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UPA - One year after return to power
05/20/2010
By Ram Puniyani

This May 2010, UPA completed its one year in the seat of power for the second term. Now it is being christened as UPA II and political pundits are evaluating its performance on various scales of performance, foreign policy, economic performance, farmer’s suicides, foreign affairs etc. One point which, does not find much mention while evaluating its performance, is the plight of minorities during this year. The ground reality is that after the Gujarat carnage and Kandhamal violence the minorities are feeling a great amount of intimidation and fear, a curtailment of their democratic right to equality. It is crucial that we weigh the performance of the ruling Government vis a vis the overall security and equity of minorities.
 
One can observe that there have been hollow promises to uplift the condition of minorities and to ensure proper rehabilitation and create a situation of security. But major efforts in this direction are missing. The proactive stance needed from the ruling government is no where in sight. One knows that the health of the democracy has to be judged by the state of security and equity of minorities. The only way to march towards a society where religious identities are not the sole identities is to go through a period where the religious minorities are ensured security and equity, a life of dignity, which helps them overcome their helplessness so that the overarching national identities become more important and more determining in social and political affairs of the nation.
 
The victims of Kandhmal violence are crying for justice and rehabilitation. The Government which was ruling when the violence took place continues to rule without its partner the BJP, still the process of rehabilitation is not adequate and the atmosphere of intimidation continues. Surely it is the state Government which has the primary responsibility but the central Government has a Constitutional duty to ensure that the spirit of National Integration is preserved by undertaking steps for concrete protection of the minorities. The doors of temples of justice for these victims do not seem to be opening most of the time. The communalized police machinery and state apparatus do not pay attention to these issues unless there is a political will at the top. The political leadership at the top does not heed these demands unless it fits into their electoral arithmetic. At the moment it seems that this arithmetic does not favor strong, honest actions on the part of the ruling establishments.
 
Gujarat by now has become a sort of ‘Hindu Rashtra in one state’ with Narendra Modi getting stronger, politically more assertive. Despite the claims of Swarnim Gujarat the minority community is living in the condition of fear and intimidation to the extent that it does not even want to express its anxieties, fearing further intimidation by the state.
 
The major problems faced by Muslim minorities are the economic ones, insecurity and those created due to political under-representation. For economic relief Sachar Committee has proposed many a measures, the UPA has theoretically accepted them and the Prime Minister had the courage to say that minorities have the first right on resources. But it has remained restricted to paper only. The implementation of schemes for upliftment are lacking the strong will power and putting in place the honest and committed mechanism for the same, which is missing. The ghettoisation of minorities in different cities is on the rise. Economic marginalization is visible all around. It is because of these twin problems that the conservative elements are finding bigger prominence in the society. A thriving community will ignore such elements issuing fatwa’s like the one against women working where they have to interact with men, but such elements assume prominence only when the community feels intimidated from outside. We need all round efforts for creating a social mind set which is respectful of all the communities.
 
The Rangnath Mishra committee report recommending 10% reservations for Muslims is kept in the deep freeze. The fear that this will create adverse reaction from communal elements or will annoy a section of dalits is preventing the action on this. What is needed is to bypass communal elements and to engage with dalit sections to ensure that Rangnath Mishra report is implemented while preserving the interests of those who are already the beneficiaries of these provisions. The work on ‘Equal Opportunity Commission’ seems to be moving with the snails pace.
 
The latest investigations into the acts of terror, like the one of Ajmer show that Hindu extremist groups may be the one’s who indulged in various blasts near mosques and dargahs. They were under wraps so far. Their parent organizations are merrily operating, while the popular notion ‘All Terrorists are Muslims’ rules the social common sense. The organizations to which Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur or Swami Aseemanand belongs are doing their activities unhindered and have already been given enough time to cover their tracks. The methods of police, their line of investigation has fed into these popular perceptions ruining many a young careers and lives of many.
 
On the top of all this two major moves, the one of Women’s reservation Bill is again going to bypass the Minority women, as at present the social situation is acting as a big brake on their coming out to demand for their rights in full measure. The provisions needed to safeguard their representation have been given a go by in the present scheme of things. Secondly in the ongoing census the column of religion is missing. How are we going to plan for the allocation of resources for minorities? Yes, in an ideal situation religion of the person should not matter in citizenship, but if a large section of society is in need of affirmative action, ignoring this column in census figure will make it impossible in future to undertake affirmative steps for their betterment.
 
The UPA II, seems to have reconstituted the National Integration Council but its meeting is nowhere in sight. The importance which this issue deserves seems to be missing in the efforts of UPA II. Surely it has its plate full with many issues, but is this issue, the issue of National Integration, the issue of minorities not important enough to be dealt with in all the seriousness and commitment?