationally backward Muslims announced by the Chief Minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, is predictably being dismissed cynically as an election gimmick by the Congress party which cannot afford to openly oppose this move. It is, as expected, outrightly denounced by the communal outfits particularly their political arm, the BJP.

The decision of the West Bengal government is based on the recommendations of Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission established on October 23, 2004 to recommend measures for the welfare of religious and linguistic minorities in the country. The CPI(M) had broadly welcomed the Commission and its recommendations.

Though the Commission submitted its report to the prime minister in May 2007, it was tabled in the parliament only in December, 2009. The Congress party's prevarication on this issue is clearly established by this delay. The UPA-2 government is yet to come with an action taken report on these recommendations. It is the normal practice that any report of a Commission constituted by the government of India must be brought to the parliament alongwith an action taken report. This lapse, hopefully, should be corrected in the forthcoming budget session. Only then will the country and the people know how the government intends to implement the recommendations of the Commission.

The Ranganath Mishra Commission, amongst others, recommended that the criteria for identifying backward classes should be uniform without any discrimination between the majority community and the religious and linguistic minorities. It, therefore, suggested that the criteria now applied to determine the OBC status amongst the majority community must be unreservedly applied also to all the minorities. It is in this light that the Commission has recommended reservations to the religious minorities on the lines of the OBC reservation. It has recommended 15 per cent reservation in employment under the central and state governments on this basis. Within this 15 per cent, 10 per cent is earmarked for the Muslim minorities commensurate with their 73 per cent share in the total minority population at the national level. The rest, ie, 5 per cent, must be earmarked for other minorities.

It is on the basis of this recommendation that the West Bengal government has announced its decision. These recommendations are in tune with Article 16 (4) of the Indian constitution which states: “Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State.”

The acceptance of the Ranganath Mishra Commission recommendations will necessarily take the percentage of reservations beyond the 50 per cent ceiling set by the Supreme Court. Since the reservations for the SC/STs and the OBCs at the state level are based on their proportion of population, in some states, the full quota of 27 per cent for the OBCs has not been utilised. West Bengal is one such state where currently there is only a 7 per cent reservation of seats for the OBCS based on those identified as backward classes and their proportion in the state's population. With the current decision, the percentage of reservations under the OBC category will increase to 17 per cent with 10 per cent of this being earmarked for the backward Muslims.

Amongst all other recommendations of the Commission, reservation for backward Muslims was first chosen as they comprise 25 per cent of Bengal's population. Further, in keeping with the longstanding understanding of the CPI(M), the creamy layer will not benefit from this reservation. The West Bengal government has announced that the families with an annual income of Rs 4. 5 lakh or more cannot avail of this.

Inclusion of backward Muslim sub-groups in the state's OBC list is nothing new in West Bengal. At present, there are 12 Muslim sub-groups in the OBC list representing 16.83 lakh people. The state government has now identified another 37 Muslim sub-groups. All these categories come under the category of backward Muslims as identified by the Sachar Committee report. These are the Ajlaf and Arzal categories. The West Bengal proposal excludes the advanced Ashrafs who are considered as the creamy layer amongst the Muslims. The state government has announced the setting up of a committee to identify and firm up the inclusion of sub-groups under the OBC category in order to ensure that the benefits reach those who most deserve.

Ignoring this reality of backward Muslim sub-groups already being part of the state's OBC list, the BJP has, once again, mounted its communal offensive by charging the CPI(M) and the Left Front of appeasing the Muslims. Their anti-minority stance and the vituperative communal poison that they spread is too well known to need any repetition here. Such rabid communal politics is, in fact, the worst expression of vote bank politics in our country which seeks to consolidate the Hindu vote bank based on spreading hatred against the religious minorities. While thundering that reservations cannot be based on religion, they conveniently forget that they continuously promote and defend reservations for the Scheduled Castes and the OBCs strictly within the Hindu religious fold only. It is precisely this logic that the Ranganath Mishra Commission has busted by saying that the criteria for identification of backwardness must be uniform across religions.

