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Mr. Antulay’s Moment of Truth
By Saeed Suhrawardy

After resigning as Chairman of the Congress Minorities Department, Mr. A.R. Antulay delivered a few home truths that will neither surprise nor shock anybody. He declared that ‘one of the Congress’ biggest failures in recent times has been its role –rather lack of it—in the Gujarat communal unrest.’ He wondered why not even a single Congressman in Gujarat was killed or hurt during the statewide mob frenzy. It’s because none of them was there in his capacity as fire fighter or peacemaker. The test of the spirit as they say, comes during famine and during Gujarat riots; there was no evidence of Congress humanity. Continuing in the same vein, he added that the Gujarat PCC chief should have been put on the job. The AICC general secretary in charge of Gujarat should have rushed to the state and the Congress should have put up a show of resistance to the violence. But nothing of the sort was done. 

There is some truth to this talk of Congress double-speak on Gujarat: while the party pulled out the knives in the parliament, it stayed more or less mum outside for fear of Hindu backlash.

Mr. Antulay lamented that his year-and-half stay in the Minorities Department of AICC, was a waste of time. It was not possible to function independently as the department was under the control of various general secretaries. There was seldom any meaningful interaction with the Congress president. The department was not even consulted once before Uttar Pradesh elections.

Finally, Mr. Antulay charged the Congress leadership with having failed to bring the minorities into the mainstream and ensuring their legitimate rights. You don’t have to look far to assess the results of this policy. UP is a case in point.’

Mr. A.R. Antulay is one among a few Muslims who could rise to become the Chief Minister of his state, Maharashtra. Other notable names in that category are Mr. Abdul Ghafoor of Bihar and Mrs. Anwara Taimur of Assam. However, none among them could complete a full term as chief minister. After 55 years of association with Indian National Congress, Mr. Abdur Rehman Antulay in an interview with Ajay Suri of Indian Express, New Delhi, July 12, 2002, expressed his disappointment with the functioning of the Minorities Department of the party.

Not only as the chief minister of an economically and politically important state Maharashtra, but also as a strong general secretary of the Party under Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the most powerful prime minister of India so far, he was in a position to observe, judge and improve the party’s prospects, particularly its relationship with minorities. What is surprising is that Mr. Antulay had to spend 55 years to discover the simple home truth that Indian National Congress has never been serious about the uplift of the minorities. Its sole concern has been their ‘vote-bank’.

Mr. A.R. Antulay enjoyed the confidence of Mrs. Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister and leader of Indian National Congress. He occupied the pivotal position in the Party as General Secretary of AICC. During the regime of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, when two senior judges of Supreme Court were superseded, Mr. Antulay marshaled his legal acumen and brought out a book, entitled, ‘The Appointment of Supreme Court Judges’. 

As Chief Minister of Maharashtra, he tried to prove himself a better Marhatta than others. He worked for return of the sword of Shivaji Maharaj from U.K. In spite of all his efforts, he was considered an ‘outsider’. Due to certain problems with the trusts he formed; Mr. Ram Naik, the present Union Minister for Petroleum, dragged him in prolonged litigation.

It is difficult to believe that during his 55-year old chequered career he could not discover the truth about the Party’s attitude towards minorities that was revealed to him during his brief eighteen months’ tenure as chairman of Minorities Department of AICC. What Mr. Antulay has stated about the Minorities Department of AICC, applies to the Minorities Cell or Department of any other political party. They have no well-defined role in relation to their party and the world outside. They are more or less like appendix in the stomach, which makes its existence felt, when it gets infected. In that case surgical intervention is necessary for its removal.

Minority Cells or departments are formed and dissolved as political exigencies may demand. As soon as one is nominated as member or head of a minority cell or department, he manages to get a news item about his appointment published preferably with a photograph. After completing that formality, he becomes indifferent to the problems of the minority to which he belongs. His main concern is not to do or say anything which may offend the party bosses or which goes against the professed stand of the party. He loses interest in the affairs of the community. His main object is to secure the ticket of the party for corporation, assembly or parliament according to his situation, capability or aspiration. Normally, the minority cell of a political party instead of encouraging interest in the affairs of the minorities inhibits such dialogue or discussion. Their purpose is defeated. They become counterproductive. 

If conceived properly, the minority cell or department may help the party in getting closer the pulse of the community. That should require interaction with leading and influential members of the community for ascertaining the views and problems of the community. It is not necessary that they be affiliated with that particular political party. They may be apolitical or have views radically different from that party. Even if they belong to a different political party, their views should be considered, analyzed for formulation of a policy or programme.

Those who are associated with so-called minority cells are fully aware of the futility of their cell or department. The top brass seldom solicits their views. Normally they do not have the status of even a special invitee in decision-making bodies. In certain cases, for example the minority cell of Bhartiya Janata Party, functions more or less as ‘their masters’ voice.’ For example the first Muslim General Secretary of the Party, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi distinguished himself with his support for Ramjanmbhhomi movement and construction of the temple at Ayodhya in the place of Babari Mosque. For that, in the previous general election he secured a Lok Sabha ticket, was elected from Rampur and was rewarded with the coveted Ministry for Information & Broadcasting. Unfortunately, he was not lucky this time, so had to be adjusted in the Party organization.

Why blame only Indian National Congress for a non-functioning Minorities Department, when no other political party can show anything better. Many among the so-called secular political parties are scared of losing their support base in the majority community. They fear the stigma of ‘appeasement of minorities’ to be attached to their record. 

The left parties seem to have dispensed with the luxury of having a ‘minority cell.’ That does not make them less deficient in taking up the issues relating to the minorities. Among the political parties, only they appear determined to combat communalism. But why should we expect positive results from minority cells of political parties, when no emolument, distinction or special honour goes with them. They are honorary positions. They are not accountable to anyone, except to their political bosses.

Have we received better results from white elephants like National Minority Commission, the institution setup by Indian Parliament? They are tigers, which can roar occasionally, but their teeth have been carefully extracted. In relation to the mayhem in Gujarat, National Human Rights Commission has fared much better than National Minority Commission. It is not clear who read the reports submitted by National Minority Commission when that does not bring any tangible benefit to the minorities.

However, the minorities do need an institution that remains constantly engaged in studies related to their specific problems and comes out with possible remedies. But such a body to be meaningful and constructive has to be set up by minorities themselves. Their representatives, who do not utilize that position for social climbing, should run it.

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