“If they (minorities) really have come to the conclusion that in the changed conditions of this country, it is in the interest of all to lay down real and genuine foundations of a secular State, then nothing is better for the minorities than to trust the good sense and fairness of the majority and to place confidence in them. So also it is for us who happen to be in a majority to think about what the minorities feel, and how we in their position would feel if we were treated in the manner in which they are treated. But in the long run it would be in the interest of all to forget that there is anything like majority or minority in this country and that in India there is only one community.?
This is how Sardar Patel, the unifier of India, articulated the vision of future India in the Constituent Assembly on May 25, 1949. Sardar Patel was addressing a parliament elected on the basis of separate electorate. He appreciated the change of opinion expressed by Muslim representatives in favour of joint electorate and described it as genuine foundation of secular state. He reminded both the minority and majority communities as to their mutual obligations and welcomed the new system of joint electorate as the herald of a new era where the consciousness of majority and minority shall disappear and pave way for building a strong united India.
A heightened and exaggerated community consciousness was the reality, but the ambition was to build an India free from internal divisions. This ambition did not mean placing any restrictions on the freedom of belief and practice of religion. Instead freedom of religion was made part of the fundamental rights guaranteed to each and every individual citizen. In fact the constitutional scheme recognised that in terms of religion, culture and language we are a pluralistic society but in terms of nationality we have only one identity and through the instrumentality of Directive Principles defined how future governments should proceed to achieve this objective.
The very fact that after six decades we are still discussing subjects like common nationality and majority, minority mindset clearly shows that we have failed our founding fathers who had hoped that with the inauguration of new era all these distinctions shall disappear.
Community consciousness is legacy of the times when in the absence of institutions like state, the security and safety of an individual was insured by the tribe or community one belonged to. This consciousness had some utility under alien rulers or non-representative regimes too. But with the adoption of a new Constitution guaranteeing individual rights and establishing rule of law, it was hoped that new thinking and new consciousness shall emerge that will consolidate national unity and put an end to the identity politics.
What is majority and minority except that in times gone by these terms conveyed the sense of being dominant and subordinate as power was wielded by the practitioners of argument of force. But today we live in an age where force of argument has become the arbiter. Now we have rule of law that provides that one with law is majority. The rule of law specifically prohibits any distinction or discrimination made on grounds of race, religion, sex or place of birth. The highest functionary of the state and the commoner are equally answerable to the commands of law. The rule of law tells us politely but firmly ?be you ever so high, the law is above you?. In brief the rights and obligations of an individual flow from his status as citizen and not as member of a particular community.
The history shows that the consciousness of majority and minority was almost unknown till the last year of 19th century. It was with the partition of Bengal in 1901 and a series of well planned decisions by the government subsequently, that the poison of community consciousness was inoculated into Indian body politic. Clearly the colonial government relied for its sustenance on internal disharmony and worked overtime to create communal rivalries and divisions.
It may be recalled that on October 1, 1906 a deputation consisting of upper class Muslims led by Agha Khan met the then Viceroy Lord Minto at Simla. The deputation presented an address signed by nobles, ministers of various states, landowners, lawyers and merchants. This group of Muslims and the government together decided on an imperial policy of special British favour for loyal Muslims. According to WC Smith ?to organize such Muslims and to receive the favour, the Muslim League was presently born?.
Right from its birth it was suspected that Muslim League was founded at the instance of Lord Minto to counteract the influence of national movement among Muslims. Initially the charge was dismissed but on Januaury 10, 1927 Maulana Jauhar, one of the founders of Muslim League, wrote in his journal Hamdard that ?if we follow the tradition of the British journalists of wartime who always used to say ?now there is no harm in disclosing the fact because nothing is secret?, we may also say ?that it is not disadvantageous to disclose that the deputation was invited to Simla?. The Muslim League was floated few months later by the Simla dignitaries to pursue separatist politics in the name of protection of minority rights.
Commenting on the politics of Muslim League, Maulana Azad said in 1940 that ?nothing in India'spolitical development has been as blatantly wrong as the assertion that Muslims constitute a political minority and that they should be wary of their rights and interests in independent democratic India. This one fundamental misconception has led to innumerable misunderstandings. Wrong arguments have been built upon false foundations.? Maulana asserted that ?their (Muslims) heads are held so high that to consider them a minority deserving special concessions makes no sense?. In another speech soon after Independence Maulana had declared that ?now that Indian politics has taken a new direction, there is no place in it for the Muslim League.?
We need to realise that democracy thrives by creating a sense of fairness and equality and not by demanding favours and privileges. Special rights and inequality are two sides of the same coin. The clamour for special rights or exemptions heightens community consciousness and is the real obstacle in building a society of equal opportunities.
The constituent unit of Indian nation is individual citizen; it is not a federation of mutually competing religious communities or groups. We have all the freedom to pursue our faith and religious practices important as they are in building character and morality. Simultaneously we have our constitutional obligation ?to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood among all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities?.
But this harmony will elude us till we move forward to end the existing legal anomalies based on religion and create a genuine sense of equality before the laws. This alone can lead to emergence of a robust national identity and relieve us from majority and minority mindset.
(The writer is a reputed political analyst and former Union Minister.)