There is one straightforward reason why the uplift of the poor and the marginalised in this country has not got the priority it deserves: politics. The millions of Indians lagging far behind ‘India, The Success Story’ do not stay out of the happy canopy out of choice. Decades of exclusion from socio-economic progress has led to the perpetuation of this ‘other India’. This giant proportion of have-nots cuts across all communities, castes and religions. All of them deserve to be given the opportunity to share the benefits of development. But fact of the matter is that there are communities which, as a social cluster, fare worse than others. The Sachar Committee report, for instance, tells us that India’s Muslim community does not get adequate share of the fruits of development. Dalits also find themselves at the bottom of the rung.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh brought up the need to address and rectify the conditions of these weaker sections. He focused on the conditions of Muslims and Dalits, not because he was perpetrating vote-bank politics, but because these two communities — whether one likes it or not — face the greatest hurdles in entering the socio-economic mainstream. For those whose idea of development means that someone has to be at the ‘bottom of the pile’, the term ‘minority appeasement’ is bound to sound suspect. But if ‘appeasement’ means redressing imbalances and eradicating inequities — ‘appeasing’ the poverty-stricken, for instance — there is little that is wrong with such targeted action.
True, there are reasons why one has been wary of politicised ‘appeasement’. At best, it amounts to a narrow, ‘communal’ (adjective of community) approach that breeds more divisions, instead of being of any help. At its worse, it is part of a deal that dangles carrots for votes. The latter strategy, of course, has also seen to it that no real eradication of inequities occurs — for if the woes of a targeted community are eradicated, the community no longer needs to be beholden to the person or party making the promises. Thankfully, Mr Singh is not talking politics when he states that “we need a change in mindsets”. He is simply talking common sense.