Parliamentary proceedings are being disrupted once again. The BJP’s latest pretext is the Prime Minister’s speech at the National Development Council, where, it alleges, he has yet again espoused the Muslim appeasement doctrine. Notwithstanding denials from the PMO, confirmed by a careful reading of the text of his speech, where he spoke of all the deprived sections — SCs, STs, OBCs and Muslims — the BJP chose to disrupt Parliament to further a political agenda.
The Sachar Committee’s alarming findings on the social, educational and economic status of the Muslim minority have virtually blown the lid off the ‘appeasement’ theory so assiduously nurtured by the RSS/BJP-led communal combine. This continues to remain central to the BJP’s political project of consolidating the religious majority vote-bank in India in its desperate bid to return to power. Hence the emotional outburst rather than a reasoned discussion on the issue in Parliament. Such holding of parliamentary proceedings to ransom in order to sharpen communal polarisation must, surely, lead BJP voters to question why they send their MPs to Delhi. Not a single issue affecting the day-to-day life and existence of people interests BJP parliamentarians.
Be that as it may, if only the BJP allowed the House to function, the Sachar Committee report could have been discussed in detail. This naturally would have brought into its ambit the PM’s alleged ‘appeasement’ of Muslims. In this context, it needs to be noted that in this winter session, with just two more days of business remaining, just one full discussion took place in the Rajya Sabha. This was on the issue of internal security, which was permitted by the BJP, again, to suit its political agenda. It is time the country closed ranks to reject such negation of democratic institutional discourse.
Having said this, the country must seriously consider the reasoning forwarded by the Sachar Committee, based on a rich analysis and hitherto unknown data. Besides nailing the lie of Muslim appeasement, this throws up disconcerting facts concerning the functioning of the vibrant democracy that, we all believe, India is. The yardstick of any democratic society must be measured by the welfare of the most deprived, shorn of the lustre of the chosen ones that constitute ‘Shining India’. The strength of real India lies in the welfare of the majority.
Apart from the damning indictment that the committee’s findings show up of the status of the Muslim minority, the data thrown up is a severe comment on present-day Indian realities. The status of the SC/STs, OBCs and Muslims, constituting nearly 90 per cent of Indian people, is a poor reflection of the current euphoria about ‘Shining India’.
While we shall return to the question of affirmative action to ensure that Indian democracy is truly a modern democracy that is measured by the status of the most deprived, it is necessary to consider some of the intellectual arguments that have surfaced in opposition to the Sachar Committee findings.
One such line of reasoning goes as follows: the question of the future of Muslims in the subcontinent was settled in 1947 with the partition of undivided British India. Why should ‘we’, in today’s India, be saddled with this ‘burden’? This insidious communal reasoning, owing its origin to the conception of India being a rabidly intolerant ‘Hindu Rashtra’, suggests that the Muslims who stayed back in India have done so of their volition and hence should reconcile to a second class, in fact, non-citizen status. Such arguments ignore the fact that Muslims, larger than the population of Pakistan at the time of Partition, chose to stay back in India for the simple reason that this was their motherland. Like Abdul Hameed, who received the first Paramvir Chakra in the war against Pakistan in 1965, they have all chosen to remain here for India’s future. This, in no way, condones any kind of anti-national extremism. We see this not only among Muslims; we have seen it among the Sikhs in the past, among Hindus and Christians in the North-east and Naxalites all over. In India’s context, to bracket anti-national terrorism into religious categories would be the worst disservice to our country’s unity and integrity.
Another line of reasoning is the following: for over four centuries before the British colonised India, Muslim kingdoms ruled these lands. If today their status is what the Sachar Committee shows, then, obviously, the fault lies with them. The argument suggests that the Islamic laws of social organisation are so regressive that they themselves are to blame for their plight. This echoes the age-old logic of fallacy in the Hindu order itself, which justifies the plight of deprivation in this life as a consequence of the evil deeds committed in earlier incarnations.
Surely, a modern democracy cannot function in terms of such mythology. Every democratic society has evolved for itself a legal mechanism to ensure an overall socio-economic inclusiveness. Affirmative action, prescriptions against discrimination and penal action for violations are now considered an inalienable part of any modern democracy. Most importantly, such affirmative action does not stop at dealing with specific minority groups. The modern democracy encompasses these measures as a part of fundamental human rights.
It is in this context that the Sachar Committee’s findings must be seen on the larger canvas. While affirmative action for the Muslim minority is imperative, it is also important to address the consequent findings of the committee concerning other backward sections of our society. These, in a nutshell, must concentrate on bridging the large hiatus that exists today between the ‘Shining’ and the ‘Suffering’ India. The question of the socio-economic integration of the Muslim minority must be addressed not through the contentious, and thereby divisive, issue of reservations, but through inclusive plans of development, like a sub-plan for the minorities. We today have a sub-plan for the tribals.
Sub-plan, by definition, means that of all developmental expenditure, a proportion is earmarked for the welfare of the minorities. In other words, this implies that at least 15 per cent of the expenditures of all departments and ministries must be targeted for the welfare of the Muslim minority. For example, 15 per cent of the education budget must be for the establishment of schools and other educational infrastructure for the minorities. In this context, the sound recommendations made by the Sachar Committee to grapple with issues relating to identity, security and equity of the minorities must be seriously considered by the UPA government.
Further, the improvement of the status of all deprived sections — SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities — can happen only through economic empowerment. What is required is neither ‘charity’ nor woolly appeals to a ‘change of heart’ to adopt a more humane attitude and response in dealing with the sensitivities of these sections. While both these, by all means, are important, what is required is a concrete planned intervention to improve their economic status.
In the modern world, the index of democratic polity is measured by the welfare of the most deprived. On that count, clearly, India doesn’t find favour. It is time that we, both in Parliament and outside, start to address this issue rather than use democratic institutions for petty political ends.
Sitaram Yechury is Rajya Sabha MP and member, CPI(M) Politburo