New Delhi: The number of Muslim candidates clearing the prestigious Union Public Service Commission examination has fallen to 28 this year from 50 in 2018. But this is a function of the reduction in the total number of candidates recruited, which has also fallen to 782 from 980 last year.
The decline does not reflect a reverse trend, said Syed Zafar Mahmood, founder of the Delhi-based Zakat Foundation, which provides subsidised coaching to Muslim civil service aspirants. Eighteen of the 28 candidates are Zakat products, including Junaid Ahmed, who secured all-India rank 3.
“I think the number is just an aberration. Overall, Muslims are becoming more interested in UPSC than they have been for many decades,” Mahmood, a former civil servant, told ThePrint.
“The reason you see a decline in the recruitment of Muslim candidates is because this year’s intake is three-fourths of what it was last year. There has been a decline…in the recruitment of Muslim candidates. It is a three-year low. For the last three years, 5 per cent of the total candidates were Muslim, this year it is 4 per cent.”
‘Muslims didn’t always have the means’
Mahmood, a 1977-batch IAS officer, set up the Zakat Foundation in 1997, and it has been at the forefront in providing coaching, assistance and grooming to young Muslim men and women aspiring to crack the UPSC exam.
Today, it is not the only such organisation. Last year, the Haj Committee of India decided to give free coaching for Muslim students across the country — a proposal that was supported by Union Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.
“For many years, Muslims did not have the means nor drive to take UPSC. We thought that needs to be changed if Muslims are to have a fair share in power and decision-making in the country,” Mahmood said.
Several young Muslims who have cracked the civil service exam this year agreed with him.
“Coaching for the IAS exam is very expensive. Not everyone can afford it,” said 27-year-old Shahid Raza Khan. “Given the socio-economic condition of Muslims, it is obvious that they could not afford it. But over the last few years, several coaching centres are doing some great work in terms of encouraging young Muslims to take up the civil service.”
UPSC is a fair institution
Khan is a madrassa-educated youth from Gaya in Bihar, who is now pursuing his PhD in JNU’s School of International Studies.
“The UPSC is unaffected by the political environment we are living in. I always thought that the UPSC is fair, but my belief strengthened after going through the interview process,” Khan said.
“At the UPSC, it doesn’t matter to anyone whether I was schooled in a madrassa or a regular school. They are only interested in my potential as an efficient bureaucrat.”
The fairness of the UPSC is not something only Khan talks about. Mohammad Abdul Jaleel, a 26-year-old from Kannur in Kerala, also vouches for it.
“It is not just about Muslims. Anyone who belongs from the middle- or lower-middle classes and wants to be a part of governance and decision-making will go through the UPSC route because there is a sense of fair play,” he said.
The likes of Jaleel are already becoming role models from many others in their community. “I have already been felicitated in my school, and more children are now being encouraged to prepare for UPSC,” said Jaleel, who studied at a Muslim-dominated school in Kerala.
The case for greater representation
The representation of Muslims in the top echelons of the civil service remains poor, but still, an increasing number now aspire to take the UPSC exam.
According to Khan and Jaleel, it is the same motivation that drives any other candidate.
“We don’t think from the prism of religious identity when it comes to the civil service,” said Jaleel. “If every officer does good work, there will be justice for every community automatically.”
Asked if he would deal with hate or communal crimes any differently, Khan said no. “These are law and order problems, and should be dealt with as such,” he said.
Yet, there are those like Mohammad Zaib Zakir from Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar, who said his Muslim identity would give him the added sensitivity that is needed in communally-charged times.
“There is, of course, a case for representation of Muslims in the bureaucracy,” Zakir said.
“The establishment automatically becomes sensitive to the needs of a community when the community is well represented in the establishment. Besides, even in deliberations and policy-making, there is a broader, more holistic approach to things.”