No, Maulana Azad didn’t oppose reservation for Pasmanda

The idea of reservation to OBCs (Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs) came about in 1990 after the Mandal Commission recommendations were implemented. The reservation under article 341 defined only SC community and most of these Pasmanda castes don’t come under this identification.

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“Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Hussain Bhai Lalji, Tajammul Hussain, Begum Aijaz Rasool, and Maulana Hifzur Rahman opposed the move to include Dalit Muslims in the list of scheduled Castes to be given reservations during the debate in the sub-committee on Protection of Minority Rights of the Constituent Assembly.” 

This is what is being promoted by organisations like All Indian Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz (AIPMM) in the last few years. The narrative is catching up with the people coming from lower castes within the Muslim community like Ansari, Salmani, Mansoori etc. It leads them to believe that the reservation now given to them was initially blocked by the likes of Maulana Azad.

Nothing can be farther from the truth. In North India there is a saying, “kahin ki iinT, kahin ka roDa, Bhanumati ne kunba joDa” (you make a castle by picking stones of different kinds). The narrative is a perfect example of that. 

First of all we should understand what was the point of debate in the sub-committee on the Protection of Minority Rights of the Constituent Assembly.

In pre-partition British ruled India separate electorates was the method to ensure fair representation of different communities in the legislature.  So, there were fixed constituencies for Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians etc. In a Muslim constituency, a Muslim can vote for a Muslim representative and similarly in any other constituency people of a particular community could choose a member of their community.

The constituency was not exactly defined by geography but by a community. Nationalists, including Muslims, believed (or, still believe) separate electorates as the root cause of the partition of India in 1947. The 1946 elections on which the Constituent Assembly based itself was held through these separate electorates with limited franchise.

The Original Signatures on the Constitution of India by the members of the Constituent Assembly

In the Constituent Assembly, the debate was whether separate electorates would be kept. It must be noted that the assembly started its deliberations before the partition. Therefore, initially, it was decided that Muslims would get reservation in the legislative assemblies and parliament according to their proportion in population. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel himself led this proposal.

One must keep in mind that the reservation being offered was not to Pasmanda or lower caste Muslims but to the Muslims overall.

The equations changed when the partition of India was decided and Pakistan was created. Whatever Muslim leadership remained in India decided to reject this religion based reservation. 

They had two arguments. On the one hand they believed that in a secular free democratic India there was no room for any preference to a religious group. On the other hand they believed that in a joint electorate system reserved seats would return ‘stooges’ rather than real representatives of the community.

In the debates in the constituent assembly when the issue of reservation was discussed Begum Aizaz Rasul emphatically spoke against the reservation while Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Maulana Hifzur Rahman supported her without speaking. Muhammad Sadulla opposed the resolution and supported the reservation. We should keep in mind that Maulana Azad and Maulana Hifzur were anti-partition leaders while Sadulla came into assembly on a Muslim League ticket. 

Muhammad Sadulla with Dr. Ambedkar

Sardar Patel who was the Chairman of sub-committee on Protection of Minority Rights of the Constituent Assembly said in the assembly on 26 May 1949, “The fact was represented before the Minorities Committee. When Dr. Mookherjee moved his motion, it was Mr. Tajamul Husain from Bihar who stood up and moved an amendment that reservations must go. He was challenged in the Committee whether he had consulted the other members of the Muslim community, and he quoted chapter and verse from the representatives of the provinces whom he had consulted. Yet we did not want a snap vote. I said that I would advise the Advisory Committee to hold over the question and ask all members of the minority communities to consult their constituencies and find out what they really wanted. Nearly four months after that we me and unfortunately Mr. Saadulla was not present or he did not appear and so the opinions that he had gathered remained with him. He did not even communicate them to us. He said that there were only an attendance of four there of whom (I do not know whether he has consulted Maulana Azad or not) he says that Maulana Azad remained neutral. He claims to know Maulana Azad’s mind more then I can do. But I can tell him that Maulana Azad is not a cipher: he has a conscience. If he felt that it was against the interests of his community he would have immediately said so and protested. But he did not do so, because he knew and felt that what was being done was right. Therefore if Mr. Saadulla interprets his silence as neutrality he is much mistaken, because Maulana Azad is a man who has stood up against the whole community all throughout his life and even in crises. He has not changed his clothes and I am sure if he has claimed or worked for partition and if he had ever believed that this is a country of two nations, after the Partition he would not have remained here: because he could not stay here if he believed that his nation was separate.” 

