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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 analyzedBy Syed Shahabuddin

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National Integration Council
The CMP promises restructuring of the National Integration Council which should meet at least twice a year. This is welcome, as the Council was deliberately ignored. It has not met even once since 1992! The Council should be more compact and have a Permanent Secretariat. It should not be stuffed with heads of political parties, Union Ministers and Chief Ministers, but include community representatives, opinion-makers, academicians, lawyers and journalists. It should serve as a forum for the sharper definition of the national ideology of Secularism and eliminate the flaws and correct the deviations. It should focus on Multi-culturalism, Participation and Decentralization, Integration, not Assimilation.

Reservation for Women
The proposal for Reservation for Women in the Legislatures has been revived in the CMP. The minorities, like the OBC's, have no objection in principle but they both desire that there should be sub-quotas for Muslims and OBC's, like those for the SC and the ST to ensure that the general seats are not 'captured' by the high caste women. 

Women's Rights
The Congress Manifesto speaks of mandatory registration of all marriages. So does the CPI Manifesto and the CMP. The Congress Manifesto goes on to speak of complete legal equality for women in all spheres by removing discriminatory legislation, by introducing equal share in matrimonial property, by giving them equal rights of ownership of assets like house and land.

The CPI (M) Manifesto calls for equal rights for women of all communities. With slight variation, the CPI Manifesto wants 'equal legal rights of women of all communities, with men'. They all stand for gender equality. The CMP largely echoes the CPI Manifesto and presages to make 'complete legal equality for women in all spheres' a practical reality. Further, the CMP promises to legislate against gender discrimination. Perhaps the CMP is not speaking of equality of all women but of equality of men and women in every community. 

Gender discrimination is to some extent inbuilt in the personal laws of various communities, which are based on religion or custom. Since the CMP is not likely to stray from the stand of successive governments not to introduce any changes in the personal laws i.e. those relating to marriage, maintenance, divorce and succession except at the instance of the community itself, there should be no apprehension about the UPA interfering with the Muslim Personal Law or introducing a Uniform Civil Code, for which, it may be kept in view, the Constitution does not prescribe any target date and which had been abandoned even by the NDA. As far as the Muslim Indians are concerned, there is increasing support for codification. The UPA should encourage the process of codification of all personal laws and the removal of discriminatory provisions in the Hindu Code. 

Population Control
The UPA is committed to promoting population control but does not mention any coercive or irrational measures like penalizing the third child or interfering with the fundamental rights of any man or woman with more than two children. It does promise not to penalize the states 'which attain success'. This refers to fixation of seats in Lok Sabha for such States in accordance with 1971 Census.

However, both personal law and population control are sensitive issues and the UPA should tread with care and caution.

Babari Masjid Question: Judicial Verdict vs Private Negotiations
All the documents coverage on letting the law take its course and waiting for the judicial verdict. The relevant text in the Address is as follows:
"On Ayodhya issue, my government will await the verdict of the courts while encouraging negotiations between parties to the dispute for an amicable settlement, which, in turn, must receive legal sanction. The Government is also committed to implementing the Protection of Places of Worship Act, 1992."
There is some vagueness about "negotiation between parties to the dispute". Who are the parties to the dispute? Is it the parties to the pending title suit? Is it the organizations which, though not parties to the title suit, represent the two communities? Are there other organizations which can represent the communities?

There have been fruitless negotiations in the past and the common object has been to pressurize the Muslim community to abandon its claim on the Babari Masjid site and even the right to seek a legal redressal for the unlawful trespass and occupation followed by demolition. Once again rival Shankaracharyas have emerged to fish in the troubled waters, sometimes asking the Muslims to leave it to the 'religious leaders', sometimes to 'the people of Ayodhya'. But the Babari Masjid Question is not a religious issue; it is a major political question which shall determine the future of Secularism and Rule of law in the country. It is not a local, but a national, even an international question. 

An out-of-court settlement can be reached only if the Central Government objectively formulates an alternative solution which symmetrically accommodate the essential interests of both communities and seeks its acceptance by both sides through bilateral and then through trilateral negotiations. The raison de'tre of the negotiations should be not to deprive arbitrarily any party of its legal rights but to cut short the litigation. Unless the government has formulated a just and equitable solution, it should stop harping on negotiations and take all possible steps to expedite the proceeding in the High Court. The Central Government, should intervene in the title suit and declare its commitment to execute the final judicial verdict, whatever it be, forthwith, in the light of the road map drawn by the Supreme Court in its judgement of October, 1994.

POTA: Repeal with Closure of Cases
All documents coverage on a commitment to repeal POTA. Since a disproportionate number of Muslims have been detained under POTA, particularly in Gujarat and Maharashtra, Muslim Indians would welcome the repeal at the earliest. However, the Act of repeal should ensure not only that the POTA detainees are released but that the cases are closed.

Some Omissions
There are some serious issues of concern to the Muslim minority which do not figure in the CMP nor in the President's Address. To illustrate, a person who claims to be a citizen should not be declared to be a foreign national by the executive without due process of law. For this purpose the Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act, 1983 which was on the chopping block under the Vajpayee Government should not only be given a reprieve but notified in all states which face the problem of illegal immigration. Secondly, a person already enrolled as an elector should not be disenfranchised, merely on suspicion, without a judicial finding on his citizenship and the burden of proof in this case should fall on the State.

Secondly, guidelines for the reservation of a Lok Sabha or Assembly Constituency for SC/ST should ensure that no constituency remains reserved for more than 10 years continuously and that no constituency in which an identifiable minority community has a higher proportion than SC/ST, is reserved.

Thirdly, the PM's Programme for the Welfare of the Minorities should be revived and its implementation should be reviewed regularly. Originally introduced by Indira Gandhi, later modified by Rajiv Gandhi it was completely forgotten by the Vajpayee Government.

Finally, and more importantly, the Central Government should issue a general direction that the Central or Centrally-sponsored development and welfare programmes which target individuals or families in a given area must be implemented in a manner that the benefit pattern reflects the social demography of the area as far as possible and thus ensures that the eligible members of religious or caste minorities in the area receive their due and proper share. This will silence the demand for a Muslim Sub-Plan on par with the Tribal Sub-Plan which is often raised though it is misconceived and counter-productive in the long run.

But, whatever the flaws or the shortcomings, the CMP is in many ways a Charter for the Empowerment of the Minorities and for their integration in the participatory polity, the plural, multi-cultural society and the developing economy, the UPA aims to build.

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