Saturday, September 15, 2007

What happens when a Government refuses to listen to reason

What happens when a Government is so taken up by populism that it won't listen to reason ? Well, now is a good time to find out. The Andhra Pradesh Government of Y. Rajsekhar Reddy has been trying to implement a separate reservation quota for Muslims in state colleges. Now reservation vs. merit has been a tricky subject currently, with plenty of impassioned speech for and against the subject. However, most debaters seem to agree that trying to implement reservations with a religious agenda is just not on; it smacks too much of a populist move (not bad by itself if it works for public good), it goes against the concept of the state not discriminating between against religions (sacrosanct in the Indian system), it militates against the concept of targeted reservations where reservations are only meant for those people who have been denied or suppressed for a historically long time (and you just cannot say that about the Muslim community in Andhra Pradesh) and is against the concept of judicial review where the ultimate correctness of a Government action is viewed against the intention of the constitution by the courts (and in this case, this particular stand is being reviewed by the Supreme Court).
So what did the Andhra Government do ? 2 years back, it passed an ordinance whereby a 5 % reservation was introduced for the entire Muslim community in Andhra Pradesh. Most people considered this an obvious attempt to curry favour with the Muslim community since the Government knew what was going to happen (it would not pass court approval with the High Court very clearly ruling against providing reservation on a religious basis). So the state filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, although it knows that the Supreme Court is very very likely to rule against such an ordinance and declare it ultra vires of the Constitution.
Then in July this year, the Andhra Pradesh Congress Government struck again, passing another ordinance giving 4 % (and not 5%) reservation in Professional colleges for Muslims. This is when the Supreme Court is already hearing the earlier case. And the Government must have felt to be very clever, after it all reduced the figure to 4% so as to not exceed the 50% quota limit introduced by the Supreme Court in the landmark Indira Sawhney case. Now, this latest quota has been challenged in the Supreme Court again:

The Supreme Court would hear on September 24, a petition challenging the Constitutional validity of an Ordinance granting four per cent reservation to Muslims in professional colleges by the Andhra Pradesh government.
The petition filed by T Murlidhar Rao and K Sriteja has challenged the Andhra Pradesh High Court order declining to stay the Ordinance issued by the state government on July 6, 2007, under which it provided four per cent reservations to several sub sects within the Muslim community by treating them as backward classes. The High Court refused to stay the ordinance after the state government submitted that the issue relating to reservation for OBCs was pending before the apex court and hence no order be passed till the matter was adjudicated by the Constitution Bench.

The State Government submitted before the High Court that since a matter related to OBC reservation in professional educational institutions was pending before the Supreme Court, the Andhra High Court should not intervene, and the court bought into this argument. The fact of the matter is that this is different, since this pertains to reservation on religious lines, and is a much more serious manner. But will the Congress listen ? It needs to be seen as implementing the Sachar committee report and doing something symbolic for the Muslim community, and this trend is hard to reverse.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 6:13 AM