Till some years ago, even parties loudly proclaiming their secular convictions were mindful about not hurting Hindu sentiment. In Uttar Pradesh, ?Maulana? Mulayam would go to great lengths to assert he was a Sanatani Hindu, while in Bihar Lalu Prasad would worship at every roadside temple. Surprisingly, today'sCongress leadership, despite the party'sown Hindu legacy during the freedom struggle, has made an about turn and is aggressively promoting not just minority appeasement but hard-line anti-Hindu policies. What else can explain the totally insensitive decision of the Union Government to knock out Holi from the list of Gazetted holidays on the specious ground that this year the festival falls on a Sunday? Incidentally, Milad-ul-Nabi, apparently the birthday of Prophet Mohammad also falls on a Sunday this year, but finds mention in the official list of Gazetted holidays! By the way, Muslim religion forbids deification of individuals and therefore the Prophet'sbirthday is not a holiday even in Saudi Arabia.
This move to insult India's850 million Hindus is, however, in sync with the bewildering argument recently advanced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that Muslims must have the ?first right? on the country'sresources. Taken together with the Sachar Committee'ssuggestions that include large-scale nomination of Muslims to all governing institutions such as legislatures, completes the picture. The appeasement of minorities, especially Muslims is now an article of faith with the Sonia Gandhi-led Congress party. Obviously, she has no time even for the views of her Roman Catholic community'sspiritual leader, Pope Benedict XVI, who recently courted controversy by approvingly quoting a passage that was not exactly flattering to the Muslim community.
Even as insecure Congress leaders push for Muslim reservations, bolstered by some irrelevant statistics trotted out by the Rajinder Sachar Committee, there is a serious question whether Muslims themselves are desirous of taking help of an arrangement that Dr B.R. Ambedkar had described as a ?crutch?. A significant section of opinion-makers in the Muslim community is wary of falling into what they see as a Congress plot to bitterly polarise the country once again on communal lines. The Congress has been past master at this. They fed Muslim insecurities for decades after the Partition and treated the community as a docile vote-bank while doing nothing to improve their social and economic condition. But since 1989, Muslims have drifted away and the Sonia-led party, realising that the ground is fast slipping under its feet, is looking to the community as its only saviour at the elections.
It is a fact that the vast majority of Indian Muslims live in abysmal poverty, their educational levels are pathetic and India'srecent economic surge has bypassed them. But nobody in his right mind would advocate reservations for them as a community because that would immediately touch a raw nerve among non-Muslims including beneficiaries of the prevailing quota raj. A Muslim MP of a party widely regarded as aggressively pro-Muslim confided to me in the aftermath of the Sachar report that he has been steadfastly opposing the idea both within and outside his party forum. ?It is a recipe for disaster. The Supreme Court will throw it out of the window as their judgement in the Andhra Pradesh case clearly shows. But in the process, Hindus will get highly agitated and the anti-Muslim feeling in the Hindu middle class will get reinforced. We will be the losers on both counts,? he lamented, adding that self-serving Hindu politicians, however, are unlikely to relent on the issue. Another prominent Muslim intellectual said that he was now convinced that the ?secular? politicians do greater disservice to his community than their so-called communal counterparts. ?These self-appointed secularists are single-handedly responsible for the growing appeal of Hindu resurgence,? he asserted.
I cannot agree with them more. If a Muslim quota eventually comes through, or is even seriously proposed, the Muslims will be its first victims. I am certain any such move will invite the wrath of SCs/STs and OBCs even more than that of the upper-caste Hindus. Besides, the idea of reservation for Muslims is totally misconceived and only seeks to exploit widespread ignorance about the existing system. As anybody familiar with the Mandal Commission'sreport knows, Muslim OBCs are already beneficiaries of the quota in government jobs. BP Mandal did painstaking work using Census reports of the colonial era (since the last authentic caste-based Census was conducted way back in 1931) to identify backward Muslim communities. He put them at par with Hindu OBCs because the caste system pervades all communities in India, including those who converted to Islam or Christianity. As a result, most Muslim OBCs are already entitled to quota benefits. And converted OBCs account for almost 80 per cent of Indian Muslims, the rest comprising a smattering of upper-caste Hindus or original migrants from countries in Central Asia, Turkey and Iran.
That is why the idea of extending quota benefits to ?Dalit? Muslims is hare-brained. Virtually nobody outside the Hindu chaturvarna system converted to Islam, largely because the Muslims considered their professions ?unclean?. While the Muslim clergy is not being realistic when it says that Islam forbids casteism (in theory yes, but in India caste is all-pervasive), it is right in claiming there exists no Dalit category among Muslims. Even the Sachar report, which tried hard to locate the Dalit Muslim, was forced to conclude that Dalit converts to Islam accounted for less than five per cent of the entire community.
Even as the orchestrated demand for a Muslim quota gets louder, it is important to ask the practitioners of appeasement politics who are they talking about? I am quite baffled by the failure of myopic Congressmen to recognise these ground realities. If Muslims have failed to take advantage of quotas already available to them, it is due to their educational backwardness, not the absence of opportunities. Obviously, job-seekers with madrasa degrees will get ruled out of the ambit of modern employment, irrespective of reservations. The proposal to recognise madrasa degrees as adequate qualification is not only preposterous, but has also been sharply criticised even by Saifuddin Soz, a leading Muslim member of the Union Cabinet.
The Congress is hard put to explain why Muslims are in this pathetic condition when it has ruled the country for 47 of the 60 years since Independence. Was it necessary to commission one Rajinder Sachar to identify the so-called ?Missing Muslim? and make everybody'shackles rise? What Sachar has ?discovered? at a cost of several crore rupees of taxpayers? money was perfectly well known, at least to policy-makers. The sole purpose of setting up the Committee was for the Congress to shed crocodile tears over the Muslims? plight and set the stage for proposing community-based reservations.
The Committee has, however, brought out some embarrassing facts. It is now established that the Communists? breast-beating on the issue is hugely faked since West Bengal, which has been ruled by them for 30 years, is at the bottom of the list of Muslim empowerment. Tamil Nadu, ruled by non-Congress regional parties for almost 40 years, tops the table. And much-maligned Narendra Modi'sGujarat, governed by the secularists? whipping boy, the BJP, for over a decade, ranks second in terms of Muslim empowerment. Admittedly, though, these statistics are of little practical use and do not in any way suggest necessary measures to rectify the situation.
Actually, the key to the rectification lies in the hands of the community, not vote-seeking politicians. But who will bell the cat? The obscurantist Indian Muslim ulemas have a vested interest in keeping the community backward in order to preserve its leadership over ignorant followers. What an irony that the Saudi authorities have directed India to ensure that every Haj pilgrim this year is vaccinated against polio! And back home, fatwas are routinely issued from the pulpit directing Muslims not to accept the polio vaccine allegedly because it is a Hindu ploy to make Muslims impotent and thereby reduce their numbers in the population, although that has been galloping since Independence!
Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of Indian Muslims have no time for such obscurantist falsehood. Most of them aspire to follow the examples set by President APJ Abdul Kalam, IT baron Azim Premji, celluloid icons of Mumbai cinema and numerous talented sportspersons including Sania Mirza. But to achieve their true potential, the Indian Muslim has to be liberated from the bondage of the rabid, ignorant ulemas and cynical politicians who are leading them to an intellectual and economic slaughter-house. If reservations are brought in at this stage, it will prove to be a cast iron obstacle in the way of Muslim emancipation. It is time the Indian Muslim stood up.
(The writer, a member of Parliament, is Editor-in-Chief of The Pioneer.)