The Rajindar Sachar Committee’s report on the social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community in India struck a blow to the Congress’ democratic and secularist assertions made over the decades. It lays out the actual conditions the Muslim minority faces and how it lags behind in terms of human development indicators.
It reports that only a small percentage of them are in government service and involved in areas of socio-political life.
The community has been reduced to a sort of political working capital in the hands of the big political parties. According to the report, Muslims need assistance at all levels. They face deprivation in terms of habitation facilities, access to bank credit and also political decision-making power.
Since Independence, India has seen many commissions and committees constituted to resolve the problems of the minorities, especially Muslims. The Ram Sahay Commission on Muslim weavers, the Srikrishna Commission and the Gopal Singh Commission were formed during Congress governments, but their reports are gathering dust. Such moves constitute nothing but political stunts with empty promises for the vulnerable minority. It is obvious that the Sachar Committee report will meet the same fate.
But this is the first commission to have studied the roots of the problems the Muslim community is facing and what the government has done for it in the last 50 years. Ghettoisation and insecurity have grown among Muslims after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. As a result, the percentage of Muslim children attending school and university has significantly gone down.
The follow-up on the report has taken on political hues, with the Congress using it as a tool to woo the minorities and the BJP raising concerns over the figures mentioned in it. But what has the Congress done for the minorities during all these years? It claims to be a champion of secularism but has used the term only as a euphemism to appease Muslims and secure their votes.
The Sachar report should be an eye-opener for big political parties like the Congress and the BJP, which are using the Muslim issue as a device of vote-bank politics.
After Independence and during Congress rule, there was talk of a classified circular which directed that no Muslim be appointed to senior-level positions in the defence forces. The Congress had created such a stir for a long period of time so that Muslims would be forced to leave India. Further, an imprudent game was played by the communal forces during Jawaharlal Nehru’s rule with the clandestine support of the administration and the police. This continued for almost 30 years, creating fear and anxiety among the minorities. The communal clashes that took thousands of human lives and destroyed property worth crores of rupees were the consequences of this game. The Congress appointed commission after commission to investigate the communal riots, but none of the big perpetrators has been convicted.
Instead of punishing the culprits, the police and the administration invariably prosecuted the innocent Muslim victims. The fear and anxiety this caused, and the cavalier approach of the government, resulted in low levels of progress among Muslims in education and commerce. During a span of 50 years, the entire community has been pushed into a vacuum of illiteracy and unemployment.
The fervour of backward class politics of the Congress waned in the wake of the Mandal and Mandir issues. Now it is seeking to widen its base while leading a coalition government. It has moved for other backward classes quota in higher educational institutions and talked of reservation for Muslims.
The Congress’ efforts for the progress of the minorities have been proved hollow, particularly in the Hindi heartland. On the contrary, the smaller parties, including the Samajwadi Party, the Telugu Desam Party and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, and the Left parties, have brought several benefits to Muslims. The SP has time and again asked for affirmative action on the basis of the Sachar Committee report. They should be encouraged to participate in the process of economic growth. The report is a revolutionary step to uplift the minorities in India, and if the Government of India implements its recommendations, that will boost India’s secular democracy.
It is to be seen how sincerely and resolutely the United Progressive Alliance government will pursue the agenda it has laid out. Should the findings be put in deep freeze, leaving the secular and vibrant democratic future of India in a disastrous state? According to the Director of the Centre for Policy Research, Professor Pratap Bhanu Mehta, the report not only reflects the poor human index of Indian Muslims but indicates the vacuum of Indian governance. It points to the poor development of infrastructure facilities such as electricity and telecommunications services in areas of Muslim habitation. Muslims are not represented enough in the civil services, in banks, in other public sector undertakings, in the judiciary and in the agencies involved with national security tasks. The Central government needs to coordinate with State governments to pool resources and formulate such policies as would help translate their developmental regression into progress.
The Sachar Committee has suggested that a commission examine the livelihood problems faced by Muslims. But apart from instituting a committee of experts, the Congress has made no substantive effort in this direction. Proper representation of the minorities, especially Muslims, in the police and defence forces will prove to be a morale-booster for them in terms of their safety and security issues, but this has not been looked into. As per the committee’s recommendation, the Congress government has promised to open schools, training institutes and banks, provide free education up to the age of 14 and create infrastructure in areas populated by Muslims. But that promise now lies in cyberspace.
The report mentions that representation for the Muslim community to the same order as the percentage of Muslims in the population of the country is found only in one place: in jails. The fact that this is true can be seen now in Congress-ruled States such as Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. Many innocent Muslim youth of Mumbai and Hyderabad are in jail only on the basis of suspicion. There is hardly any effort being made by the respective governments to provide them legal aid.
In the context of the report, the Congress is trying to play the role of a messiah for Muslims. These represent nothing but tokenism. The Action Taken Report on the Sachar Committee report is but a post-dated cheque. As ever, the Congress wants to use Muslims as a vote bank. It is not really bothered of their rights or their welfare.
There are many areas where work needs to be done for the growth and development of the Muslim community, such as the provision of basic infrastructure facilities in education, health, road and drinking water, employment generation, safety, promotion of the Urdu language, modernisation of madrassa education and the separation of politics from community development.
In the present situation, the SP strives to continue the efforts it has undertaken to work for the minorities and the downtrodden. The party stands for the empowerment of the poor, the minorities, and the marginalised sections that were the worst victims of exploitation due to the lopsided policies pursued by successive governments at the Centre. Muslims want to live a respectable life without any political prejudice. They know how to carry themselves in the present conditions and how to uplift themselves and grow. The government has to support them in different spheres of activity.
The SP wants the implementation of the Sachar Committee report in toto. A high-power expert committee representing all political parties should be constituted to look into the implementation of the recommendations.
(Amar Singh is general secretary of the Samajwadi Party. He wrote this article from a hospital in Singapore while undergoing treatment.)