Public attention in the last few weeks has predictably focused on the appeasement polity after the Sachar Committee report was made public. ?Muslim first? approach and quota obsession is also being heatedly discussed and the issue has provided another opportunity to indulge in the blame game against real and imagined enemies. Unfortunately, the Sachar Committee has directly contributed to the confusion by suggesting remedies not supported by its own valuable data.
The Sachar Committee report confirms what we have always known?that Musalmans are educationally and socio-economically in a dismal condition. The depth and spread of illiteracy, deprivation and exclusion of Musalmans is truly shocking. Mohammadans? presence in education, jobs, administration, police and judiciary is far below their share of the population. This is the case even in states such as Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal where governments have claimed to be responsive to Musalmans? needs. Seldom we are aware that the way secularism is practiced in India is understood by the western world. Hindu secularists train their guns exclusively on Hindu organisations. Very rarely would you find a Hindu secularist criticising a Muslim communal organisation or leader. Perhaps this shyness is borne out of fear of being misunderstood and clubbed with those who have turned Muslim-bashing into a profitable business. Since Musalmans as a community remain socially, educationally and economically backward, they receive nothing but sympathy from our so-called secularists who try their best to rationalise the reactionary politics of Mohammadan leaders. Though Muslim secularists often come into conflict with communal elements within their community, Hindus remain the main target of their attack. While the Mohammadans and their leaders want the support of other communities when they are under attack, they rarely extend such support to others. Protesting against communal violence, demolition of the disputed structure (called Babri structure), Musalmans were in the forefront to oppose and organise protests. But did we witness any such initiative from the so-called Mohammadan leaders when the statutes of Bamiyan Buddhas were blasted by the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan? If one witnessed anything, it was angry demonstrations against the hanging of Saddam Hussein. People are no longer amused to see that the Mohammadan masses are mobilised by their leaders exclusively on emotive and religious issues.
Musalmans are worse than Dalits in case of education. They have little access to bank loans or government run welfare schemes. The Sachar Committee report underscores the urgent need for comprehensive action to tackle Muslim marginalisation. But Muslim marginalisation can only be addressed it the community decides and wants to pull itself out of the rut. Progressive sections in the community need to provide leadership for positive change to happen. For decades Musalmans have been treated as vote-banks. And now again the Sachar Committee report is being used to garner votes.
One is aware that a number of officially sponsored studies about the second largest group of Indian population been made. Though surveyed and studied again and again by various government appointment agencies, individuals, committees and commissions, the problem remains largely unresolved till this day. In the 1870s, at the behest of Viceroy Lord Meo, Sir William Hunter had studied the causes of Mohammadan unrest in the country. The study had demonstrated that Musalmans were not getting job in the Imperial set-up other than guard, peon and attendant. Some may say that we have inherited that British legacy of social injustice to the Musalmans and official inaction in the matter, but what has happened in Independent India?
A Minority Commission was set up in 1978 by the first non-Congress government at the Centre. The new-Congress government side-stepped it after returning to power in 1980 and a high-powered panel was formed to study the status of minorities and other backward classes. It was chaired by Dr. V.A.Sayid Mohammad. Later, he was appointed as High Commissioner in London and the panel was placed under the senior-most member Dr Gopal Singh. This panel had painted a rather dismal picture of the position of Musalmans and had recommended some short-term and long-term measures. But not much progress was made in that regard. Since 1995, the National Minorities Commission has repeatedly submitted reports to the Government relating to the status of minorities. But what is the response? Neither Planning Commission nor the Central Government has cared to go through those reports.
Justice Sachar in the report has suggested reservation in employment and educational institutions for the backward among Musalmans. The panel has demarcated three social groups, the Arzals, whose traditional occupation is similar to that of scheduled castes; the Ashraf and Ajlaf groups. Regarding reservation, of course it is the government, which is to decide but don'twe know that our Constitution has no provision for religion based reservation. I would rather blame the Congress Party of today for not allowing the Musalmans to join the country'smainstream by doing little precious to socially, economically and educationally uplift them.
When some ministers come out with statements to have religion-based reservation, what would one understand? This is sheer minority appeasement for the sake of vote-bank politics. If the Congress Party was bothered about the real welfare of Musalmans of the country it would have upgraded the country'spoor and backward masses economically and educationally irrespective of their caste and religion. The best antidote to Muslim poverty, or to the socio-economic backwardness of any part of India, is economic growth. This should explain why Musalmans or Hindus are better in Ahmedabad and Coimbatore than they are in Lucknow or Patna. I doubt, if any welfare or socio-economic uplift programme will be politically sustainable if it is only made for Musalmans. It has to be all encompassing.
We should remember that for over 700 years, Mohammadan dynasties ruled over a large part of India. Over the years, a number of locals got converted to Islam. Musalmans defined the social order and occupied its most important positions. When the British came, they introduced a decisive change. Improvement in the economic welfare of Indians was not their agenda. However, new opportunities were created. Those who made use of those opportunities, excelled but Musalmans remained largely wedded to an old life style. Even a cursory glance of our recent history would suggest that the advancement of individuals and groups requires a clear change in attitudes. Evidence reveals that Musalmans, especially their religious leaders are resisting the changes that are essential for progress. Without change, no matter how much resources you pour in, there would be little improvement in the community'sfortune.
The Mohammadan community should not be trapped in a blind alley but wake up to the stark reality and correct its course. The onus is on the Musalmans of this country. What are they going to do to better their circumstances?
(The author is Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha, Editor of the Prajatantra daily published from Cuttack, Orissa, and can be contacted at AB-94,Shahjahan Road, New Delhi-110 011.)