The appeasement of Muslims in the name of helping out the minorities is an old story coming out in various shapes and forms, right from the beginning of the 20th century. It has been tried by dangling the carrot of reservation in government jobs, by conferring special status on some institution of the community.
The Oxford Dictionary defines minority as ?the condition or fact of being smaller, inferior, or subordinate; smaller number or part; a number which is less than half the whole number. Similarly, relation is ?an existing connection, … a significant association between or among things.? It is the numbers that count, or the statistical divide between two or more entities under consideration that determines the majority/minority division. The minor, which is numerically less, is perceived to be weak and has to be empowered separately through special measures to make it equal to the majority. In this power relation, the minor is hypothetically subordinate to the major. It is not a new policy, but a continuation of the old ones. It is nobody's case that Muslims as community should not be helped to get their share of the pie of the Indian polity. Not that, there are no other poor or deprived people in the minorities, like the Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists and Zoroastrians, who are second to none in patriotism and loyalty, and who also need such generosity from the government. But the truth is that their number is so small that they hardly make any difference in the scheme of vote-bank politics. I hasten to add that Sikhs have nothing against the Muslims, either individually or as a community. In fact a number of hymns by Muslim saints appear in the Sikh holy scripture, Guru Granth Sahib, regarded as the living Guru. Out of the total population of 102.8 crore in the country (2001 Census), the Hindus were 82.7 crore in number and constituted 80.5 per cent of the population of the country. The Muslim population stood at 13.8 crore comprising of 13.4 per cent of the population. The next in size are the Christians (2.4 crore), followed by Sikhs (1.9 crore), Buddhists (79 lakh), Jains (42 lakh) and those following ?other? religions and persuasions including the tribal religions, etc. (66 lakh).
It is not the community, but the national issue, which bothers all patriots. For example, more than 70 people, including a station house officer and ten other policemen were injured in clashes during a strike over the execution of Saddam Hussein that shut the Kashmir Valley in the first week of January, 2007. India has nothing to do with conflict in Iraq. Some of the regional political parties, thought that the expression of sympathy against Saddam Hussein'sexecution would project them as pro-Muslim and enable them to get the votes in election, and thus the bandwagon of protests of condemnation started. In fact, far more important is to eliminate poverty and improve governance than ignite the passions of the ignorant on the causes, which do not help India, and for which protesting in this country does not yield any results whatsoever. It is an insult to the entire Muslim community, to imply, that all of them had sympathy for Saddam Hussein, who had massacred, or caused to be massacred thousands of Muslims, both Shia and Sunni, in Iraq.
While the government'sofficial stand has been one of expressing ?regret? and calling the hanging unfortunate, some parties, which regard themselves as the custodians of Muslim interests and hence entitled to all Muslim votes have been whipping up the passion against the hanging. It neither helps Iraqi supporters of Saddam Hussein, nor can it harm the USA. In the rush to evoke Muslim sympathy on imaginary and real issues, the fundamental issues have been put on back burner. Article 44 of the Constitution gives a commitment to the gradual establishment of legal uniformity in India. The aim is that the state ?shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.? This directive is believed to be a threat by some elements in some religious minorities, who continue to be governed by their own personal laws in family matters, as applied within the structure of the Indian legal system.
Article 26 also guarantees freedom to manage religious affairs for every recognised religious denomination or sect. This means a setback to the integration of constitutional protection of the rights of religious minorities and the Directive Provision of Article 44. It connotes that legal uniformity for all citizens would continue to be a chimera. This obstacle of integration of the secularity of the republic and the objective of having a legal uniformity with the protection of minority rights (also provided for in the Constitution) has meant that almost fifty six years since the adoption of the Constitution, and nearly 60 years after Independence, the goal of the Directive Principle in Article 44 is still far from being realised.
Much as the government may desire to improve the lot of minorities, the minorities themselves have to give a helping hand to the government. It is alright to be religious, as religion is everybody'sprivate business. The basic requirement is the education and only those communities flourish, which emphasise on it. All economic power flows from the skills and the level of competence, we can acquire. This is possible from the education. The literacy rate among Hindus (65.1 per cent) is slightly better than the national average (64.8 per cent) for all religious groups combined. Among Muslims the literacy rate is 59.1 per cent, which is below the national average. The highest literacy rate recorded is among the Jains (94.1 per cent), followed by Christians (80.3 per cent), Buddhists (72.7 per cent) and Sikhs (69.4 per cent). Rare has been a case where a person has gone ahead without education. About 1.6 million Indians who are doing very well in USA are there by virtue of their special qualifications, education and competitive proficiency. In a competitive environment, you cannot survive without capabilities, which flows from education you receive. Even assuming that 15 per cent funds are earmarked for development of the minorities, it will be only a trickle. Even job reservations from amongst government and semi-government employees, whose strength stands at about 5 million central government employees, will not cause even a dent to the problem.
According to Prof Amartya Sen, it is the quality of life available to human beings which is the main index of development. He rightly advocates that developing countries should focus on giving people access to health and education.
How does one compare the gulf in economic progress between authoritarian yet fast-growing China and democratic, economically straggler India? Sen says: India, with its massive neglect of public education, basic health care and literacy, is poorly prepared for a widely shared economic expansion; China, on the other hand, has made substantial advances in those areas, and was thus able to capitalize on its market reforms. In fact, what he says should be the starting point for development of minorities, rather than providing sops here and there and making big pronouncements. The government and other parties indulging in token appeasement would be well advised to listen to Amartya Sen, who has no votes to garner and take concrete steps to improve the lot of all minorities, instead of indulging in tokenism.
(The writer, former Director, CBI, can be contacted at [email protected])