Did the Congress give religion-based reservation to Muslims in Karnataka?

Did the Congress give religion-based reservation to Muslims in Karnataka?

By: umme kulsum&
April 29 2024

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Did the Congress give religion-based reservation to Muslims in Karnataka?

File photo of women voters in India. (Source: Reuters)

Addressing an election rally in Agra, a city in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, on Thursday, April 25, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused the Congress of appeasement politics and said, “The Congress has pledged to implement religion-based reservation. They have decided to steal from the 27 percent quota of the Other Backward Classes (OBC). They have decided to quietly snatch it and give religion-based reservations.”

Referring to the southern Indian state of Karnataka, where the Congress party is in power, Modi said the Congress party in Karnataka has included all Muslims in the list of OBCs overnight and given them the entire “27 percent reserved for the OBCs”. He alleged that the party has done injustice with the backward classes and it will now do the same in Uttar Pradesh and other parts of the country.

(Note: Prime Minister Narendra Modi's remark can be heard around 26 minutes and 33 seconds.)

Screenshot 2024-04-29 at 9.37.07 AM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking at an election rally in Agra. (Source: YouTube/Narendra Modi)

The prime minister has made similar comments at several other rallies across the country (archive here). Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath (archive here) has also said the same.

Following these comments, several right-wing social media users (archive here) claimed that the inclusion of the Muslims under the OBC category happened under the Congress government in 1994. However, historical records show that there were deliberations on this issue from as early as 1921, and while it was proposed when the Congress was in power, it was implemented only in 1995 under the JD(S) government.

Here's a look at the timeline to understand this issue.

A timeline

1921: Following the recommendation of the Justice Miller Committee, the Muslim community was first given reservation as a backward class in 1921. The committee was set up by the maharaja of Mysore in 1918.

1961: The R. Nagana Gowda Commission in its report identified more than ten castes within the Muslim community as the most backward and brought them under the backward classes list. The then-Congress government issued an order based on this recommendation in 1962, but it was challenged in the court. The matter was held in abeyance. 

1972: The Havanur Commission was set up by Chief Minister Devaraj Urs-led Congress government. Based on the recommendations of this commission, in 1977 the Urs-led government implemented reservation for Muslims within other backward classes, leading to legal challenges in the high court and Supreme Court. 

1983: The apex court eventually directed another commission to be set up to review the inclusion of Muslims in the backward classes list. The Venkataswamy Commission in 1984 suggested the inclusion of Muslims, but exclusion of dominant Vokkaligas and some Lingayats sects from the backward classes lists. The report was not accepted due to protests by Vokkaligas. 

1990: The O. Chinnappa Reddy Commission in 1990 reaffirmed the classification of Muslims among the backward classes. Following this, the Veerappa Moily-led Congress government issued an order to officially include Muslims under category 2 on April 20, 1994

On July 25, 1994, the government issued an order reclassifying the list of castes into the categories 2A (relatively more backward), 2B (more backward), 3A (backward), and 3B (relatively backward) based on “social and educational backwardness”. This order included Muslims under category 2B alongside Buddhists and Scheduled Caste converts to Christianity. While four percent reservation was given to Muslims, two percent was designated for Buddhists and Christians. The total reservation increased from 50 percent to 57 percent by the virtue of this order.

Congress out, JD(S) steps in

An interim order by the Supreme Court passed on September 9, 1994, directed the Karnataka government to cap overall reservations at 50 percent. On September 17, 1994, the government passed an order reducing all quotas. The reservation for the Muslim community was capped at four percent under the 2B category. 

The government, however, changed in December 1994, and it was on February 14, 1995, HD Deve Gowda-led Janata Dal (Secular) came to power and implemented the order fixing the Muslim quota at four percent, of the total 32 percent quota for OBCs, under category 2B.  

The structure evolved with time, but no change was made to this four percent reservation quota despite the BJP forming the government in the state first in a coalition with the JD(S) in 2006 and twice after. The JD(S) is currently in an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). At present, 36 communities of Muslims included under categories 1 (most backward) and 2A are also in the central list of the OBCs. However, only those who are not ‘creamy layer’ (annual income of Rs eight lakhs or more) are eligible for this reservation.

BJP attempts to remove reservation

In March 2023, ahead of the Assembly elections in the state, then-Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai decided to remove Muslims from the quota of OBC and instead include them in the 10 percent quota for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS). However, this was challenged in the Supreme Court and was put on hold in April 2023. 

The Bommai administration had also decided to distribute the four percent among the newly-created groups 2C and 2D, under which the dominant Vokkaligas and Lingayats fall. 

In 2023, the Congress won the Assembly elections in Karnataka and Siddaramaiah was sworn in as Karnataka's chief minister. Siddaramaiah’s government continued working under the same four percent quota for Muslims order as the matter is still pending before the Supreme Court.

Further, Karnataka is not the only state where Muslim sub-castes are included in the OBC list. Gujarat, from where Prime Minister Modi was the chief minister for over 12 years, also includes Muslims in the list of OBCs. Experts also point out that this inclusion is not based on religion, but on “social-educational backwardness”. 


Moreover, the prime minister said that the Congress has “pledged to implement religion-based reservation.” However, no such promise could be found in their manifesto. Under the section “Social Justice,” the party has promised that it will “pass a constitutional amendment to raise the 50 percent cap on reservations for SC, ST, and OBC.”

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