Communalism or Affirmative Action

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's statement to the National Development Council that we need to ' devise innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably in the fruits of development, these must have first claim on resources ' was backed up by the statement in Parliament by the minister of minorities affairs that Government will implement the recommendations of Sachar Committee, have on one hand acted as the ray of hope for the 'discriminated against' Muslim minorities, while on the other hand RSS combine has started crying fowl, BJP asserting that it is rank communalism, its ideologues saying that these steps of the government are in the footsteps of Jinnah. BJP has raised the serious question mark on the very formation of this committee calling it unnecessary and it being against the interest of the nation.

Just to recapitulate, Sachar Committee submitted its report (November 2006). The committee after extensive home work found that the Muslim minority is way behind the national averages in most of the parameters of social development, its economic status has been sliding seriously, its representation in jobs, bank loans is abysmal, and its representation in the political process has been very poor and worsening on the top of that. In sum and substance, Muslim community is under-represented in most of the arenas of society barring the jails. One also recalls the report of Gopal Singh committee of 1982 which also had found the poor status of this minority. Gopal Singh committee report kept lying in the deep freeze while the issues like Ram Temple kept hogging the national attention. To add up one can say this community's representation as riot victim is way above its percentage in population.

The committee has recommended that an Equal Opportunity Commission should be set up, a national data bank should be started, a nomination procedure should be started to ensure their participation in public bodies, in order to promote religious tolerance by a procedure to evaluate text books for appropriate social values, so on and so forth.

Whatever one could glean from the yet to be initiated policies being reflected in the statements of the government functionaries, it seems to be taking it a seriously. Steps are being contemplated, short of reservations to improve the lot of theMuslim minorities. It is a matter of conjuncture whether this government is really serious about it or is it a mere replay of the earlier broken promises during last several decades.

During last several decades while Governments after Governments have been promising to look after the problems of Muslim minorities, nothing much came out. This includes not only the longest reign of Congress party but also of the one's of formations in which BJP was an important component or supporter. Amongst multiple reasons of this neglect of this minority one was the aggressive propaganda of Hindu right that Government is out to 'appease' the Muslims so that they can be used as vote banks. One does not know whether this aggressive anti minority propaganda did contribute to the policies of the government, but one can say for sure that this 'appeasement of minorities' had become a part of 'social common sense' in the face of the worsening situation of Muslims.

It is during last two decades that not only Muslim minority was battered through the post-Babri demolition violence and Gujarat carnage, it was during the same period that another big minority the Christians also started being attacked, especially in the remote Adivasi areas. Where do we go from here? Was the commissioning of Sachar an act of appeasement? Will the implementation of measures to alleviate their plight be communalism, as claimed by RSS combine?

India has inherited a negative legacy of partition. While the major part of the country was for democracy and secularism, the communalists, Muslim League and Hindu Mahsaba, RSS were for Islamic Nation and Hindu nation respectively. Their ideologies served the British 'divide and rule' policy very well. With partition tragedy, the communal propaganda here went on getting sharper over a period of time, saying that Muslims have been responsible for partition, the subtle nuances and policies which led to partition were deliberately underplayed and put under the carpet. The role of elite of both communities in partition tragedy was put aside and the process to blame the whole Muslim community for this tragedy started, and this identity of Muslim minorities started becoming a negative one. This was in contrast to the dalits, who were also underprivileged but their identity came in as a positive one and the reservations, which came for them came to be accepted to some extent.

Even in their case the Hindu right and their followers did sabotage the whole reservation process in order to keep the status quo of Brahminmical system, in newer garb though. That's how while the reservations were subtly sabotaged, the implementation of Mandal was countered by the Babri demolition, Mandal opposed by Kamadal. Essentially the RSS combine is against any affirmative action which can lead to social transformation towards substantive equality. In the case of Muslims, to demonize them is no big deal for this formation, RSS combine. The propaganda is simpler; 'they' created Pakistan now through such measure for their uplift, foundation for another Pakistan is being laid down.

In democracy, the concept of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity (community) remains at a formal level unless one does proactive action to undo the inherent infirmities of sections of society. One notices this in most of the advanced democracies including the United States where serious proactive steps were initiated for the African Americans. The politics of right wing and more so right wing in the name of religion is against affirmative action. For them, democracy itself is not an acceptable concept. Today they pay lip service to democracy so that they can use it to subvert it, to bring in a Hindu nation based on refined values, social relations, from Manu Smriti. Democracy is neither their goal nor the cherished value system. They nurture the hope to have Hindu Rashttra and inherent hierarchies of caste and gender. And any affirmative action cannot be tolerated by them.

What is being called rank communalism is essentially a bit of affirmative action. Surely even the reservations, which were brought in for Dalits have improved their conditions slightly, so now a full fledged opposition to those polices in different language has been unleashed. While in the case of minorities not only the condition is bad as of today, the bigger worry is that it is sliding towards worse very rapidly. We need to distinguish abuse of community identity for politics and the bowing to the institution of religion from the concrete economic steps, social actions to support the weaker sections of society. Will the community identity become strong due to this? Will the community become crippled due to this?

If one notices amongst the Dalits who have slightly benefited from reservations, their community identity has loosened up. It is a contradictory process, as such you bring a community to economic level the religious or caste identity becomes weaker and other identities start becoming stronger. When a community is so helpless due to political reasons, how can this affirmative action cripple them? As such a lack of such an action will cripple them forcing more of them to go in the aberrant way. Already a large section of youth from them is being targeted on any small pretext, the number of them in jails is appalling. Surly that's what RSS combine wants and any hindrance to the measures meant to uplift them will worsen their condition.

To revoke Jinnah at this stage is deliberate. The idea is to frighten and polarize the upper castes/middle sections of society around the politics of Hindu right. While Jinnah played the card for Muslim elite, the current efforts, if at all they come through, are for the poorer sections of society, which in no way can be labeled as communalism. As such had there not been the fear of backlash of RSS combine, reservations for Muslims would be the ideal solution out of this impasse. In the present scenario all steps short of reservations should and need to be taken to work towards the democratic goal of equality.    


More by :  Ram Puniyani

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