The Congress party first needs to explain to the people its procrastination on this report for so long before mounting attacks against the CPI(M) for implementing what is widely recognised today as necessary for the integration of the minorities into the process of building of modern India.

The yardstick of any modern democracy in measuring its success is the status and welfare of the smallest of minorities. The efficacy of any government in a modern democracy is to be measured by its success in ensuring equality of opportunity to all accompanied by proactive measures of affirmative action to bridge the gaps of social and economic inequality. The West Bengal government's decision is correct from this perspective and thus deserves to be welcomed by all Indian secular democrats and patriots.

14th February, 2010

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Maoism at Its Nadir:The Killings in Bengal


Violence in West Bengal’s western districts has reached crisis proportions. Each day, one or more cadre member or sympathizer of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPM] is killed either by Maoists or the Trinamul Congress (TMC). The Maoists have found common cause with the TMC, a breakaway from the Congress Party in Bengal. Mamata Banerjee, whose authoritarian populism draws from both Juan and Evita Peron, leads the TMC. Backed by the dominant class, Banerjee nonetheless drapes herself in mystical radicalism (didi, or sister, as she is known, becomes durga, the embodiment of shakti, female power). In October 2009, the Maoists declared that they would rather have Banerjee’s right-wing TMC rule Bengal than the Left Front.

The Maoists-TMC has now killed over two hundred people since late 2007 (most are members and supporters of the CPM, with just a few being members of other political parties that are either in the Left Front or else affiliated with it). Ordinary political workers are beheaded and burnt, shot in the head and raped. In early January, Maoists entered the village of Joynagar and killed four CPM supporters; they beheaded two of them, Anath Singh and Hiteshwar Singh, sons of Gopal Singh who the Maoists killed in 2007. Ten days later, TMC members attacked a group of CPM supporters who had just filed their nomination papers for a local election. Dinesh Haldar, Khairul Jamadar, Biswanath Gayen and Salim Jamadar were killed, two of them with revolvers fired into their mouths. These monstrous acts are ongoing, and systematic.

Defenders of the Maoists suggest that the guerrillas only channel the anger of the poor, that this is the politics of rage against a system that has not delivered any goods. In the midst of this bloodbath, the writer Arundhati Roy told IBN-CNN’s Karan Thapar that the Maoists are justified in their armed path. “You have an army of very poor people being faced down by an army of rich that are corporate-backed,” she said. The suggestion is that the Maoists are the army of and for the poor, whose actions are motivated by the failure of the Indian State to deliver on its Constitutional promises. But this is not only simplistic; it is also disingenuous.

About half of India’s population falls into the World Bank’s category of poverty; that’s about 500 million people. Most of them have grievances and aspirations, but these do not lead them to the gun. The poor can be found in one of the many political organizations that seek to widen and deepen the current legal dispensation in India, fighting for the rights of the people through the courts and in the streets. Or else, the poor can be found in and around the NGOs and social service agencies that serve their needs; as well, the poor can be found in one of the many Rural Employment Guarantee schemes set up by the government. The Indian government’s obsession with growth rates for the wealthy diverts the nation’s wealth away from the workers who produce it. Anger and frustration at the system does not necessarily turn to anomic violence of the kind practiced by the Maoists and the TMC in western Bengal.
Poverty does not lead to Maoism. It certainly contributes to it, but it does not produce it. What produces Maoism is the act of making political violence legitimate (even glorifying it). Rather than make the case that there is space within the (however limited) democratic institutions, people like Arundhati Roy trumpet the armed road. Patient work through the democratic institutions produced the important developments for the Dalit [oppressed caste] movement and the working-class movement. For example, Reservations for underprivileged castes did not come from the armed struggle. It was a direct beneficiary of the use of the democratic institutions. The gun is an anthem for the deracinated middle class romantic, but not the glory song for the dispossessed, for whom only suffering comes at the gun’s mouth. It is the dispossessed who die in these armed struggles, both from the guns of the revolutionaries and those of the State.

