Ahead of 2014 polls, govt plans universities for minorities

published on June 1, 2013
NEW DELHI: The Centre is mulling setting up five universities with 50% seats reserved for religious minorities, a “Muslim outreach” by Congress ahead of the 2014 elections. The universities will come up in the hubs of Muslim and Christian population in five states.

“These universities will have 50% reservation for minorities with socio-economic backwardness as key determinant. Minorities are not just religious groups but also social groups as mentioned in Article 15 and 16 of the Constitution (for affirmative action),” minority affairs minister KRahman Khan told TOI.

While a university in Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh, the constituency of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, is being considered, one in Srirangapatna in Karnataka seems a certainty. Bihar and Bengal will also get one each while one in Buddhist centre of Nagpur is still to be decided.

The Sukhdeo Thorat committee has given the opinion that central universities for religious minorities can be set up through an act of Parliament, dispelling concerns about legal challenges in the wake of court battles over religious quota.

To further bolster the backward factor in promoting minorities, the Centre may introduce “creamy layer” to sieve out the well-off among minorities for admission to these institutes, as is prevalent for OBCs in employment and education.

Sources argued that universities with focused clientele were legally viable, citing examples of Ambedkar University in Lucknow that has 50% quota for SCs and Amarkantak Tribal University in Madhya Pradesh.

Given the controversy over the “minority character” of AMU and Jamia Millia, now facing legal challenge, minister Rahman Khan argued he was not interested in the nomenclature so long as it was focused on promoting education among minorities. “Even in AMU and Jamia, which have minority character, half of the seats have to go to non-minorities,” he said.

While the move will elicit a strong reaction from the BJP, the ruling Congress is keen to bolster its “Muslim outreach” by rolling out the decision in the run-up to elections. The targeting of generic minority group barely hides the fact that Muslims comprise 72% of the total population of minorities that include Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Parsis. The Centre plans to subdivide the 50% minority quota among all five in proportion to their population.

Crucially, Khan said these universities will fall under the minority affairs ministry, keeping their salience in focus.

Otherwise, higher educational institutes are the mandate of the HRD ministry, even minority institutes like AMU and Jamia.

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