THE time has come to banish two words from India’s political language. They are: Secularism and Minorityism. Secularism became a byword when India was Partitioned along religious lines, with Pakistan, against the wish of its founder MA Jinnah, declaring itself as an Islamic State. India necessarily had to assert itself as a nation that was not “communal”, but truly “secular” in order to express its disapproval of the basis on which Partition was brought about.
Jawaharlal Nehru, a born Hindu (and a Kashmiri Brahmin, besides) went out of his way to marginalise Hinduism; he would not visit a temple, he would not participate in any Hindu rites and rituals, and if he had to, as when his daughter Indira got married, it was with a great show of reluctance. He was opposed to the State renovating the Somnath Temple, the target for Islamic vandalism, lest it give offence to Muslims. He was opposed to the President of India Dr Rajendra Prasad inaugurating the re-built temple on grounds that the Head of State should not be associated with any show of Hindu resurgence.
Over the years secularism came to be seen as indentical with pampering Muslim sentiment, no matter how deeply Hindu feelings were hurt. In 1947, “secularism” was an acceptable ideal. Now the term has become increasingly offensive and unacceptable because it has only encouraged communalism in India. Anxious to show to the world that India, unlike Pakistan, is fair to its ‘minorities’ especially Muslims, most of whom in pre-Partition India voted for the Muslim League, thereby showing their utter disrespect for secularism, the Congress Party went to the extent of setting up even a Ministry for Minorities, in total violation of the very concept of secularism. That Ministry should be dismantled. There are no minorities in India. This is a country of minorities and in all past centuries they have learnt to live together in peace and harmony.
By promoting minorityism, we have made every one acutely conscious of their caste which, in turn, has led to their demanding a proportionate share of power, through reservations. For decades we have suffered from a sense of guilt and particularly in the matter of dalits and other Backward Castes (OBCs) and when the Constitution was being formulated, a decision was taken, with the willing concurrence of the dalit leader Dr BR Ambedkar, that reservations for the Scheduled Castes and OBCs should be limited to just ten years. Sixty years have gone by and we still stick to reservations. The concept of reservations too has had its day and should now be given the go-by. We have matured as a people.
In a multi-lingual, multi-caste, multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, the concept of caste or religion-based reservations just has no place. It has to be thrown into the waste-paper basket. Muslims are getting along quite nicely. True, time was when it was felt that the poorer Muslims who had stayed back in India unable to migrate to Pakistan, unlike their richer co-religionists, need help. That help was extended to them, partly, one suspects because the then leading political party, the Indian National Congress, wanted their votes. But surely, there was also an element of grace, a genuine desire to forgive and forget the past in wishing to co-opt the reluctant Muslim in the process of nation-building. Six decades on, the time has come to treat all Indian citizens as equal with no ‘rights’ of special treatment in any field, educational, defence or administrative. We don’t need to treat anybody with kid gloves. There are people both poor and needing, in every caste. To deny them seats on grounds that the so-called ‘minorities’ need to be attended to is to an insult to injury. In future merit alone should count.
Muslims, it is necessary to point out, are catching up fast even in matters of education. In some districts Muslim women even have a higher percentage of literacy than their Hindu sisters. The more ‘backward’ among them may wish to stick to burqa but that is their problem. If they don’t with to be part of the mainstream, that means they are voluntarily forfeiting their rights to public jobs etc. They would have no right to complain. Reservations have been the bane of our society. Reservations have perpetuated the caste, class and religious divide in our society which is self-destructive. Instead of forgetting their caste or religious affiliations, the people belonging to various social groups have long-and insistently-felt the need to maintain their identities in order to get a share of the power-cake. It is sickening, but, given the circumctances, was inevitable. We have come to the point where some sections of Muslim society want a quota within the quota of the 33 per cent reservations planned for women to parliament. We need to re-think the entire issue of minorityism, reservations and quotocracy (the latter word aptly coined by Bhanu Pratap Mehta). It is time to grow up as a people. Our caste or religion is a purely personal matter.
Whatever we are in the caste hierarchy we are first and fore-most Indians and that point has to be impressed upon every Indian citizen. Minorityism, reservations, quotocracy have had their relevance when we were growing up as a nation, but those days are over. A new awareness of Indianness needs now to be aggressively pushed.
Two points, meanwhile, need to be made in this connection. One is that in recent times one has been witnessing a growing awareness among the dalits and OBCs on the need to educate their children so that they can on their own make their mark in society. At the same time one also notes a prevalent sense of complacency that one doesn’t need to work too hard to achieve their aim. After all, aren’t jobs and privileges waiting for them for the asking? This is a situation that has its own drawbacks. When complacency sets in, striving becomes secondary. In the second place how long is this reservation system to last? Five more years? Ten? Fifteen? Twenty five? Fifty? Another sixty? When will this stop? There must be a clear understanding on the issue so that those involved know where they stand. Governmental complacency is as much to be blamed as dalit complacency. But one thing is clear; there must be an end to reservations and quotas and the sooner this is clarified, the better for all concerned. The transformation of a community into a united force will surely bring more power and glory to the motherland. All else is folly.