Muslims concerns worth UPA attention

February 7, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

Promises to keepIndia, Febuary 05, 2013: The continuing general Muslim deprivation did not figure in the deliberations at the recently concluded “chintan shivir’ (self-appraisal session) of the Congress Party. The Congress-led UPA swept to power in 2004 riding on widespread Muslim support. The reports of Sachar Committee and Mishra Commission were submitted in 2006 & 2008. Muslims were documented to be most backward in the social, economic and educational fields. The Sachar Report was tabled in Parliament and was accepted by the Union Cabinet. It resulted in the grant of more than 400,000 academic scholarships to all minorities across the country. Muslim support stayed with the UPA in 2009 elections. However, apart from that, adequate follow up was not taken by the central and state governments to implement the Sachar report.

In his 2011 report titled ‘Promises to Keep’, based on long survey-cum-interaction in different Muslim dominated areas of India the then member of National Advisory Council (headed by Sonia Gandhi) Harsh Mandar gave well-researched reasons why post-Sachar schemes were not implemented in favor of Muslims. He counted low budget allocation, poor design of programs, diffidence at policy level to focus on Muslims, non-sensitized, unmotivated bureaucracy, diversion of funds to non-Muslim areas of the selected districts, government’s fear of being ‘blamed’ for Muslim appeasement, poor efforts to create awareness of schemes and reach out to beneficiary groups, disconnect between minority welfare infrastructure and Muslim civil society and poor Muslim representation in decisions making bodies.

Harsh Mandar suggested (i) enhancement of the plan outlay under 15-point programme for minorities to at least 19% of total plan allocation (that is the national population share of all minorities), (ii) making the minority concentration village and ward (and not the district) as units of planning for infrastructure schemes, (iii) sensitization of the officials regarding negative aspects of social exclusion of Muslims, (vi) building public awareness and strengthening civil society amongst Muslims, (v) establishing ‘facilitation centres’ at block and district levels run by Muslim youth to act as information dissemination and guidance facilities on schemes and entitlements, (vi) capacity building of development-oriented community based organisations of Muslims, (vii) creating a special component plan for large scale skills development programs, small enterprises and other economic opportunities involving beneficiary groups in planning and oversight of projects, (viii) making mandatory public accountability tools – social audits and proactive disclosure of information. However, in August 2011, the government rejected the Harsh Mandar report on grounds of minor instances of statistical inaccuracy.

The Constitution provides reservation of seats in legislature, government jobs and educational institutions for Scheduled Castes. Article 341 says that the scheduled castes shall be identified and enlisted by the President who issued his order in 1950. However, he added therein that for getting SC advantage it is incumbent to profess Hindu religion. Later in 1956 and 1990 Sikhism and Budhism were added. Thus, as of today, it is basically a reservation against Muslims & Christians. This violates article 15 that prohibits state discrimination on the basis of religion. Several Supreme Court judges have decried this executive transplant in the constitutional mandate. Justice and fair play demand that the religious conditionality in the 1950 Order is deleted.

To the Muslims this deprivation has caused double jeopardy. Sachar Committee found that the constituencies where Muslims are in substantially large percentage while the SC population there is negligible have been reserved for SCs. Contrarily, the other set of constituencies with high SC population and low Muslim presence are unreserved. Sachar Committee asked the Government to take up the matter with Delimitation Commission which was in session at that time. This was not done.

Sachar Committee felt so much peeved with the pathetic low Muslim representation in governance that it recommended the adoption of the Andhra Pradesh model of nominating Muslims to local bodies and provide for such nomination in law by amending the relevant Acts. These local bodies include Zila Parishads, Municipal Corporations/Boards, Panchayat Samits/Panchayats, Cooperative Banks, Agricultural Marketing Committees etc. This recommendation was shelved.

In 2011 the Government decided that it requires about 1400 additional IPS officers. However, for their recruitment the feeder cadre for the limited competitive examination was carved out in such a way that hardly any Muslim would be selected.

The Ministry of Minority Affairs rejected the vital Sachar recommendation to institute Indian Waqf Service to man the posts of Secretary/CEO and other official positions in the Central Waqf Council and the State Waqf Boards. Many national level Muslim organizations took up the matter with the PM. It didn’t catch higher level attention.

While drafting the Waqf Bill 2010, the Ministry of Minority Affairs ignored twenty vital recommendations made by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Waqfs 2008 and the Sachar Committee 2006. No reasons were assigned in the statement of objectives or in the minister’s speech made in the Lok Sabha while introducing the Bill. Even Muslim MPs were not consulted by the Ministry before the Bill was introduced. Later, because of Muslim protests the Bill was referred to the Rajya Sabha select committee which submitted its report in December 2011. The bill deserves to be redrafted after consulting Muslim expert opinion.

The Congress party and it’s allies need to sensitize themselves vis-a-vis the extreme multifaceted backwardness and deprivation of Muslims. During the tenth and last year of their twin terms of central governance (2004-2014) they should take concrete institutionalized steps to ameliorate the plight of the Muslim community rather than confining their patronage to a few individuals. The entire electorate, including the illiterate segment, is now either technology savvy or indirect beneficiary of the 21st century information revolution. The subsequent voting patterns – 2013-14 onward – will be based on the electorate’s evaluation of the party’s performance.

– Dr Syed Zafar Mahmood, President, Zakat Foundation of India (former OSD, Sachar Committee)

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