A special feature of the political life in India under the British was the existence of communal electorates. Nationalist opinion was always opposed to it. Yet it continued, and in course of time established a pattern of communal politics unknown in any other country.
According to this, almost every religious minority in India, the Muslims, the Sikhs, the Indian Christians and others, had a certain number of seats reserved for it in the legislatures. This privilege was extended to the Anglo- Indians and the Europeans also.
Under the Constitution Act of 1935, the Scheduled Castes also were to be treated as a separate community and given separate representation. But the historic fast of Gandhiji at Poona in 1933 prevented it and the Scheduled Castes were given reservation in constituencies based upon joint electorates with other Hindus. In 1947 when India became independent, this was the situation.
Although the country was divided between India and Pakistan on a religious basis, the partition of the country did not by itself solve the problem of religious minorities. Pakistan became a “Muslim” State, but all the Muslims of undivided India did not migrate to that country.
Some forty million Muslims still remained in India. Besides, there were large groups of other religious minorities such as Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Parsees and others. The Scheduled Castes and Tribes were still treated on a par with religious minorities deserving special consideration.
When the Constituent Assembly took up this question in 1947 there was nothing fundamentally different from the old ideas on the subject. The Assembly formed a Committee, the Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights and minorities, with Sardar Patel as its Chairman, to study the different aspects of the problem and make recommendations to the Assembly so that these recommendations could be given due recognition in the provisions of the new Constitution.
The Committee took over two years to prepare a detailed report which was generally in favour of some form of reservations for the minority communities. In the meantime, Independence and the problems created by partition brought about a new outlook, and a substantial change in the attitude of many members who belonged to the various minority communities in the Assembly.
H.C. Mukherjee, an Indian Christian leader from Bengal, took the lead and appealed for the abandonment of the proposal for reservations in legislatures. This proposal soon found favourable response from many others and the Constituent Assembly decided not to embody the principle of communal reservation in the Constitution.
The decisions of the Constituent Assembly arising out of the discussions on the recommendations of the Advisory Committee opened a new trend in Indian politics.
The main features of this new trend were: (1) abolition of separate electorates; (2) abolition of reservation of seats in the legislatures; and (3) abolition of special safeguards to minorities. The only exceptions made were with regard to the three communities, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Anglo-Indians, each of which had a special case.
But even in these cases the special provisions were to exist only for a limited period of ten years from the commencement of the Constitution. These provisions are embodied in a separate chapter of the Constitution.
In 1978, the Government of India appointed the Minorities Commission with a view to continuously looking into the problems of Minorities and suggesting remedial measures. The Commission consists of a Chairman and four members.