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Published in the 16-30 Jun 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

The balance sheet
By Saeed Suhrawardy

It was a defining moment in the history of secular India. A minority president swore in a minority prime Minister. A non-practising Christian by birth, professing to be Hindu looked on. On the other side were those who contested her claim to be a Hindu Indian. 

The scenario was the anti-climax of what Sangh Parivar desired. They wanted Hindu Rashtra, with Hindus of their own brand occupying top positions. Here the situation was different. Persons belonging to Non-Hindu Parivar occupied top positions. The bitter truth for them was that the lady had outwitted them in all their manoeuvres.

The finale is over .The United Progressive Alliance Government is functioning. Lok Sabha has been formally constituted and the members have been administered the oath of allegiance to the Constitution of the country. The draft Common Minimum Programme has been finalized. That ensures indirect participation and control of the left-wing parties. Mr. Somnath Chattered has been unanimously elected Speaker of the House. For the first time, the Chair has been given permanently to left wing. Now every thing is in its proper place. Let us see what is the final dividend of the accumulated fury of Indian Muslims. What are immediate gains? What are long-term prospects? What are possible risks in store for the future?

As stated in a previous column the representation of Muslims has gone up roughly by 13 per cent. The representation in the Council of Ministers is more impressive. Two cabinet berths instead of one that was held by the Muslim face of Bhartiya Janata Party, Syed Shahnawaz Husain. That is two hundred per cent. Ghulam Nabi Azad and P.M. Saeed, both belonging to Indian National Congress, have cabinet position in Manmohan ministry.

It is a special favour to P.M. Saeed, who at present is not member of any House. That applies also to Shivraj Patil, Union Home minister. That is a discreet recognition of their record as a parliamentarian. 

The addition of five Muslim ministers of state is more impressive. There are five, while in Vajpayee Ministry there was none. That omission may be condoned because they suffered from a serious handicap. The only Muslim Lok Sabha member in their ranks had been elevated to a cabinet berth. The five are E. Ahmad (Kerala), Muslim League, Shakeel Ahmad (Congress-Bihar), Rahman Khan (Congress -Karnataka), Taslimuddin (RJD-Bihar) and M. Ali Ashraf Fatmi (RJD-Bihar). Congress has two cabinet berths and two posts of ministers of state, followed by Rashtriya Janata Dal, with two ministers of state. For the first time Muslim League too appears in the central council of Ministers. 

Tasleemuddin and Ali Ashraf Fatmi, both belonging to RJD have been targeted by National Democratic Alliance for their alleged criminal background. Uttar Pradesh, which has elected eleven Muslims for Lok Sabha, has been left out. The rift between Congress and Samajwadi Party is responsible for that. 

These are the immediate gains of the elections to Lok Sabha 2004, which may or may not have a positive impact on the situation of Muslims all over the country.Another feature should not be dismissed. Most important is the reaffirmation of faith in secular democracy and future of the country. The victory of UPA is the outcome of the feelings of the majority, but minorities and Muslims have a special reason to rejoice. They should find the changed social climate of the country, congenial for their progress and prosperity.

In the introductory part of the Common Minimum Programme, there are six basic principles for governance. All of them directly or indirectly affect the situation of minorities. But three among them devolve on welfare and progress of the minorities. They are reproduced here:

1.To preserve, protect and promote social harmony and to enforce law without fear or favour to deal with all obscurantist and fundamentalist elements, who seek to disturb social amity and peace.

2.To enhance the welfare and well being of farmers, farm labour and workers particularly those in the unorganized sector, and assure a secure future for their families in every respect.

(Bulk of Muslim population falls in these categories, any step taken in that direction should benefit them.)

3.To provide for full equality of opportunity, particularly in education and employment for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, OBCs and religious minorities.

These principles have been elaborated in the section devoted to "Social Harmony, Welfare of Minorities." It is relevant to reproduce that section.

The UPA is committed to the implementation of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act. 1992. On Ayodhya, it will await the verdict of the courts, while encouraging negotiations between parties to the dispute for an amicable settlement, which must, in turn, receive legal sanction.

The UPA government will enact a model comprehensive law to deal with communal violence and encourage each state to adopt that law to generate faith and confidence in minority communities.

The UPA government will amend the Constitution for Minority Educational Institutions that will provide direct affiliation for minority professional institutions with central universities.

The UPA will promote modern and technical education among all minority communities. Social and economic empowerment of minorities through more systematic attention to education and employment will be a priority concern for the UPA.
The UPA will establish a National Commission to see how best the welfare of socially and economically backward sections among the religious and linguistic minorities, including reservations in services in education and employment is enhanced.

Adequate funds will be provided to the National Minorities Development Corporation to ensure its effective functioning. The UPA government will examine the question of providing Constitutional status to the Minorities Commission and will also strive for recognition and promotion of Urdu language under Article 345 and 347 of the Constitution.

The National Integration Council will be restructured so as to fulfill its original objectives. It will meet twice a year.

By and large, if implemented sincerely, the Common Minimum Programme has a framework for the redress of long-standing grievances of minorities, particularly Muslims. The community should undertake a dialogue within their ranks and outside for detailed discussion on each clause, for evolution of a consensus for a charter for their progress and welfare. Their demands should not be addressed only to leaders of United Progressive Alliance but also to the leaders of National Democratic Alliance. They should be provided an opportunity to demonstrate how sincere was their pre-election commitment to the welfare of the minorities, particularly Muslims. 

The UPA government should take into confidence the Opposition before deciding upon any step or law for welfare of minorities. The business should look more like a national agenda rather an element of vote-bank party politics. If that is done, the Opposition shall be deprived of using their guns against any move that is likely to benefit minorities.

Fortunately, the CMP includes two expressions "empowerment" and "reservation". The two are very popular with Muslim middle classes and their statistics have been overworked. It is relevant to include the IAS results for 2003 for support to such demands. Out of 413 successful candidates, ten happen to be Muslims. There may be a mistake about one or two, because their religious identity could not be identified. Their names are given here: 1.Saboorul Hasan Usmani 2.Irshad Wali 3.Mohammad Rizwan 4. Shahriyar Iqbal Faisal 5. Mohammad Noor Rahman 6. Mohammad Ghayasuddin Ansari 7.Ayaz Ahmad M 8. Mohammad Shamshad 9. Manzoor Ali Ansari 10.Kacho Mahboob Ali Khan.

The percentage of Muslims comes to about 2.4 %. Another significant fact is there is none between top ten and top fifty. If Muslims had reservation according to their ratio to total population, the number should have been about fifty. The result is neither shocking nor surprising. The number of Muslims in civil services has been hovering around ten. It is in this field that success or failure shall be keenly watched.


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