The word ?secularism? is unquestionably the most misused word in the Indian political language. In the Indian context it means that one must make a deep bow before the so-called minorities and give them no offence. Artist Husain can draw vulgar and indecent pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses, but one should not complain. One must take it in the ?right spirit?. If deliberate efforts are made to convert adivasis or people from the depressed classes to Christianity there should be no protests. It would be against the spirit of the Indian Constitution. Missionaries have the right to preach.
For years now the Congress has prided itself on its secularism, no matter how poorly defined. Now H.D. Kumaraswamy, Chief Minister of Karnataka has blown the whistle. He has preferred to align himself with the Bharatiya Janta Party, long condemned as a communal organisation, simultaneously making the point that communalism is practised by all political parties whatever their claims to the contrary.
But here again, how does one define communalism? In what significant way is it different from casteism? Casteism has been practised without the slightest apology in every possible way in the past by the Congress Party itself, sometimes with serious consequences. Thus, at the instance of two Gujarati Congress leaders the Chandod Karnali Conference in 1975 thought up a plan to bring together Khastriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims (KHAM) to fight elections, quite brazenly.
In 1972 the Bhakshi Commission appointed by the Ghanshyam Oza Ministry had suggested additional 10 per cent allocation of seats in educational institutions for 82 castes in Gujarat identified by the Commission to be socially and economically backward.
When the Solanki Government in turn sought to implement the Commission recommendations, riots followed. So rampant is casteism that unconcerned about any possible social repercussions the Second Backward Commission headed by Justice Rane added a further 63 occupational groups to the Backward Castes listed by the Reservation Quota Commission.
Why should government concern be Muslim-specific? Isn'tthe UPA government concerned about the social and economic welfare of other citizens? Why does the UPA government have to communalise welfare activities?
Is it any wonder then that yet another Committee?the Justice Rajinder Sachar Committee?appointed now by the Congress-led UPA government wants a head count of how many Muslims are employed in the Armed Forces? To say the least, it is sickening. The explanation given is that the Muslim head-count is not Army-specific and that the Committee has been tasked to secure relevant information from various government departments and agencies about Muslim-inhabited regions, their economic activities, their asset base and income level, etc as compared to other groups across all states and regions.
The Sachar Committee, it would seem, has also been instructed to determine the level of socio-economic development among Muslims, in the matter of literacy, school drop-out rate, share in public and private employment etc, the idea being betterment of Muslim social welfare.
But why should government concern be Muslim-specific? Isn'tthe UPA government concerned about the social and economic welfare of other citizens? Why does the UPA government have to communalise welfare activities?
Justice Sachar has been quoted as saying that his Committee is ?just carrying out a factual survey of the representation of Muslims in all services and is not limited to the Armed Forces?. He doesn'tcarry any conviction. Why carry any Muslim-specific survey at all? The Armed Forces have registered their shock and resentment. Even the Armed Forces Chief, Gen. J.J.Singh has felt it necessary to raise his voice. A statement attributed to him says: ?We never have this kind of a thing like where you come from, what language do you speak or what religion you believe in. That'salways been our policy. We are apolitical, secular and we are a professional force. That'sthe way I would like to look at it.?
He is further reported to have said: ?Our system for entry into the Armed Forces and for enrollment is based on merit and on the ability to perform the task that might be assigned.? It is as simple as that.
There is no law in India that says that Muslims or citizens belonging to any minority community should not apply for service in the Army. Every citizen has the right to apply for any job, but he does not have an automatic right to claim it for himself. As was stated in a court case (N.T.Bevin Kutti v. Karnataka Public Service Commission 1990): ?Though a person by making an application for a post persuant to an advertisement does not acquire any vested right to be appointed to that post, he acquires a right to be considered for selection according to the terms of that advertisement. The eligibility of a candidate for selection for a post depends upon whether he is qualified in accordance with the relevant rules as they existed at the date of the advertisement for recruitment.? There can'tbe one rule for a non-Muslim and another for a Muslim.
The UPA government?for that matter, any government?has every right to know how many people, religion or caste-wise?are faring economically but when an inquiry becomes religion-specific there is reason for eye-brows to be raised.
Terming the Congress-led UPA Government'scurrent move as ?ill-advised?, a former deputy chief of army, Lt Gen. R.S.Kadyan has moved the Supreme Court to issue directions to the Centre to stop the head count of Muslims in the Armed Forces and to keep the data collected so far secret. As the officer put it, the move for the head-count would cause colossal damage to the integrity, camaraderie, morale and professionalism of the forces in the long run. And he is so right. To divide the people into Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsis, Jains etc, is not only harmful to the country but is clearly anti-secular. It is not just the Opposition that has been shocked. One can hardly condemn the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army as biassed. It is not the Opposition that is communalising the issue; it is the UPA Government that is doing so even with the best of intentions. Good intentions are not necessarily wise decisions. The Government should be concerned with the economic betterment of all people and not of any one class, caste, creed or community.
One does not become more secular by wishing one non-Hindu community well. Has the UPA Government heard of the Vedic prayer: Sarve janaha sukhino bhavantu? The Sachar Committee and the UPA Government would do well not to appear to be favouring any one community. Their aim should be the well being and happiness of all. In this day and age, is that asking for too much? Does one have to polarise society in the name of secularism? And does one have to break up the essential unity and integrity of the Armed Forces also in the process? When the head of the Armed Forces himself feels it necessary to state his views it is time for some thinking.