Six decades ago, India was divided on communal lines. The same omens are showing up, transpiring through the schemes of UPA government. The highly esteemed economist and our Prime Minister made it clear in his statement earlier: ?We will have to devise innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably in the fruits of development. They must have the first claim on resources.?
The Prime Minister as the Chairman of the Planning Commission has now come out with some incisive 15-point programme for the welfare of minorities (read Muslims).
The Planning Commission had already put out its approach paper on ?inclusive growth?, which talks about minorities. It makes no mention of religious minorities in general. It makes specific mention of only ?poor? Muslims and Muslim women. It calls for special focus in areas with large concentration of poor Muslims. Special schemes for creating educational infrastructure in areas with large concentration of poor Muslims. Special incentives for students from poor Muslim background. Access to credit to Muslim women. It also wants by 2007-2008 15 per cent of all credit flow from banks to go to minorities. It then goes on to talk about a 15-point programme aimed at improving the quality of life for the Muslim population (there is no reference to poor or otherwise), e.g. earmarking 15 per cent of all targets and outlays to target minorities (i.e. Muslims), posting of Muslims in Muslim concentration areas, improvement conditions of slums inhabited by the minorities.
After sixty years of independence, where there is no discrimination politically or economically in practice or policy at place in India, the question automatically arises if this is a major national policy goal!
The Prime Minister should answer to the nation, how does ?religion? become so important for a government strategy on inclusive growth, of a country whose Constitution'sbasic tenet is secularism?
To place it as a ?minority welfare measure? is not only an affront to our Constitution, it is bound to be counterproductive to the cause of communal harmony in the country, as earmarking areas in jobs, education loans, postings, even in slum upgrading it will bring in the suspicion that it won'tbe even-handed. In a country where people shed blood, suffered and contributed for growth, every citizen, irrespective of his caste and creed should have equal right over the resources of the country.
As a student of economics, I wonder what went wrong in the previous plans that such an approach has to be adopted? Whether ?poverty is ?religion? centric and only poverty based on religion should determine allocations in the plan! UPA and its head honchos should answer.
It can be remembered that the Sachar Committee appointed by UPA to create its ?Muslim friendly? image has brought out the very well-known fact that Muslim residents in India are miserably lagging behind the others. It also wanted to find out the percentage of Muslims in armed forces but rightly and very professionally, army refused to give that information as it can easily be used for dividing the nation and communalising the armed forces which are the keepers of the country'sintegrity and nation'sindependence.
The Constituent Assembly in 1947-49, while dealing with the question of reservations for Muslims, rejected the idea of religion-based reservations. It would be worthwhile quoting one member'sarguments at that time. Begum Aizaz Rasul from United Provinces elaborated: ?To my mind, reservation is a self-destructive weapon which separates the minorities from the majority. It gives no chance to the minorities to win the goodwill of the majority. It keeps up the spirit of separatism and communalism alive which should be done away with.?
The Preamble to the Constitution declares the State to be ?secular?. Article 15 of the Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, creed or gender. Article 16 talks about equality of opportunity in public appointment. Article 29 gives right to conserve language, script and culture. Article 30 ensures right to establish and administer educational institutions. So far no government deviated from these principles in policy and practice. So, what instigated the urgency in the policy matter of the union government? Is it the vote politics or simply the intention to sidetrack the ?majority?, taking their votes for granted?
To save face Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia is now saying: ?The proposal on minority is not divisive,? but it appears that he himself is not confident about his answer.
It'snow clear, since assuming the office in May 2004 the UPA government has single-mindedly pursued a policy of minority appeasement. The first policy decision taken by the Manmohan Singh government was the repeal of the anti-terror law POTA. After the Supreme Court struck down the IMDT Act as unconstitutional, the Centre tried to bring back the IMDT by notifying the Foreigners (Tribunals for Assam) Ordinance. It was in response to a PIL filed by an AGP MP that the Supreme Court once again struck down this legislation.
The UPA government at Centre increased the number of Haj pilgrims by 10,000 even though the Supreme Court made it clear that offering subsidy to pilgrims of one community has to stop. People pay taxes and other duties while attending Kumbh Melas or other such congregations. UPA government'sHRD minister in his infinite wisdom has decided that the best way to preserve Aligarh Muslim University'sminority status is by reserving 50 per cent of the seats for Muslims. The decision was later halted by the honourable court. The list is endless.
But this is most unfortunate that dictated by his ?super authority? and political priority the Prime Minister has come down to such a level that can easily be defined as the politics of ?divide and rule?.
Unfortunately, the UPA leaders have not learnt lessons from our Partition. They are pursuing the same politics of religion for electoral benefits. The time will answer, whether they will be successful in their heinous plan.
(The author is former Finance Minister in Government of NCT of Delhi and is presently Leader of Opposition in Delhi Assembly. He can be contacted at [email protected])