Religious and linguistic identities can'tbe wished away. Any attempt to deconstruct or deny legitimacy to them is bound to be counter-productive. Such a course of action would lead to social disharmony and encourage separatist tendencies. In a pluralist and democratic society, these identities are not exclusive. They merge with the larger national identity without losing their individual existence and character. All communities ? majority or minority ? have to be treated at par. Justice and fair play to all irrespective of their religion, language, caste or sex is the corner stone of a just and egalitarian society.
Affirmative action to bring disadvantaged sections of the society at par with the rest of the population, irrespective of their sub-national identities, doesn'thurt national solidarity. However, this action needs to be based on their social, economic or educational backwardness because pampering a particular section of society on the basis of its sub-national identity hurt national unity and encourages divisive tendencies. This leads to insatiable hunger for more concessions that is bound to cause deep hurt to other communities. National consolidation is the worst sufferer in such a situation.
Unfortunately, pandering to unreasonable demands of religious minorities ? aptly dubbed as minorityism ? has become the bane of Indian polity and a major cause of communal tensions. This essay is a humble attempt to briefly trace the roots of this phenomenon during the last 100 years or so. Let us start with the Lucknow Pact of 1916. Although the British had already conceded the Muslim demand for separate electorate in 1909 in pursuance of its policy of divide and rule, the Hindu leadership faced an acute dilemma. They were intrinsically opposed to separate electorate but couldn'tresist the temptation to pander to the wishes of the Muslims who they perceived were angry with the British for opposing the Muslims in Turkey. Ultimately, as a ?tactical move? they signed the Lucknow Pact in the hope of getting Muslim participation in the freedom struggle. Nothing of the sort happened. On the contrary, separate electorate paved the way for the Partition of the country in 1947. It is most unfortunate that a stalwart of freedom movement and one of the top intellectuals of his times, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, was the one who was leading the Congress at that point of time.
Congress support to the Khilafat movement in 1921 launched by the Muslims against the overthrow of Caliph ? the descendent and successor of Mohammad – is another sad chapter of recent history. Mahatama Gandhi had by then taken over the leadership of the Congress but refused to learn any lesson from the blunder committed by the party five years ago. The Mahatma-led Congress joined the Khilafat agitation in the mistaken hope of winning Muslim support for the struggle to over-throw the British rule in India. The Hindu support to the Muslim agitation failed to change the Muslim-mindset against them. Frustrated by the collapse of the Khialafat agitation and unable to cause any damage to the British interests, Muslims diverted their wrath on the Hindus. Countless innocent Hindus were massacred and their womenfolk disgraced in what is known as Mopla riots. The Communists, who are equally, if not more, guilty of practicing minorityism, misled the nation by describing riots as ?farmers? struggle against landlords?. On his part, the Mahatama in an obvious bid not to displease Muslims, made the disgusting statement that the Muslim rioters did what they thought was their religious duty, or words to that effect. Congress party'ssurrender to the Muslim League'sdemand for the Partition of the country on communal lines in 1947 is yet another inglorious instance of the party pandering to Muslims? outrageous demands. Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar, who understood the Muslim psyche better than the Congress, refused to oppose Partition on the premise that Muslims would never live in peace with the Hindus but demanded transfer of population to resolve the Muslim problem once for all. The Congress accepted Partition but further compounded the damage by ignoring Dr Ambedkar'sadvice presumably because it saw in Muslims a potential vote bank.
Founding fathers of the Constitution provided in it the Right to free profession, practice and propagation of religion. Even a cursory reading of the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly show that Hindu members of the Assembly conceded, albeit reluctantly, the right to propagate religion as Christian and Muslim members insisted it was their religious duty. While the right to profess and practice religion is a legitimate one, the right to propagate was a concession fraught with disastrous consequences for the country. Although several state assemblies later banned conversions by fraud, inducement or force, these laws have not been implemented in letter and spirit because of the propensity of our political leadership to pander to minority appeasement. Christian missionaries and Muslim religious leaders have exploited the Right to propagate religion for engineering mass conversions ? the root cause of communal tensions. Although theocracy is unacceptable to Hindu ethos and traditions, the distorted version of secularism practiced by most political parties and governments since Independence has deeply hurt national interests and sentiments. Practitioners of vote bank politics persistently manufacture specter of Hindu communalism to create insecurity in the minds of religious minorities to garner their votes.
The infamous Shah Bano case is the worst kind of minorityism that generated a huge backlash among nationalists. Bowing before the entirely illogical and unjust demand made by sections of the Muslim community under the banner of Muslim Personal Law Board, the Rajiv Gandhi Government annulled in 1986 the Supreme Court judgment by enacting a law. A liberal Muslim, Arif Mohammed Khan, argues that the judgment was delivered under section 125 of the Cr. P.C. that is rooted in social justice and aimed at prevention of vagrancy and destitution. The court decision, he argue, didn'tdeal with civil law, much less religious law. The Muslims, therefore, had no ground to say the court had interfered in their personal law sanctioned by their religion. The Congress Government'sabject capitulation to the reactionary elements in the Muslim community was nothing but a contemptible act of minorityism.
Illegal immigration from Bangladesh (then East Bengal) was initially encouraged by Farkhruddin Ali Ahmed, who later rose to be the President of India, in a bid to create a larger Muslim vote bank for the Congress in Assam. The influx became a deluge in subsequent years for a variety of reasons. What began as an escape from poverty and hunger, has by now become a massive economic, political and security problem for India. Several governors and security experts quoted facts and figures to underline the inherent dangers involved in the demographic changes these infiltrators have brought about in states bordering Bangladesh. The ?secularists? couldn'tcare less. They see additional political gains in defending these illegal immigrants as they are convinced that local Muslim population is also pleased if no harm comes in the way of these ?Muslim brothers? from across the porous Indo-Bangladesh border.
Congress and other ?secular? parties? soft approach towards Jehadi terrorists is the most visible manifestation of the curse called minorityism. These parties have convinced themselves that any strong action against Islamists ? whether domestic or Pakistanis ? will annoy the Muslims living in India. That this approach is an insult to the patriotism of Muslims seems to bother neither them nor the Muslims. The manner in which questions were raised by Congress and SP leaders about Batla encounter, in which a brave police officer M C Sharma lost his life, is a damning evidence of minorityism at its worst. A. R. Antulay'sdemand that drew strong support from Muslims across the country for enquiry into the killing of senior Maharashtra ATS officers by the terrorists in full public view and Congress leadership? failure to show him the door is the ultimate in this dubious mindset called minorityism.
National integration and social harmony will continue to be a pipe-dream till the scrouge of minorityism is buried deep in the sea. Only an enlightened public opinion can fight this menace by teaching vote bank practitioners a bitter lesson in the coming parliamentary elections. They will change track only when they are thrown out of power and dumped in the dustbin of history.
(The writer is a senior columnist.)