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Published in the 1-15 Apr 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Congress promises not to ditch Muslims again
By Andalib Akhter

New Delhi: The Indian National Congress (INC) has said that it believes in 'affirmative action' for all religious and linguistic minorities. And hence the party has pledged for providing reservation to Muslims in employment and education at national level. This is the first time any national party conceded to this demand since Muslim representation in all government services fell to around 2-3 percent after Independence.

Sonia Gandhi The INC manifesto for Lok Sabha elections 2004 said: "The Congress is committed to adopting this policy (policy of reservation) for socially and educationally backward sections among Muslims and other religious minorities on a national scale." Stressing that the Congress believes in affirmative action for all religious and linguistic minorities, the manifesto said that the Congress has provided 'reservations for Muslims in Kerala and Karnataka in government employment and education' on the grounds that they are a socially and educationally backward class. And now if it is voted to power, INC will 'adopt the same policy at a national level'. The Congress also pledged to extend reservations for the economically deprived persons belonging to communities which are at present not entitled to such reservations. The Congress also said that it will adopt all possible measures to promote and maintain communal peace and harmony, especially in sensitive areas. "It will enact a comprehensive law on social violence in all its forms and manifestations, providing for investigation by a central agency, prosecution by special courts and payment of uniform compensation for loss of life, honour and property," the manifesto underlined accepting another Muslim demand for many years. 

The INC manifesto also said that the Congress is committed to amending the Constitution to establish a 'Commission for Minority Educational Institutions' which will provide direct affiliation for minority professional institutions to central universities. "Special steps will be taken to spread modern and technical education among women in minority communities particularly," the manifesto said.

The party has displayed concern towards weavers and artisans who are mainly Muslims. "New middle level technical institutions will be statred in places where, for example, weavers and artisans are concentrated." The National Minority Development Corporation and State Minorities Development Corporations, said the manifesto, will be made direct-lending institutions.

On the Ayodhya issue, the INC manifesto said that the Congress' stand has been very clear: "All parties must wait for and abide by the verdict of the court." It said that if negotiations are to be held, they must be between the parties to the dispute. The party has also pledged to enforce Places of Worship Act. "The Places of Worship (Special Provision) Act, 1992 which freezes the status of all disputed sites other than Ayodhya as of August 15, 1947 must be directly enforced," the manifesto stressed.

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