Tajammul Husain further explained the deliberations on the same day. He said, “My resolution was discussed under the Chairmanship of the Honourable Sardar Patel. I spoke on my resolution. Begum Aizaz Rasul supported me. Maulana Azad was present there; he did not oppose me. The only person who opposed me was my honourable friend Jafar Imam, from Bihar. There too, I had a majority: Begum Aizaz Rasul, Maulana Azad and myself as against one.”

What did Abdul Qaiyum Ansari think on the Rights of Indian Muslims and Waqf?

The resolution was passed on 11 May 1949 when Tajammul himself was not present. He said, “ That meeting was attended by four honourable members: Maulana Azad, Maulana Hifizur Rahman, Begum Aizaz Rasul and Mr. Jaffar Imam. Maulana Azad and Maulana Hifizur Rahman did not oppose my resolution that there should be no reservation of seats. Every member of this House does not speak. If he opposes, he opposes. If he does not speak, but says “I vote for it”, then he is with it. Maulana Azad was present. If he wanted to oppose, he would have opposed. The two Maulanas did not oppose Begum Aizaz Rasul supported my resolution in substance. The resolution was moved by my honourable Friend Dr. Mookherjee. It was the same as my own. Begum Aizaz Rasul supported it. My honourable Friend Mr. Jaffar Imam opposed it. If the Maulanas were not with my resolution, they would have sided with Jafar Imam. They said nothing. Votes were taken. There was a clear majority. The Honourable Sardar Patel, I understand, declared that the Muslims were in favour of the motion in spite of the two Maulanas remaining silent. It means that they were with me: three to one voting: there was a majority.” 

Some people claim that Sardar Patel wanted the reservation but Maulana Azad opposed should know what Patel had to say about reservation for Muslims, “I was trembling on the day I was appointed as Chairman of this Committee but I felt proud and today also I feel proud— and I hope the House will feel proud—that we are able to bring about almost unanimity in removing the past blots in our Constitution (hear, hear) and to lay, with the grace of God and with the blessings of the Almighty, the foundations of a true secular democratic State, where everybody has equal chance.”

Now coming to the allegations by ‘Pasmanda activists’. They claim that there was a reservation for Dalit Muslims according to article 341 which was later removed. This is true. Initially, Scheduled Caste reservation was not religion based. An SC person from any religious faith could avail the reservation. 

Six months later in August 1950, it was felt that there was some problem in interpretation of the SC category. SC reservation was based on correcting the centuries of ‘untouchability’ practised against a community. There was this argument that only Hindus have untouchability in their religion. So, through a presidential order SC reservation was limited to Hindu SC. Later on, Indic religions (Sikh, Buddhists) were also included in the list but Islam and Christianity were kept outside.

It has been a long standing demand of Muslims and Christians to include them but the official position in India is that these are egalitarian religions where untouchability is not performed. 

This order was published after the Constituent Assembly ceased to exist so there cannot be a possibility of any debate in the Constituent Assembly over this.

Another confusion created by ‘Pasmanda activists’ is that they use a language which makes the audience believe that Muslim OBCs like Ansaris were denied reservation with this presidential order of 1950. This is completely wrong.

The idea of reservation to OBCs (Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs) came about in 1990 after the Mandal Commission recommendations were implemented. The reservation under article 341 defined only SC community and most of these Pasmanda castes don’t come under this identification.

More importantly, targeting Maulana Azad, Maulana Hifzur, Tajammul, Begum Aizaz etc for their ‘crime’ to oppose the reservation for Muslims in order to uphold secularism in India is actually speaking the language of Muslim League.

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