Critics of the Congress and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government have enough ammunition suddenly, courtesy, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s blunt peak at the annual conference of the state minorities’ commissions and the Sachar committee report. The call for a ‘fair share’ to the minorities (Muslims) in government and private sector jobs and the insistence on training the Muslim youth to make them eligible for their ‘legitimate’ share of the job market are being seen as a part of ‘appeasement politics/ with an eye on the forthcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.
Justice Sachar has made out a case for helping the Muslims to get out of the ghettos, where they are living for years. He has not offered any prescription per se but leaves none in doubt what his advice is. Is the advocacy of the retired judge unbiased? Opinion is divided.
Whatever be the route the political executive may adopt finally – quota with in the OBC quota as some prefer or sustained intake into schools and jobs as some others advocate, it all boils down to affirmative action. And it cannot be denied and, indeed, any longer even if the advocates are political parties which are unsure of their time tested vote banks.
Agreed the Muslim has become the talk of the town. It has a ‘side effect’. I am referring to the subtle but clearly discernable shift in the public discourse on minorities. The tone and tenor of the debate is no longer Islamist centric. Ground realities, which should matter always, are finding a mention for the first time while tossing around the issue of a better deal for the Muslims. Because, it can be no body’s case that a community which numbers 140 million in all, and is identified as socially, economically and educationally backward should be allowed to lag behind.
The media coverage of terrorism at home and abroad has had a negative fall-out on the Muslim community. Unfortunately, most of the persons who are generally picked up after every bomb blast or a terrorist attack invariably happened to be Muslim youth. The disproportionately high percentage of Muslim held in jails is perpetuating distorted images.
In Gujarat, for instance, it is as high as 25%, whereas the community makes up a little over nine per cent of the state’s population. The global war on terrorism undertaken by the United States in the wake of 9/11 has been projecting Muslims as the villain of the 21st century in a manner of speaking.
Viewed against this fact sheet, the Prime Minister can be said to have tried to the steer the public debate off its jingoistic overtones and put the issue in a socio-economic perspective. As he frankly told the Conference of state minorities’ commissions held in Delhi a few days ago, available evidence does not inspire confidence that the benefits of most developmental schemes taken up over the years to address specific problems relating to education, health, employment and shelter for the poor and the under privileged have flowed equitably to the eligible sections amongst the minorities as well.
Take the 15-point programme for instance. Indira Gandhi came up with the blue print for minorities’ welfare more than three decades back. Since then it has been revised twice – once by Rajiv Gandhi and now by Manmohan Singh but it has failed to show any tangible achievement. Focussed attention to the 15-point programme is what is necessary at the state level. There is also an urgency to diagnose the key felt needs of minority communities and to identify solutions for their problems on a holistic basis.
Various studies and surveys show that the main factor responsible for socio-economic backwardness of Muslims is the lack of access to quality education. Manmohan Singh touched upon this aspect when he observed, “We must ensure that concrete schemes for setting up of secondary and higher secondary schools in the Blocks and Districts having predominantly Muslim population are indeed implemented during the current plan period and the next plan period”.
The poor and underprivileged in any community don’t want charity. They want opportunities to grow. Indian Muslims are no exception. More access to professional education, particularly medical and engineering courses and to skills that improve job prospects are their legitimate demand like any other section of the society. What is wrong in the demand? What is wrong in heeding the demand?
Justice Sachar Committee report recounts the known but often glossed over ‘factnama’. It points out that Muslims have done well in areas like cinema, where creativity alone matters. Its case rests on the argument that Muslims should get access to all sectors of national endeavour without discrimination. The government of the day, undoubtedly, has a responsibility to do all that is possible and desirable to see that the Muslims or for that matter any deprived section come up to the level of other communities in the country and feel that they are a part of the mainstream.
Any party that aspires for a stint on the Raisina Hills cannot afford to indulge in symbolisms like having a minority show piece in its organisational set up. It has to fully identify itself with the concerns and aspirations of all sections of the people. In other words, the Parivar parties should not see ghosts where there are none.
Kamal Farooqui, secretary, All India Personal Law Board, has made a pertinent point. It is that the Sachar report be utilised in a ‘responsible’ manner and demands that would become ‘politically contentious’ be avoided.
Any takers for the Farooqui advice? Even as the Muslims may be wondering when will they get their own Babasheb Ambedkar!
Sun, 2006-11-26 , Malladi Rama Rao – Syndicate Features