Admittedly India is a pluralistic civilisation since time immemorial. It has always nourished and cherished diversities in matters of faith, language, customs and rites to the extent that one of our great sages Swami Ramakrishna Paramhansa declared “YAT MAT TAT PATH” meaning: “There are as many ways as there are individuals”. Our civilisational heritage has declared in most emphatic terms that “the Reality is One and those who know it describe it variously” and hence all people should not be confined to a single interpretation of that Real.
But our history shows that the vested interests and divisive political forces have often used this extremely liberal face of Indian pluralism to their advantage and caused severe and serious fissures in our society. If for more than hundred years of its domination the British government pursued a policy of encouraging group identities and used them to strengthen its power, it was understandable as internal disharmony of India was the biggest guarantee of their continuance in power.
What is strange is that even now the political establishment has not totally jettisoned the methods of the colonial masters. Instead of addressing the problems of poverty and educational backwardness in a holistic manner as mandated by the Constitution it is taking one step after another strengthening the conventional communal standpoint that the different religious groups share not only common religious belief but their secular interests are also common and mutually hostile. The logical outcome of this approach is enhanced ‘community consciousness’ that insulates one group from another and becomes a serious roadblock in building a truly integrated society.
In fact the past experience is that whenever the government shows some special concern towards the welfare of one group of people particularly Muslims then it is mostly part of a strategy of political management of a constituency rather than uplift of the community. Whether it is Sachar Committee or Ranganath Misra Commission, these are constituted on the eve of some political event like state election and then their reports remain confined to the official closet till some resourceful newspaper publishes the document as a leak.
In the case of Rangnath Misra Commission, it was a member of the commission Shri Tahir Mahmood who published a summary of the recommendations in his book Qissae Dard Sunate Hain Ham much before the report found its way to the newspaper. The book was in Urdu and mostly inaccessible to the national media on account of language barrier, therefore the credit for making the recommendations public has gone to a English daily.
To use the words of Shri Tahir Mahmood, the most important recommendation of the Commission is that in all public services and educational institutions, 15 per cent positions should be reserved for the minorities and out of this number 10 per cent be earmarked for the Muslims and rest 5 per cent for other communities. The other recommendation is that all social and vocational groups among the minorities who but for their religious identity would have been covered by the present net of Scheduled Castes should be treated as backward, irrespective of whether the religion of those communities recognises the caste system or not.
What Shri Tahir Mahmood did not mention is that the Commission has recommended that the minorities especially Muslims be regarded as backward within the meaning of the term as used in Article 16(4) of the Constitution without qualifying the word ‘backward’ with the words ‘socially and educationally’.
It is important to remember that the Constitution strictly lays down ‘social and educational backwardness’ as the criteria for positive discrimination and except in the case of those who suffered from untouchability in the Hindu social system, all other reservation schemes whether for the tribes or for the backward classes do not admit any religious bar. Consequently the list of Scheduled Tribes has many Muslim tribes and among the Mandal Commission beneficiaries, a large number of Muslim social groups are included.
The consequence of Misra Commission recommendations, if accepted, shall be that the Muslim backwards who today constitute almost 30 per cent of Mandal Commission beneficiaries shall be grouped with their more advanced coreligionists and forced to compete with them. Today whatever benefits they enjoy is on the basis of backwardness applicable to all without distinction of religion. This certainly does not enhance the consciousness as a religious community. On the other hand Misra Commission’s recommendations are a sure recipe to enhance ‘religious community consciousness’, engendering reaction among others and opening up a new Pandora’s box of communal and divisive politics.
Here I am not making any startling revelation. The language and terminology that is being used to oppose Misra Commission recommendations is itself testimony of the backlash it can create. The Misra Commission recommendations clearly violate the word and spirit of the Constitution. I have no doubt that these recommendations, if accepted, will prove to be another ‘Lucknow Pact of 1916’, that accepted the obnoxious system of separate electorate leading to the Partition of India.
I consider it a duty of every patriotic Indian to oppose any recommendations or measures that have divisive potential. Misra Commission must be opposed because it will open the way to reduce India into a confederation of mutually warring religious communities. It must be opposed because it will give impetus to the rat race where each religious community shall strive to secure for itself special secular rights and privileges which it shall deny to others. Misra Commission must be opposed because it will once again release the Frankenstein of communal politics that has harmed India enough already.
But opposition of Misra Commission on the ground that it will result in shrinking economic, educational and employment opportunities for Hindus will only strengthen the communal mindset. It will amount to fighting one set of separatist ideas by means of another. The problem must be viewed from a nationalistic and not sectarian angle. Secondly this logic sounds doubly strange when it is used by those who insist that the term ‘Hindu” denotes neither a community nor a religious belief but a ‘way of life’ and includes all those who are born in India or who choose to live by Indian ways and values.
In fact one of the recommendations of the Misra Commission strongly supports this Hindu viewpoint and contradicts all the theories of ‘special identity’ of religious communities. In the context of the inclusion of some Muslim and Christian communities in the list of Schedule Castes, the Commission says that it should be done irrespective of whether the religion of those communities recognises the caste system or not. It is clear that the Commission, that includes Shri Tahir Mahmood who was an ardent supporter of ‘Community Identity” theory of Muslim Personal Law Board during the Shah Bano controversy, feels that the social system as it operates in India is common to the followers of all religious denominations and therefore logically the measures taken for social reform must cover all the people.
The other reason I am opposed to any reservation of jobs on the basis of religion is my understanding of religion particularly of Islam. The life of religion is a life of duties not a life of special rights and privileges. According to Ibn Khaldoon, the Holy Prophet while on his deathbed recited a verse of Quran as his last advice to his followers: “That House of the Hereafter We shall give to those who seek not to exalt themselves on earth nor spread corruption: and the End is (best) for the righteous” (28.83).
On one occasion when somebody came to seek public employment, the Holy Prophet told him “we never appoint for our affairs anyone who seeks to be employed” (Bukhari 9.58). On another occasion he said: “The upper hand is better than the lower hand. The upper hand is that of the giver and the lower is that of the seeker” (Bukhari 2.509). Ibne Majah in his compilation of prophetic traditions has reported that the Holy Prophet had accepted the oath of allegiance of some people on the condition that they shall never seek any favour from anyone.
It is for the abovementioned reasons that I oppose the Rangnath Misra Commission report and would like to conclude this piece with an Urdu couplet that says:.
Ham ne yeh mana ki mazhab jaan hai insaan ki
Kuchh isi ke dam se qaim shan hai insaan ki
Range qaumiat magar isse badal sakta nahin
Khoone aabai rage tan se nikal sakta nahin
(We accept that religion is the lifeline of man,
It gives meaning and purpose to the life of man,
But it cannot change the nationality of man,
Nor can it dry up the ancestral blood in the vein)
(The writer is a former Union Minister.)