By Shuriah Niazi
NEW DELHI (AA) - Last week's decision by the Hindu nationalist right-wing government of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the southern Indian state of Karnataka to remove the 4% quota for the Muslim minority in employment and educational institutions has been heavily criticized by political leaders and others, who described the decision as politically motivated ahead of the May election in the state.
The government, after removing the 4% quota for Muslims, divided them equally among the predominant Hindu Vokkaliga and Lingayat communities in the state, which already had quotas of 4% and 5, respectively. Vokkaliga makes up 15% and Lingayat 17% of the state's approximately 64 million people according to the 2014 census.
The 4% quota for Muslims was introduced in 1995 based on their social and educational backwardness.
Muslims are now placed in the general category of the "economically weaker section" along with others, where they will compete for 10% of the quota in employment and educational institutions.
The main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, has condemned the Karnataka government's decision, describing it as a politically motivated decision linked to upcoming elections, as the ruling BJP hopes to maintain power with the help of these two Hindu communities.
If elected to power in the state elections in May, the Congress party pledged in a statement to restore the quota for Muslims.
Maulana Mohammed Maqsood Imran Rasheedi, a top Muslim religious leader in Bengaluru, the state capital, told Anadolu by phone that their quota was not based on religious affiliation.
It was just the poor economic and educational conditions of Muslims, and the purpose of such quotas was to put them on an equal footing with other communities in the state, he explained.
No members of the Muslim community were consulted before making this decision, he said, adding that it has links to the upcoming election in the state.
Rasheed, however, has wowed that the community would take the decision to a court.
Commenting on the issues, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah, who was in the state on Sunday, defended the decision, saying the party does not believe in appeasement politics and that the quota is constitutionally invalid.
“The quota was given to Muslims by the previous government for political gains,” he claimed.
Hovever, many believe that this move by the state government will further push the minority community back.
Former vice-chancellor of Bengaluru Central University, S. Japhet, called the decision "unconstitutional."
"Reservations were made for a community or a group of people based on their social and educational backwardness. We have evidence-based data on Muslims, and the government has accepted various commission reports that they deserve reservations (separate quota)," Japhet, author of the 2015 study "Socio-Economic Conditions of Religious Minorities in Karnataka: A Study Towards Their Inclusive Development," told Anadolu over the phone.
The state has a diverse and multicultural society, and "it speaks about social, political, and economic justice for all kinds of people, and we cannot live without Muslims because they are a part of our country," he said.
He questioned the state government, asking, "How will they (Muslims) compete with the upper class and upper caste?"
Last year, the state made international headlines when it prohibited women from wearing hijabs in educational institutions.
The controversy erupted when Muslim students at a state government college were barred from entering their classrooms because they wore the hijab. The ban spread to other colleges in the state, sparking protests from Muslims and civil rights activists who claimed the constitution guaranteed the freedom to wear whatever one wanted.