The Narendra Modi government was on Monday asked to explain to the Supreme Court whether Sikhs could be treated as a minority in Punjab where they constituted 75% of the population.
“Can Muslims be a minority in Kashmir (J-K)? Can Christians be a minority in Nagaland, Mizoram?” a constitution bench of five judges led by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur wondered. The court was hearing a Punjab government and the SGPC’s demand for a minority status for the community in SGPC-run educational institutions. They are in appeal against a Punjab and Haryana High Court verdict declining them the relief.
Any stand taken by the Centre is likely to open a Pandora’s Box in the state ahead of Assembly polls to take place in 2017. It would also affect the status of other minority groups such as Muslims and Christians which are a dominant section in some states. Conscious that Akali Dal is in alliance with the BJP in Punjab, the bench asked senior advocate T.R. Andhyarujina to assist the court.
The state government had in a notification issued on April 13, 2001, declared that Sikhs would be treated as a minority for admissions to SGPC-run educational institutions. This permitted them to seats between 50 to 80% of their seats for the community.
The HC had stayed this notification on December 7, 2007, holding the community was not in a position where they could be deprived of their rights by another dominant group which may win in the polls.
Besides, encouraging this would pose a threat to the country by promoting multi-nationalism, it had said. SC had in February 2015 refused to stay the HC order.
Before the constitution bench, the SGPC lawyer Rakesh Dwivedi contended that the HC had erred in considering the strength of the Sikhs in the entire state of Punjab. It should have gone by the electoral strength of the SGPC. He called the HC ruling flawed because it had confused multi-culturalism with multi-nationalism.
Linguistic and religious minorities have special rights to set up their own institutions to promote their own culture, Dwivedi argued. Otherwise this will be at the will of the majority, he suggested. Grounds such as equal opportunities cannot be injected to this right, he said.