'Most Muslims in India are the descendants of low-caste Hindus who converted over the centuries, often to escape the deprived status to which Dalits were consigned. Yet those caste affiliations never fully disappeared, meaning that a hierarchy lingered among Muslims in India. Two government commissions sought to include “backward” Muslims in the quota system by using their former Hindu caste identity, along with educational and economic indicators.'
'India Eyes Muslims Left Behind by Quota System' , The New York Times, March 9, 2012
They say one mustn't speak ill of the dead.
Yet I cannot ever think of late and former Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh without adding a few expletives before his name.
No, I am not talking about his decision - days after becoming Prime Minister in December 1989 - to free five terrorists to secure the release of Rubaiya Sayeed, daughter of his home minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed.
This pathetic capitulation sparked off a spree of secessionist mayhem and violence in the state, backed by a gleeful Pakistan. (Kashmiri Separatist Yasin Malik, the JKLF leader who planned the kidnapping, is today seen as a 'moderate' leader and is wooed and protected by the Indian government.)
But far, far worse was to come.
In August 1990, in a venal, desperate bid to shore up his political fortune, VP Singh issued an order to selectively implement parts of the Mandal Commission report, which, among other things, called for government job reservations for the Backward Castes.
The Commission, launched by Prime Minister Morarji Desai in 1979, had submitted its report in 1980, but successive governments since then had ignored it.
VP Singh was toppled as prime minister within months of his order, but India is still reeling from the impact, as politicians of every hue scrambled, and shamelessly continue to scramble, onto the caste bandwagon.
With that single order, VP Singh formalised something our founding fathers - and even our constitution - had pledged to eradicate. Instead of abolishing caste, the Raja of Manda, as he was known, ensured that it became a permanent facet of India's polity, with every citizen hustling to reap the rewards of being 'backward.'
Image: Former Indian Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh smiles during a press conference in Bangalore, 15 April 2004. (AFP)