The BJP should move to open up minority institutions for Dalits by implementing quotas. It will restore parity in law, benefit the party politically and expose those masquerading as Dalit well-wishers.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath set the cat among the pigeons on Sunday (24 June) when he exhorted those concerned for Dalits to demand reservation for the community in education institutions run by the minorities. Speaking at a rally in Kannauj, Adityanath asked if Banaras Hindu University (BHU) can give reservations to Dalits and backward classes, why can’t Aligarh Muslim University do the same.
“One question should be raised to all those who are saying that Dalits are being humiliated…when would they asked for reservation for our Dalit brothers in Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia,” The Indian Express quoted him as saying.
Currently, central educational institutions have to reserve 15 per cent of seats for the Scheduled Castes, 7.5 per cent of seats for the Scheduled Tribes and 27 per cent of seats for the Other Backward Class (OBC), however, educational institutions run by members of six religious minorities (Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Parsis) are exempt from reserving seats, thanks to the 93rd constitutional amendment brought in by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2005.
Congress keeps sounding the alarm that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) might change the Constitution drafted by Dr B R Ambedkar. But the same party in 2005 amended the Constitution and inserted clause 5 in Article 15, which freed minority education institutions from any obligation to reserve seats for Dalits and backward classes.
Article 15(5) reads:
Nothing in this article or in sub-clause (g) of clause (1) of article 19 shall prevent the State from making any special provision, by law, for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes in so far as such special provisions relate to their admission to educational institutions including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the State, other than the minority educational institutions referred to in clause (1) of article 30.
The reason for exempting minorities in the above clause is special right given to minorities in Article 30(1) which reads: All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.
Unfortunately, the exemption to minority institutions isn’t limited to colleges alone, which are imparting higher education. The Indian state has institutionalised sectarianism via Article 15(5) which was earlier merely implicit in Article 30(1). As a result, now any government regulation in the education sector, by default, isn’t applicable to institutions run by minorities. The most stifling law on private unaided schools today - the Right to Education (RTE) act, for instance, doesn’t explicitly exempt minority institutions, but thanks to Article 15(5), it doesn’t have to. All hope was lost, when in 2014, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of 93rd constitutional amendment justifying sectarian laws, which are applicable to only non-minority institutions.
Hence, for speaking out on these double standards, CM Adityanath deserves two cheers. By demanding that the so-called champions of Dalit causes and advocates of Dalit-minority unity ask the minority institutions to give reservations to Dalits, he has rightly called out their hypocrisy and hollowness. However, it is Adityanath’s party that is in power at the Centre and if he or the party is serious about opening up seats for Dalits in prestigious minority-run colleges and schools, he should call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National party president Amit Shah to initiate the process to change the Constitution and amend articles 15(15) and article 30(1). It will be a win-win for the party.
Here’s how the party will benefit from this move:
First, it will help change the party’s perception among Dalits. So far, the BJP leaders have limited themselves to mouthing done to death platitudes on Dalits, which amount to nothing more than empty symbolism. That’s why the community after flirting with the party in 2014 general election and 2017 UP elections are again skeptical amidst non-stop “BJP is anti-Dalit’ propaganda mounted by the opposition parties. If BJP fights for quota for Dalits in minority institutions, it will signal real commitment and deliver something substantial.
Second, the party will immediately force the assorted opposition parties championing the cause of Dalits to choose between the welfare of Dalits and the irrational rights given to minority-run institutions. The real Dalit well-wishers and impostors, both in the political as well as activism arena, will get separated as chalk and cheese.
Third, it will also help smoke out the fake advocates of Dalit-Muslim cause or Dalit-Minority alliance especially from the minority communities (such as the likes of Owaisi and Christian priests) whose only objective of politically aligning with Dalits is to numerically be in position to defeat the BJP. If they are serious about Dalit-minority alliance, why wouldn’t they open the gates of their education institutions for the poor Dalits? As of now, this alliance is highly asymmetrical - benefiting only the minorities by giving them the satisfaction of trouncing their arch-enemy BJP in elections. The BJP can help itself by helping Dalits identify who their real friends are and who merely want to use them as an electoral tool.
Fourth, the party will usher in parity in the law by making minority institutions play by the rules that others are following. In the current framework, the right to equality before the law and equal protection of laws enshrined in Article 14 of our Constitution has become a casualty. It’s time to resurrect these foundation principles.
The BJP has all the right cards in its pocket to amend article 30(1) and article 15(5). It has the politics on its side and it has the constitutional principle of a liberal democracy on its side. There couldn’t be a better time to get cracking on this. The ball is in the BJP’s court.