By Ram Puniyani
While the opposition to reservation is on its peak, another front has been opened by those opposed to affirmative action of any sort. It may be a common observation by now that the most 'consistent' political and social force opposed to any sort of affirmative action is the communal politics, the politics of RSS affiliates. Surly there are other elite affluent sections who also are diehard opponents of affirmative action and reservation but for communalists, reservation /affirmative action is a red herring. So it was not much of a surprise when Rajnath Singh, the current BJP chief , came down heavily against the 15 point scheme for minorities, which aims at all round upliftment of the minorities, more so the economically deprived sections of minority. Mr Singh, (26th June 2006), went to label the cabinet decision to allocate 15% of the funds for social welfare schemes for minorities as the "appeasement" of minorities, an oft repeated allegation of this political outfit.
The central cabinet in its meeting on 22nd June approved Dr. Manmohan Singh's new 15 point program for minority welfare, including ways to prevent communal riots. In a comprehensive proposal the prime minister has asked for introduction of ways to enhance the living conditions, and allocation of 15% of funds from welfare budget for minorities. The aim of the proposal is to upgrade the facilities for minority education, modernize madrassa education and to provide scholarships for meritorious students. The program lays emphasis on equitable share in economic activities and employment. It also touches on different facets of lives including the rural housing schemes.
Before we take up the issue whether all this is appeasement or is a much needed measure to ensure that minorities also are able to progress like any other community, it is imperative that we have a brief look at the implementation of National Rural Employment guarantee scheme (NRES) in Gujarat. Reports indicate that Muslim minority is not able to take the benefit of this scheme as the Sarpanchas and concerned officials have been preventing Muslims from registering for this scheme. They are sent back couple of times, after which they get a subtle message and keep away from approaching the authorities.
Currently Rajinder Sachchar committee is in the process of finalizing its report about the status of Muslim minorities in India. What ever one could glean from the parts of report, and from the document prepared by a voluntary organization for presenting to the Sachchar Committee, (National Study on Socio-Economic Condition of Muslims of India, Indian Social Institute, Delhi, May 2006) makes one sit up with deep sense of anguish. The current socio economic status of Muslim minorities in particular, has slipped down in the human development indices. Also their abysmal representation in jobs, the more of them living below poverty line and more of them being illiterate, leaves no doubt in one?s mind that without serious affirmative action, this community will go on being deprived more and more. The additional problem of post communal violence ghettotization is adding salt to the wounds, as in the ghettoes the living conditions go down and threatened psyche, fuels the conservative ideology.
Earlier, Gopal Singh Commission report had also brought to our attention a similar fact in the decade of early 1980s. It showed that only 3.41% students in Engineering colleges are Muslims, only 6.77% of them are registered at the employment exchange, in private sector they are 8.16%, borrowers under bank loan schemes-9.41% getting 3.37% of borrowings, poor representation in judiciary. No action was taken based on this report, which has been gathering dust since.
Later data (Shariff, India Development Report, OUP 1999) also shows that Muslims continue to get their share from artisanship and petty trade as compared to other social groups; in contrast their income is far below the national average and less than that earned by Hindus from this source. NSS data (Rounds 50 and 55 for years 1993 and 1999-2000) reveal the unsettling trend of increasing disparity between Hindus and Muslims during 1990s with respect to the consumption, education, employment and landholdings, though literacy rates of both communities showed gradual improvement.
While the charges of appeasement abound and have been made part of the social common sense the reality is the contrary. No doubt the earlier governments have appeased the Mullahs and conservative sections of society for electoral purpose; it is also true that the Muslim community has been getting marginalized by the day. Right after partition, the elite Muslims left for Pakistan and majority of the Muslims remaining here were the poorer ones, coming from Shudra background and now living as ajlafs with Islamic identity. They were bypassed in the social development process so the percentage of their representation in jobs, bank loans, higher education and other social benefits has been declining constantly.
During last two decades when communal politics has been on the rise their situation is worse off, and without a determined effort they can in no way come close to the national averages of social and economic indices. The problem is not that, they are being appeased but that most of the development schemes for minorities have been too few and whatever were there, have not been implemented properly.
Communal outfits, irrespective of which religion they derive their identity from, generally stand for status quo, so any measures which can lead to social transformation are shirked and opposed, some times upfront, sometimes in a subtle way. Since the opposing to reservation for Dalit/OBC will be an electoral hara-kiri, so Mandal is not opposed directly, instead Kamandal (Rath yatra for Babri demolition) is engineered. To oppose the Mandal II, "Youth for Equality" or some such forum is created.
In case of Muslims where talking of reservation, barring at few places, is not a rewarding electoral strategy, the opposition to this can be upfront under the banner of Minority appeasement. As such, communal forces are opposed to minorities' welfare and have been opposing it right since the formation of Congress in 1885. At that time Congress was charged with appeasing Muslims as Congress regarded Muslims as a part of Indian nation. The most ghastly manifestation of this came up when a Hindutva trained volunteer, Nathuram Godse, killed the father of the Indian nation, Mahatma Gandhi on the same change of Muslim appeasement. And now we have Mr. Singh opposing the welfare measures and labeling these overdue measures as minority appeasement!