On the day Prime Minister Manmohan Singh flagged in Mumbai the benefits of being on board the nuclear bus, the government presented in Parliament a cushion to a possible Muslim backlash against the UPA being in the company of the United States.
The government’s detailed guidelines on the report of the Sachar panel that had gone into the state of the minority communities in India cover a host of issues: adequate representation to Muslims in government jobs, institution of a committee to ensure proper
representation to the community in legislatures and other sectors.
The guidelines, when read in conjunction with the six per cent hike in DA, Aam Aadmi Bima Yojana for the 1.5 crore landless rural households and appointments to gubernatorial vacancies, made it obvious that the government’s actions were prompted by the possibility of early Lok Sabha elections. The first impact of this will be felt in poll-bound and polarised Gujarat.
Having opposed the Sachar panel from its very inception, the BJP was quick to dub the government’s move as another example of its policy to appease the Muslims. Interestingly, the government’s action-taken report on Sachar’s recommendations were cleared by the Cabinet way back in May.
For this reason, its decision to table it in Parliament now is politically significant. More so, as it is identical to the reply that Minority Affairs Minister A.R. Antulay gave to a question in the Rajya Sabha on August 13. On Friday, he informed Parliament about the Centre's decision to set up an Equal Opportunity Commission. The proposed panel will look into the community's grievances arising out of discrimination in various fields.
Antulay announced a clutch of measures. But his seven-page statement is silent on the contentious issue of reservation for the most backwards among the Muslims.
With a view to encourage self-employment ventures among the youth, the public sector banks have been directed to open more branches in the Muslim majority areas. Special focus will be on women with an instruction to the banks for speedy disposal of loan cases. To ensure transparency in the process, Reserve Bank of India will maintain district-wise and bank-wise data about the disposal of the applications which will be in the public domain on its website.
There's also a range of policies to increase the literacy rate among Muslims. Expansion of upper primary schools with special schools for girls has been planned. Three scholarships schemes have also been proposed to encourage children to go to schools. A merit-cum-means scholarship for 20,000 students to pursue technical and professional courses has already been approved. In addition, pre-matric and post-matric scholarship plans are also on the anvil. Significantly, the Centre has also proposed a comprehensive amendment in the Wakf Act to strengthen it. In a related move, development of Wakf properties will be permitted through a special agency. The income so generated will be used for welfare measures.
Various measures have also been proposed to ensure social harmony through Muslims getting their due place in the society. Sections of the society including government employees, teachers etc would be sensitised to the significance of diversity and the community's social inclusion. Civil rights centres have also been proposed in universities and the beginning will be made with the central universities.
A parliamentary debate on the Sachar report is slated on September 5 when the two Houses reassemble after an extended weekend.
The move seems to have had the desired effect. Justice MSA Siddiqui, chairperson of the National Commission for Minority Education Institutions, said, "we hope that the government would implement the recommendations of the Sachar panel in letter and spirit".
Abdul Hameed Noumani, secretary of the Jamiat Ulema-I-Hind, said the announcement in Parliament shows that the government is serious about implementation of the recommendations.
(With inputs from Chetan Chauhan)