The government should be prepared for a constitutional amendment should less-difficult options fail to pull off the proposed reservation for Muslims, the ministry of minority affairs has suggested to the Prime Minister's Office.
The UPA government has "more or less" decided to provide Muslims reservations in jobs and education, an official working on the issue told HT, but it is grappling with a raft of political and legal hurdles.
The need to amend the Constitution could arise because Muslims on the whole may have to designated as a "backward" or a maginalised community so that their disadvantaged situation, not religion, forms the basis for affirmative action.
Secondly, any move to grant Muslims reservations would straightway breach a Supreme Court's 50% limit on the overall share of jobs and university seats that can be set aside for weaker sections. Last year, the government had to similarly amend the Constitution to pass the women's reservation bill.
"There is a clear promise for reservation in the Constitution on the basis of backwardness," minority affairs minister Salman Khurshid had told HT.
Quota for India's 150-million Muslims is likely to have a sharply polarising effect nonetheless, though the November 2006 Sachar report said the minority community starkly under-represented. The Congress then promised reservations to them in its poll manifesto.
But the government's options - based directly on reservation models suggested in the Ranganath Misra report - are proving to be unworkable.
The National Commission for Backward Classes has officially objected to a proposal to carve up an existing 27% quota to fit Muslims in. This could be socially destabilising, it has noted, and cause rivalry between new and existing beneficiaries. For instance, the Mahars of Maharashtra may view Muslims eating into their share.
The minority affairs ministry has now suggested a separate 6% quota for Muslims by designating the entire community as "backward".
In a separate move, the ministry has circulated a summary of its proposal for Muslim reservation to 25 states and 20 ministries for comments.