Thiruvananthapuram: Spirited calls for forest minister A K Saseendran's resignation were expected to even disrupt the Assembly proceedings on the first day of the second session of the 15th Kerala Assembly. But after the Chief Minister said Saseendran had not done anything wrong at the start of the day, the issue was largely forgotten.
Instead, it was the minority scholarship issue that dominated the proceedings on the day.
It was Muslim League's Ernad MLA PK Basheer who first raised the issue. He said his party would force the LDF government to withdraw their new scholarship formula; following a High Court order asking Kerala to distribute minority benefits on the basis of population, the 80:20 scholarship ratio in favour of the Muslim community was altered to approximately 60:40 with major gains for Latin and Converted Christians.
He was speaking during the discussion and voting on Demands for Grants in the Revised Budget for the financial year 2021-22.
Though the new ratio gave the impression that the Muslim community would stand to lose, the LDF government said that the benefits enjoyed by the community till now would not be reduced. The Christian community, of course, would gain.
The UDF, especially the Congress and the Muslim League, wanted the scholarship benefits to be limited to just the Muslim community as, according to them, the scholarship benefit originated from the Sachar Committee report that was constituted to exclusively study the plight of the Muslim community in the country after the fall of the Babri Masjid in 1992.
However, former minister for minority affairs K T Jaleel had five questions for Muslim League leader. The thrust of Jaleel's posers was that the Sachar Committee report, and also the reforms initiated by Muslim leaders, was not just about Muslim upliftment.
One, except for madrasa reforms, did the second UPA government under Manmohan Singh direct states to limit any of the benefits that were recommended under the Sachar Committee Report to Muslims alone. Two, can the League produce proof of any state in the country having granted scholarships to Muslim students alone.
Three, has the second UPA government stipulated that only Muslim candidates should be admitted to the Malappuram off campus of the Aligarh Muslim University. Four, if the Sachar Committee report was concerned solely with Muslims, why didn't it recommend the creation of a Muslim Development Department instead of a Minority Development Department.
Five, League leader C H Muhammad Koya, when he introduced scholarships for girls to tackle educational backwardness, he did not limit the benefit to Muslims; he extended the benefit to Nadar Hindu and Christian girls, too.
Kunhalikutty did not respond to these questions one by one but insisted that the Sachar Committee report was about the social and educational upliftment of the Muslim community. “It was part of mainstreaming the Muslim community,” Kunhalikutty said. He said even the Paloli Muhammad Kutty Committee (formed in 2011, during the LDF tenure under V S Achuthanandan, to study the social, economic and educational status of Muslims in Kerala) concerned itself solely with the Muslim community.
“Your first mistake was to apportion 20 percent of the benefits recommended under these committees in 2011 to the Christian community,” Kunhalikutty said. “There are many Muslims who consider the Sachar Committee Report as their Magna Carta,” he said. He said eligible Christians should be offered assistance separately.
He referred to the Justice J Benjamin Koshy Commission that had been set up by the LDF government to study the problems faced by the Christian minorities in Kerala. “Their recommendations will be solely for the benefit of the Christian minority,” Kunhalikutty said.
Opposition leader V D Satheesan, too, said the benefits born out of the Sachar Committee recommendations should be set aside exclusively for Muslims. He said a separate assistance scheme for the Christian minority could be worked out on the basis of the recommendations of the Justice J B Koshy Commission. “If the Sachar benefits are shared, it would be legally untenable for the government to reserve the assistance recommended by the J B Koshy Commission exclusively for Christians,” Satheesan said.
The Opposition leader said that he, however, welcomed the government's decision to retain the benefits enjoyed by the Muslim community till now. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, however, said the new formula was the best possible way to prevent communal discord. That there were differences in the UDF camp on the issue was also evident. Kerala Congress (Joseph) leader Mons Joseph told the House that his party supported the revised minority scholarship formula.