India's ruling party woos Muslim voters with quota

Story highlights

  • Federal cabinet sets aside a 4.5% minority quota in jobs and education
  • Decision would affect primarily Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Zoroastrians
  • The Muslim vote is key in 2012 elections in India's largest state, Uttar Pradesh

India approved quotas for minority groups Thursday in a move that was widely seen as the ruling party's attempt to woo Muslim voters in a key state.

The federal cabinet set aside a 4.5% minority quota in jobs and education within an existing 27 percent quota for what are known as Other Backward Classes, traditionally the lowest rungs of the Hindu caste system otherwise known as Dalits.

The Indian constitution prohibits privileges based on religion but Thursday's decision would allow economically and socially disadvantaged minorities -- Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Zoroastrians -- to be included in affirmative action programs.

The decision, based on the recommendation of the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, will benefit Muslims the most since there are many more Muslim communities that are designated as backward than others.

The Muslim vote is key in 2012 elections in India's largest state, Uttar Pradesh.

The Congress Party won 21 seats from Uttar Pradesh in the 2009 elections but their popularity has been waning. The quotas were seen as a move by Congress to win support from Muslims, who comprise about 18 percent of the state's 200 million people.