In 1946, the Muslim League Finance Minister of the ?interim? government, Liaquat Ali Khan, sought through his budget to destroy the industrial class in India, by the imposition of penal levies. That experience convinced several top industrialists in undivided India that their own future in a country where Jinnah'sfollowers played a prominent role was uncertain, and they then began to back Partition. Of course, even after the country was vivisected on the basis of religion and Liaquat Ali Khan took over the administration of Pakistan, Jawaharlal Nehru ensured the destruction of honest elements in the Indian mercantile class by imposing a Soviet-style system on the country.
It is this web of regulations that led to the black economy, which even today rules the political space, although the lash of foreign competition has vastly improved standards in the Indian corporate world. However, having lost to Jinnah and his brilliant strategy of using Congress mistakes to ensure British support for his viewpoint, the Congress Party reacted by adopting elements of Jinnah'sown mindset, and since 1947, has sought to perpetuate an unnatural division of the country between the major faiths. Today, as has been shown in her actions and words, Sonia fears nothing more than she does a united country, and is therefore doing all she and her minions can to divide it.
A Nehruvian double standard got institutionalised in the country'sinternal policies. Thus, while it was seen as ?secular? to mock Hindu beliefs such as the existence of Lord Ram, it was ?communal? to critique practices such as polygamy in the Muslim community. ?Secular? pundits point with horror to negative remarks made about faiths other than Hindu, as evidence of a ?communal? tendency. However, even visibly obscene representations of Hindu deities are certified as ?secular?. It is open season on the Hindu faith, and woe betide any individual who dares a similar liberty towards others. Especially since the Shah Bano legislation was passed in 1986, which denied the right of adequate compensation to a female Indian citizen if she happened to be Muslim, there has been an acceleration of the trend towards separatism within Indian society, a division that is frankly communal in nature. These days, there is very little difference between India and Saudi Arabia, when it comes to the enforcement of Wahabbi norms, and this despite the fact that the Muslims in India are among the most moderate in the world, exactly as their brothers and sisters from the myriad other faiths practiced in India.
For more than six centuries, Islam was the preferred religion in India, and even during the centuries of British rule, there was no discrimination against Muslims, whether social or economic. In fact, since the 1920s, colonial policy sought to give preferential treatment to Muslims in a (largely successful) effort to wean them away from joint action with Hindus. And after 1947, unlike Pakistan, where the minorities were being?and are?persecuted, in India, they have been given benefits not enjoyed by Hindus, such as in education and in the basic human right of practicing a faith without state oppression. There is therefore no societal logic in seeking to emulate the British rulers in framing separate policies for Muslims and the rest. And as for the historical record, this contains a warning to India'srulers not to permit the resurgence of separatism in a country with such a diversity of beliefs.
Across the world, Islam is the fastest-growing faith, and is the basis of law in several countries. Even though less than 60 per cent of Malaysian citizens, for instance, are Muslim, yet the followers of that faith have been placed in a legal situation far above that of the rest, getting social and economic privileges on the basis of faith. Although India is 84 per cent Hindu, the followers of this religion are denied the right to have their own places of worship (free of state control) or to enjoy a level playing field with the minorities in key sectors such as education. Rather than seek to ensure equal treatment for all citizens, what the UPA seeks is to make India conform closer to the Pakistan-Malaysia model of religious preference.
When Manmohan Singh took the oath of office of Prime Minister of India, he did so in the name of the entire population of this vast country, and swore to conduct himself in a manner that eschewed discrimination. Yet, under instructions from the de facto Prime Minister of India, Sonia Maino, who by her actions has demonstrated a visceral dislike of genuine secularism (which is the treating of all faiths equally and without any discrimination between the followers of any and others), the former international bureaucrat has run his government in the manner of Liaquat Ali Khan, by seeking to marginalize and penalize those citizens who have been unfortunate enough to have been born as Hindus in India. To the politics of division of the Sonia-led UPA has been added the economics of division of Manmohan Singh, who is now seeking to convert the entire machinery of government into an instrument for the breeding of separatist impulses. Why he seeks to revive the mindset that made so many Muslims back Jinnah against the unity of their own country in the period 1921-47 is not clear, but what is visible is the growing communal divide in India, that is now encouraged by government policy in the arts, in society, in politics and now even the economy.
