Unfazed BY the BJP's insinuations of minority appeasement, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called for a mindset change to improve the condition of Muslims and Dalits.
In his address at a conference of Dalits and minorities organised by Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party, the PM did not refer to any political entity or grouping. "Even as absolute poverty may be reduced by growth, inequalities can get sharpened. This can be politically and socially 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."
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 on the minorities, especially the Muslims, who had not had an equal share of the fruits of development. 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."
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 the PM's "first claim over resources" comment as "communal".
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".
Administrative measures to develop capabilities of weaker groups were not the be-all and end-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 I.K. Gujral and VP Singh — was speaking on the subject after his "first claim" remarks triggered a political storm and stalled Parliament during the winter session.
Singh asked the PM to create a sub-quota within the 27 per cent OBC category for Muslims and most backward classes. The former prime minister said nearly 60-65 per cent Muslims who would qualify to avail of the quota benefits under the Mandal reservations had not received the benefit. He also criticised the denial of SC reservation to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims, saying it amounted to discrimination.
Paswan had earlier demanded an All India Judicial Service since the higher judiciary, which is outside the purview of the Union Public Services Commission, had been kept out of the reservation process.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who could not attend the conference, had earlier emphasised on the importance of addressing problems of inequality and oppression faced by the most vulnerable sections of our society.