The Congress Party has always been playing the dirty role of keeping the society divided along religious and caste lines. Its latest move, as spelt out by two of its ‘stalwarts’ Digvijay Singh and Kapil Sibal, is to keep the Muslim community out of the purview of Direct Tax Code (DTC) Bill and the Right to Education Act (RTE). Sibal assured leaders of the Muslim community at a conference on Protection of Constitutional Rights of the Muslim community last week (which was attended by the minister) that the government would work out the details to exempt it from these.
The DTC bill which received the cabinet nod recently brings under its purview donations made to religious institutions. Earlier, fifty per cent of the amount donated was exempted from tax. Now this will be fully taxed. But Sibal has assured the Muslim leaders that he would present their case to the government and do the needful. This is gross injustice. For, the incomes of all the major temples all over the country are directly controlled by the governments which use this money for running government expenditures. Several state governments, like Andhra Pradesh and Kerala have ‘borrowed’ money from temples which are never returned. This is done only in respect of Hindu temples and is not applicable to any other religious place. To make matters worse, now, donations to Hindu temples would be taxed while donations to other religious trusts would be exempted, if the Congress Party has its way.
Right to Education was brought with much fanfare and was flaunted around as a single-dose panacea for the huge levels of illiteracy in the country. The government is now willing to kow-tow to the demand of the Muslims that madrasas should be kept out of the law. Successive governments have been indulgent to these religious schools, where only Islamic scriptures are taught and little else. In the 80s, the government tried to introduce modern education, by offering financial aid to those madrasas that would include science and maths in the curriculum. There were no takers. Then under Arjun Singh, the HRD ministry granted CBSE status to these institutions. While lakhs of students ploughed through ten subjects in high school to earn the 10th standard CBSE certificate, the students of madrasas would earn the same learning Quran and Arabic or Persian. And now, they do not want to be part of the RTE.
The shameful capitulation that the Congress Party did in front of the paranoid Deobandhis over Salman Rushdie’s visit to India is a classic proof of the party’s attitude. It raised the bogey of extremists’ threat to keep the writer away, so that it ‘officially’ escaped the blame of stopping him from coming. That the cover was blown off and the government stood exposed is only an amusing sidelight. The question is not how much the literary world lost by his absence, which is not much; the issue is, should the government have acted so low.
A few days ago, Muslim associations in Mumbai demanded that when Muslims are arrested, especially in terror-related cases, the details of the investigations should be shared with them. This, they said, was to ensure that innocents were not taken into custody. But this is an outrageous demand. While there are cases of miscarried justice, to give it a communal colour and pressurising the authorities to reveal the investigation details tantamount to protecting culprits.
It is this kind of exclusivist attitude that has kept the community out of national mainstream. If the Supreme Court issues a progressive judgment the Muslim leaders circumvent it by using divisive politics. If the government moots population control policies, they cry genocide. If women demand better and equal civil code, the community leaders howl impingement of minority rights. This has been going on for decades now. It is this same attitude and the indulgence by the Congress that eventually led to the partition of the nation. Congress continues to be enthusiastic to play the religion card. The Sachchars and Ranganath Mishras can produce tomes of report on the ‘plight’ of the Muslims. But as long as the leadership of the community does not shed its ‘touch-me-not’ attitude and until they do not stop clamouring for special privileges and rights, they would continue to be treated as pawns by such power seekers as Congress. It is for Muslims themselves to break the shackles and breathe in the free world.