In South Asia, the recent examples of organizations that thrive on the cult of violence include the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). The Maoists glorify both of these groups – they have recently procured the arms that ULFA was to send to LTTE. When the Sri Lankan army killed LTTE’s leader Prabhakaran, the Maoist leadership conducted a strike on his behalf (when the LTTE was decimated in Sri Lanka, the Indian Maoists claimed that this would have “a negative effect on the revolutionary movement in India as well as South Asia and the world at large”). To glorify violence, as the Maoists do, does not open the kind of political space necessary for the end to the poverty-making machine that has afflicted many parts of rural India. Their slogan is borrowed from the Italian ultra-left, ni mai piú sin fucile, Never Again Without a Rifle.
The Maoists have taken advantage of poverty, but they have nothing to offer by way of a salve. In the largely tribal areas of interior India, the various extractive mafias are at work drawing out the wealth of the region and providing little for the residents. Raw materials of all kinds, from timber to dolomite, routinely leave the tribal zone with little recompense for the people themselves. The Maoists have entered this highly exploitative and oppressive situation with no plans to immediately assist the grievances of the various tribal communities. Indian Maoist leader Koteshwar Rao (Kishenji) told the press, “We collect taxes from the corporates and big bourgeoisie, but it’s not any different from the corporate sector funding the political parties.” The mafias continue to operate; indeed the extortion payments to the Maoists give them permission to work with license. One estimate suggests that the Maoists make off with Rs. 20,000 million per year, money used, among other things, for the purchase of arms.

If the government attempts to provide any sops toward development (such as schools and medical centers), the Maoists simply blow them up (this is clearly documented by Human Rights Watch in Sabotaged Schooling. Naxalite Attacks and Police Occupation of Schools in India’s Bihar and Jharkhand States, December 2009). It is to their interest to allow matters to remain in stasis within the “liberated zones.” It is specious to talk of the Maoists as liberators: they are infected with the virus of extortion and power.

This brings us back to a central unasked question: why are the CPM members and supporters the target of the Maoist-TMC violence in Bengal? The Maoists and their TMC allies do not kill the mafia, for that is their cash cow. Nor do they turn their guns on local landowners or dominant classes. In Bengal, they reserve their ammunition for schoolteachers and agricultural workers, workers in the mines and workers in the panchayats [institutions of local self-government]; all of whom have one thing in common, an affiliation of some kind in the Communist Party of India (Marxist). This assault on the CPM is not new. In 1983, journalist Praful Bidwai wrote, “Often the affirmation of the revolutionary identity of naxalism [Indian Maoism] means singling out the CPM and the CPI for an onslaught because, according to their theory, those parties can be nothing but obstacles to the popular movement,” viz. the growth of the Maoist parties, which stand in for a genuine mass movement. “The anti-CPM and CPI aspect of naxalism is not new. The point is that it has become increasingly more important over the recent past as the naxalite survival has been threatened.” The Maoists do not fear for their survival any longer; rather, they want to use the weapon of violence in Bengal to enter into a state where they have had limited traction.

The Maoist-TMC conduct most of their assassination and political terror in the region of the Jhargram parliamentary constituency. This is a constituency reserved for tribal candidates. In 2009, the CPM and its Left Front allies suffered a setback across West Bengal during the parliamentary elections. Jhargram was another story. Here, the CPM’s Pulin Behari Baske won the election by almost 60 per cent of the vote. One reason Baske won is that the region’s tribals have been a beneficiary of the long struggle for land reforms spearheaded by the CPM and its Left Front allies. This is not a prosperous region, but it is nothing like the devastated areas in Central India where the Maoists have established themselves. Unable to secure a political victory, the Maoists-TMC has turned to the gun. They assassinate the CPM workers and supporters to terrorize the population against the Left Front.

Vijay Prashad is the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Director of International Studies at Trinity College. His most recent book, The Darker Nations, won the Muzaffar Ahmed Book Prize in 2009, and is now available in French as Les Nations Obscures(Les Editions Écosociété). He is an editor of Naked Punch. He can be reached at

Weekend Edition

COUNTERPUNCH, January 22 - 24, 2010