By acting as though all Muslims in effect favour a separation between themselves and the people of other faiths, both Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh are doing an extreme injustice to a community that has understood the folly of divisive politics since the experience of Partition.
Look at just two of India'smost distinguished companies, Cipla and Wipro. Both are controlled by families that follow the Islamic faith with piety, and yet administer their companies in a completely secular way. Within Cipla or Wipro, or indeed within other stars in the Indian corporate firmament such as Ranbaxy, Tata or L&T, it does not matter if you are Muslim, Hindu, Christian or Sikh, all that counts is competence. A glance at the top management roster in Wipro or Tata would show the neutrality between faiths that is practiced by the minority community owners of these giant enterprises. And in such secular policies is their strength, for any effort at communalising an internal structure would immediately destroy fellowship and work atmosphere. Sadly, it is precisely such poison that Manmohan Singh, on the instructions of Sonia Maino, seeks to inject into the entire Indian plan process, by dividing investment on communal lines. And even after such a display of separatist behaviour, and both he and his ?Madam? continue to be heralded as ?secular?.
Just as the 1921 electoral separation of Hindus from Muslims nourished the kernel of separatism within the Muslims, leading tens of millions of them (mainly in Uttar Pradesh, Bengal and Bihar) to demand a separate country for themselves, the 2007 ?economics of separation? initiated by the Planning Commission under Montek Singh Ahluwalia (who ought to have known better) can give rise to a similar phenomenon that in brief years will spark communal confrontations that destroy social stability. What Sonia Maino and Manmohan Singh are implying is that it is the responsibility of the state to economically lift the standards of the Muslim community. Yes, it is. But it is equally the responsibility of the state to improve the standard of life of the entire population, not just the Muslims. What the UPA is practising is Malaysia-style policies, where only adherents of a single religion get government assistance, leaving the others by the wayside. While such a blatant negation of secularism may be accepted in the climate of fear that has engulfed the minorities of Malaysia, in India, the attempted transplantation of such discriminatory policies is certain to generate a backlash that can take forms which imperil law and order
What the ?economic expert? Manmohan Singh is saying is that if there can be a Muslim-only school, then why not a Muslim-only road, of the kind seen in some parts of the Middle East? Why not a Muslim-only bridge or airport? For this is the logic of the Economics of Separation: the creation of infrastructure and other assets that are off limits to followers of all except a single faith. In apartheid era South Africa and in the US during the period of segregation of races, there were ?Whites Only? facilities. Those who created such ethical monstrosities were guilty of the same separatist mindset as is possessed by the two top leaders of the UPA, Sonia Maino and Manmohan Singh. A national planning commission has to design and help implement a national plan that does not discriminate on the ground of religion. Despite the sorry history of communal conflict in India leading to Partition, it is a commentary on the degree of allegiance to the ?unity and integrity of India? of Sonia-Manmohan that they are seeking to divide the people of this country once again on the basis of faith.
Only the practice of genuine secularism can protect India from the chaos that has engulfed Pakistan, a country whose rulers have a mindset and policies very similar to that of Sonia-Manmohan. All the poor need help, whatever be their faith. All discrimination must cease, no matter what the group that this affects. Otherwise, the ever-present seeds of separatism will get the energy they need to once again pose a threat to the unity of India. Unless the government accepts that all citizens of India are one people under one law, the evils of religious hatred and communal violence will remain within our society, our polity and now, courtesy of the UPA, our economy.
(The writer, a former editor of Mathrubhumi and Times of India, now is a Professor on Foreign Affairs.)