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Published in the 16-31 July 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition


The Minorities Angle
CMP and President's address analyzed
By Syed Shahabuddin

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Now that the noise and dust raised by the election campaign has settled down, the government and the people have turned their attention to the prioritization and implementation of the promises and assurances embodied in the manifestoes of the parties which constitute the support the government and their Common Minimum Programme.
The United Progressive Alliance (UPA), headed by Congress, includes the coalition partners as well as the Left parties which have opted not to join the Government but to support the UPA Government from outside. Without going into the question whether this abdication of political power and the responsibility that goes with it constitutes another 'Himalyan blunder', we must appreciate the subtle manner in which the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) adopted by the UPA and subsequently by the UPA government has come to acquire an overtly leftist and secular dimension. We must also appreciate the fact that their political strategy has given the Left the moral authority to monitor the articulation and actions of the government and to suggest immediate course corrections. But this is really a collective job to be undertaken by the Coordination Council of the UPA which should function independently of the Government but without becoming a parallel government or the ideological Rajguru a la RSS in the Vajpayee Government.

The Left, no doubt, played a key role in shaping the CMP of the UPA but theoretically it is based on a synthesis of the election manifestos of its constituent parties, essentially, since the RJD or the DMK or the NCP or the RSP or the FB manifestoes were not much in circulation, the CMP became an amalgam, a potable mix of the Congress and the CPI (M) manifestos with a dash of the CPI manifesto. In the process, the CMP went just a little more left- of-centre than the traditional line adopted by the Congress in the days of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. With changing times, the CMP also takes into account the wave of economic reform and the compulsions and consequences of globalization since the early 90's. The UPA government has committed itself to Economic Reform with a Human Face.

The purpose of this article is limited to examine the CMP from the standpoint of Secularism. The INC and its allies and the Left won a majority in the General Election 2004 by defeating the BJP and its allies in the NDA on the basic issue of Secularism vs. Communalism and Democracy vs Majoritarianism. This was the ideological basis of their success - the second liberation of the country and the revival of the Idea of India. The manifestoes of both the major parties; the INC and the CPI(M), had committed themselves to the revival of the Secular Order. This has been pledged in the CMP and the President's Address to the Joint Session of the Parliament on 7 June, 2004 also reflects it. There is no doubt an attempt to soothe the strained nerves and to accommodate the critics. But a detailed examination will show that the UPA Government stands for Secularism, Social Justice and Communal Harmony.

Commitment to Secular Order
The Congress Manifesto stated:

"The Congress makes a solemn commitment to the people of India: to restore peace among all of its peoples, to strengthen the secular order through emphasis on social harmony, cultural pluralism and respect for the rule of law, and to ensure a bright and secure economic future for every family in our country."

The CPI(M) Manifesto stated:
“The 14th Lok Sabha elections should result in the formation of a secular government at the Centre.”

The CMP enunciated six basic principles of governance, which, inter alia, constitute the objective of the UPA. To quote two of basic principles : “to preserve, protect and promote social harmony and to enforce the law without fear or favour to deal with all obscurantist and fundamentalist elements who seek' to disturb social amity and peace.”

“to provide for full equality of opportunity, particularly in education and employment for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, OBCs and religious minorities.”

The President's Address quotes almost verbatim from the CMP:
“My government is committed to preserving, protecting and promoting secular values and enforcing the law without fear or favour to deal with all obscurantist and fundamentalist elements that seek to disturb social amity and peace... 

My government will focus on ... providing equality of opportunity for people belonging to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, OBCs and religious minorities.”

The Secular Order subsists on the operationalization of both positive and negative elements : to promote the equal treatment of all citizens, without any discrimination on the basis of religion and thus to provide equality of opportunity to all religious minorities as well as to admit them to all benefits of development and welfare and to ensure their due participation in governance: to maintain social harmony through preventive as well as penal action against those elements which divide and incite people in the name of religion and generate tension as a prelude to violence.

The secular order should aim at universalization of social services not at 'special' provisions for religious minorities which tend to degenerate into token and meaningless acts to win transient goodwill which are counter productive in the long-term and serve merely to provide fodder for the anti-minority rhetoric of the anti-secular forces.

Happily, the CMP as well as the President's Address largely avoid the trap, particularly in its Programme of Action in the social sector e.g. Education, Health, Poverty Alleviation, Food, Security and Public Distribution System by addressing the needs of the people in general.

But there are lapses which taken together amount to shift of focus from the religious minorities particularly the Muslim minority, which constitutes 12.5% of the Indian population and 2/3 of all religious minorities within the country, forms a Backward Class, measured by the common nationally accepted parameters, in State after State, as well as in the country, as a whole; which is just above the SC/ST in the socio-economic scale. In Constitutional terms the Muslim minority constitutes a 'Weaker Section'. The constitutional argument against affirmative action in favour of a religious minority stands blown up. Religion coupled with backwardness is as admissible in law as caste coupled with backwardness. The Venkatachaliah Commission came to the conclusion that reservation for religious minorities was admissible under Article 15 and 16 and did not need any amendment to the Constitution but such reservation was a matter of government policy. So there is no apparent reason for not bracketting the backward religious minorities with the SC and the ST in the promised exploration for extending reservation to employment in the private sector or for excluding them for reservation for economically backward classes. Both these advances in social policy must be shared duly by the Muslim community.

The silver lining is that there is a clear intention to extend reservation in public employment to the Muslim community. Let us see what the Manifestos, the CMP and the President's Address state on this.

The Congress Manifesto states:
"The Congress has provided for reservations for Muslims in Kerala and Karnataka in government employment and education on the grounds that they are a socially and educationally backward class. The Congress is committed to adopting this policy for socially and educationally backward sections among Muslims and other religious minorities on a national scale." 

The CPI Manifesto states:
"CPI will ensure … Concrete steps to ensure due representation in government and public sector services including police and security forces."

The CMP states:
"The UPA will establish a National Commission to see how best the welfare of socially and economically backward sections among religious and linguistic minorities, including reservations in education and employment, is enhanced. The Commission will be given six months to submit its report" (emphasis added).

The President's Address states:
“A National Commission will be established to make recommendations on how best to enhance the welfare of socially and economically backward sections among religious and linguistic minorities, including through reservation in education and employment” (emphasis added).

On Physical Security of the Minorities

The Congress Manifesto states:
“It will enact a comprehensive law on social violence in all its forms and manifestations, providing for investigations by a central agency, prosecution by Special Courts and payment of uniform compensation for loss of life, honour and property.”

The CMP states:
“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.”

President's Address reiterates the idea in the following terms:
“My government will enact a model law to deal with communal violence and encourage states to adopt it.”

Further to stop communalization of the social environment, the Congress Manifesto promises that:

“The law of the land will be enforced without fear or favour to ensure that social harmony and cohesion is maintained throughout the country.”

Samajik Sadbhavna, to ensure social cohesion and harmony by taking the strictest possible action against those who promote bigotry and hatred.

Saman Avsar, to provide for equality of opportunity in every way for dalits, adivasis, OBCs and religious and linguistic minorities.”

CPI (M) Manifesto promises “to inculcate secularism, progressive values, national unity.”   continued...

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