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Why VHP’s demand for scrapping minorities panel is absurd

Those who believe in the country’s secular ethos, however, will agree that India needs the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) now more than ever before

editorials Updated: Jun 27, 2017 18:09 IST
A Parsi family takes a photograph on their mobile phones outside a Fire Temple in Mumbai (AFP)

The Vishva Hindu Parishad’s (VHP) rabid dislike for Muslims is all too well known. So it’s not surprising to read about their latest ‘demand’: On the last day of its central governing council meeting in Gujarat, the right wing group said that the government must scrap the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) and the Union ministry of minority affairs. It also criticised the NCM’s decision to “start a helpline number for Muslims”, and added that “this makes one feel that the atrocities against the Muslim community have reached such proportions that the extreme step of opening a helpline for the Muslims had to be taken up”. The VHP is an RSS-affiliated institution and many of its leaders are swayamsevaks. But this is probably the first instance that it has made such a demand.

The VHP’s demand is wrong on many counts.

First, the organisation is making a mistake of equating the NCM with only Muslims. The NCM was set up under the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992, and five religious communities --- Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians (Parsis) ---- were notified as minority communities. In 2014, Jains were added to the list. So by abolishing the NCM and the ministry, the VHP will also be denying other communities a platform to raise their grievances.

Second, the NCM was not set up just after Independence, despite the communal flare ups that singed the country. The setting up of the NCM was envisaged in 1978 when it was specifically mentioned that, “despite the safeguards provided in the Constitution and the laws in force, there persists among the Minorities a feeling of inequality and discrimination. With the enactment of the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992, the Minorities Commission became a statutory body and renamed as NCM. So the lawmakers did feel the need for such a panel.

Third, it is well known that minorities face several kinds of challenges and, therefore, need a dedicated platform to address them. This has been mentioned in many credible government reports (not written by members of the minority groups) such as the one by former Chief Justice of India Rangnath Mishra (National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities) and another one by former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court Rajinder Sachar. While the former spoke about job reservations for minorities, the latter spoke about how the conditions facing Muslims were below that of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Last but not the least, if the VHP wants to scrap the NCM, how would it then justify Article 29 and 30 of the Constitution, which guarantees rights of minorities? The NCM is only defending the provisions of the Constitution.

Instead of painting the NCM as a useless platform with a negative agenda, the VHP should realise that the panel can actually be useful for the government to keep tabs on how its programmes for minorities are working and the sources of their discontent.

Those who believe in the country’s secular ethos, however, will agree that India needs the NCM now more than ever before.

First Published: Jun 27, 2017 17:59 IST