Unfazed by the BJP’s insinuations of minority appeasement by his government, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called for a mindset change to ameliorate the lot of the Muslims and the Dalits to avoid any sharpening of inequalities that could lead to extreme social and political destabilisation.
The PM did not refer to any political entity or grouping in his address at a conference of Dalits and minorities organised by Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party.
“Even as absolute poverty may be reduced by growth, inequalities can get sharpened. This can be politically and socially extremely destabilising,” he said. “Hence, we have to take steps that reduce social and economic inequalities without hurting the process of growth and without reducing the incentives for individual enterprise and creativity.”
In substance, Singh appeal was for inclusive growth for which he had recently advocated the weaker sections’ first claim on the country’s resources. But on Wednesday, he focused sharply on the minorities, especially the Muslims, who had not had an equal share of the fruits of development in certain parts of the country. Referring to the findings of the Sachar Committee, he said, “It is incumbent upon any democratically elected government to redress such imbalances and eradicate such inequities. I assure you, our government is indeed committed to doing this.”
The Prime Minister got a standing ovation at the conference for the courage to make the “first claim on resources” statement. For his part, he made sure that he left a message for his critics as well.
At its national executive in Lucknow, the BJP had questioned how the government could talk about providing the first right over resources to one community “on communal basis”.
Singh came up with the response early in his speech: “The principle that explicit measures should be taken to protect the interests of minorities is an idea embedded in our political discourse and in our Constitutional provisions”.
Noting that every social group can claim to be a minority somewhere or the other, he said the social, political and economic principles adopted by modern, democratic societies adopt to deal with their problems should be based on certain universal principles. But administrative measures to develop capabilities of weaker groups were not the end-all and be-all.
“We need a change in mindsets. This requires a wider, broad-based social, political and cultural movement against all forms of discrimination and injustice… The battle for social equality has to be waged and won in the minds of our people,” he said.
“We have to recognise that even in a free society there are glass windows and glass ceilings. The first step in dealing with such problems is to recognise their existence,” he said. The second step is to come up with universally acceptable policies that are not viewed as a zero-sum game but as win-win solutions through which everyone is better off and no one is worse-off.
This was the first time that the prime minister – who shared the dais with Paswan, former prime ministers IK Gujral and VP Singh, the architect of OBC quota – was speaking on the subject after his “first claim” remarks triggered a political storm and stalled Parliament during the winter session.
The statement was initially interpreted to give the minorities the first claim on resources; a PMO clarification later insisted that he meant all weaker sections including the dalits and women.