On Monday, India’s vice-president Hamid Ansari showed yet again why he is an authoritative voice in India’s public life.
Addressing a jubilee meeting of the All India Majlis-e-Mushawarat, the vice-president offered an eloquent assessment of the condition of Indian Muslims. He referred to the “shadow of physical and psychological insecurity” that they experienced at the time of Independence — and spelt out the deprivations they endure today. Mr Ansari carefully referenced governmental assessments like the Sachar Committee report which said that on most socio-economic indicators, Muslims were on the “margins of structures of political, economic and social relevance” and, in many cases, their condition was worse than that of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
Mr Ansari said their principal problems related to identity and security, education and empowerment, equitable share of the largesse of the state and a fair share in decision-making. Reiterating social democratic principles, he said the default by the State in terms of exclusion ought to be corrected by the State and argued that affirmative action is a prerequisite for achieving the objective of sab ka saath sab ka vikas. This proposition may not materialise anytime soon, particularly since the ongoing Patidar agitation intends on doing away with reservations altogether.
That said, the Centre must heed Mr Ansari and ensure that Muslims are accorded the full measure of their rights as citizens. The Post Sachar Evaluation Committee noted in 2014 that Muslims continue to ‘live in areas that are denied public services of any kind and have considerably lower incomes than their counterparts among all socio-economic groups’. The State is regrettably yet to plumb the extent of Muslim exclusion. There is, for instance, no religion-specific data about public service recruitment. All we know is that the share of minorities as a whole in 37 central government ministries and departments increased from 4.49% in 2006-07 to 7.74% in 2012-13, far lower than the share of the Muslim population, which was close to 14% during the period.
Mr Ansari spoke also about internal factors constraining Muslim development and about the need to be anchored in modernity and yet critically engaging it. But his primary point about State responsibility remains, which should take the first step by gathering and publicising religion-based data in order to improve services. Most social sector programmes do not identify beneficiaries by socio-religious categories. Schemes meant for minorities will not be effective unless that changes.