Religion, we are told off and on, is a matter of personal belief. In the same breath, however, we are reminded that the Indian version of secularism is not about keeping matters of faith outside the public domain but allowing every faith to cohabit equally in that sphere. While much has been made of the BJP and its patently dangerous ideas about majoritarian politics, one thinks twice about questioning the secular identity of the UPA government. No one doubts the fact that the present government has good intentions when it comes to all-inclusive policies. But when its Finance Ministry writes to public sector banks to introduce application forms for opening accounts that include a specific column on religion, one wonders what the reason behind such a move is.
The government’s reason for asking people to mention their religion when opening bank accounts is to collate data on the quantum of money lent to minority communities. Apart from the fact that lending forms already ask for the prospective borrower’s religion — which by itself serves little purpose, considering that the only criterion required should be one’s credit rating — the need to know whether a person is Hindu, Muslim, Zoroastrian or Christian is totally besides the point in the context of a commercial transaction of this nature. But the government’s plan, despite having its origin in good intentions — to track the financial behaviour and conditions of minorities and correcting any negative bias that may exist — could have unintended consequences. To mark people along community lines when none is required adds to tensions that, unfortunately, underline our society. By creating a community-based database along religious lines, one leaves the possibility of unpleasant catalysts enabling unpleasant consequences.
The UPA government has the best of intentions when it comes to minority-majority relations in this country. But the best of intentions are sometimes not good enough.