The Congress was left squirming on Saturday when AR Antulay, Union Minority Affairs Minister, blamed his party for the plight of the Muslims who constitute 15 per cent of the population. The community will become a "drag" on the path of progress if it continues to languish in social and economic backwardness, he said.
"We are all to be equally blamed for this sad state of neglect and I have no hesitation in owning up to the responsibility of my own party and I apologise to the Muslims for the present state of affairs," Antulay said.
The comment is likely to be used by the Samajwadi Party and the Congress' rivals in the forthcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh where Muslims play an important role. Speaking in Aligarh at a minorities convention presided by UP state Congress chief Salman Khurshid, Antulay went on to say that India should have, in his final hour, firmly stood behind Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader who was executed.
He said that both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president are determined to implement all policies aimed at uplifting the Muslim community. The Centre, he added, shortly intends to implement in toto all the recommendations of the Sachar committee that studied the socio-economic state of the community.
"We have not seen the statement," was all that spokesperson Jayanti Natarajan would say when quizzed about Antulay's statement.
Meanwhile, speaking at a discussion on the Sachar findings in Kannaur, Union Minister and Muslim League leader E Ahmed said that the report should not get shelved under any circumstances.
And in Delhi, at a seminar organised by the Institute of Objective Studies, a group of Muslim intellectuals adopted a resolution demanding a law to provide proper share to Muslims in authority and decision-making bodies and sought representation through nomination in government and semi-government bodies, boards and commissions. The participants urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to evolve a mechanism for follow-up steps for the community's development.
"India cannot be called a great and developed country if a section of its citizens remain backward," said ZM Khan of Jamila Millia Islamia, urging for inclusive growth. He asked the government to set up a bank with social, economic and educational data about the community and demanded action against those who launch hate campaigns against the community or create myths about it. According to Ausaf Ahmed, both the government and the Muslim leadership should coodinate their activities to ensure uplift of the community.
The discussion saw several models being proposed for uplifting the Muslims. In the absence of reservation for Muslims, affirmative action for the community can be secured by utilising the OBC provision provided they figure in the OBC list, according to Dr Tanveer Fazal of JMI.
The three operational models of including the Muslims in the OBC category show that the community has benefited from the exercise, he claimed at a seminar on "Socio-economic deprivation of Muslims: search for action and strategy," he said.
In Kerala and Karnataka, the entire Muslim community has been declared backward and included in the OBC list. In Tamil Nadu, the reservation is on the basis of caste/biradari. It covers about 95% of the local Muslim population by listing them as backward. In Bihar, the bifurcation of OBCs into backwards and most backward has seen the inclusion of 9 Muslim groups in the first category and 27 in the second.
"Wherever Muslims have been able to achieve (their inclusion among OBCs), their relative share in public employment has increased," Fazal said. He proposed that the Bihar and Tamil Nadu models be applied nationally.