The UPA government’s efforts toward Muslim empowerment deserve critical evaluation in the face of conflicting claims by the Congress and the BJP

The protection of minorities is the hallmark of a civilisation. The debate on the status of minorities should ideally be lifted from the outdated communalism versus secularism, and the nationalism versus sectarianism debates, and placed in the context of the philosophy of democracy, goals of equality and rights jurisprudence. The case for minority rights in general and Muslims in particular should derive from and be legitimised by our understanding of democracy.

Though Muslims are in the majority only in Lakshadweep and Jammu and Kashmir, there are six States where the Muslim population is above the national average. There are 110 so-called minority-concentrated districts — areas where Muslims account for at least 20 per cent of the total population. No party can afford to ignore the community’s problems as the voting pattern of Muslims influences the outcome of an election; yet, no party has done much to uplift and integrate the community into the mainstream.

The Finance Minister did try to reach out to the minorities in the recent vote-on-account by increasing the allocation to the Minority Affairs Ministry by 12 per cent or Rs. 3,511 crore. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has also moved the Supreme Court on 4.5 per cent reservation for minorities in the Other Backward Classes (OBC) quota. This reservation was provided just before the 2011 Uttar Pradesh elections. It is a different story that the Congress failed to win over Muslims with quota politics. The secular Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Trinamool Congress, the Janata Dal (United) and the communist parties also assert that the UPA has done nothing for the Muslims in the last one decade, while the UPA’s Minority Affairs Minister claims that this decade has been the community’s golden period. Therefore, the UPA’s Muslim empowerment deserves critical evaluation.

There is truth in the fact that these 10 years have been quite productive for the Muslims. UPA-I’s de-saffaronisation was a great achievement and no future secular government will have the luxury of having as strong and determined a Human Resources Development Minister as Arjun Singh. Text books were changed under the National Democratic Alliance rule, but the National Council of Educational Research and Training’s present curriculum is a tribute to Mr. Singh’s strong secular approach.

Muslims, in their criticism of the UPA government, must understand that the responsibility lies with the States; the Central government cannot be blamed for all problems. Central allocations remain unspent in many States. Moreover, at the ground level, minorities have to overcome bureaucratic prejudices and at times even communalism.

Minority welfare has been one of the cornerstones of the UPA’s agenda of inclusive growth. It had appointed the Rajindar Sachar committee to study the socio-economic and educational status of Muslims, whose findings exposed the hollowness of the oft-repeated appeasement-of-Muslims argument of the BJP and other right wing organisations. In top government jobs, representation was minuscule — 3 per cent in the Indian Administrative Service, 1.8 per cent in the Indian Foreign Service and 4 per cent in the Indian Police Service. The UPA government also appointed another commission under the chairmanship of the late Justice Ranganath Mishra, which submitted its report in 2007.

Most of its recommendations including reservation have not been implemented. The 4.5 per cent minorities’ reservation within OBCs was announced to woo Muslims but once the U.P. election was over, the UPA did not send any senior lawyer to defend this reservation before the Andhra Pradesh High Court.

The government’s biggest achievement has been the 93rd amendment in the Constitution which extended OBC reservation in educational institutions and exempted minority institutions from the SC, ST and OBC reservation to make the law consistent with the 11-judge bench pronouncement of the apex court in the T.M.A. Pai case.

Evaluating educational reforms

The UPA can certainly claim credit for impressive improvement on the educational front. The number of Muslim children enrolled in schools in elementary education increased from 1.58 crore in 2005-06 to 2.55 crore in 2011-12.

However, the level of matriculation education among Muslims both in rural and urban areas is lower than even SCs and STs. What is cause for worry is that the improvement between 2004-05 and 2009-10 is least for Muslims (both OBC and general Muslims). The participation of Muslims in higher education too is poor as Muslim OBCs are much behind Hindu OBCs, SCs and STs.

The UPA government failed to ensure admission for Muslim students in State or private educational institutions without deposit of fee at the time of admission. While minorities’ reservation may have constitutional implications, this kind of welfare scheme would certainly withstand judicial scrutiny. Several recommendations of the Sachar Committee such as the setting up of Equal Opportunity Commissions, linking of aid by UGC to colleges and universities have not been implemented. The Minorities Commission has not been given constitutional status; the promise of establishing four minority universities has not been kept. The UPA’s failure in enacting the Communal Violence Bill may prove costly as other secular parties may may use this point to target it.

(Faizan Mustafa is vice-chancellor, NALSAR University of Law.)

This article has been corrected for a factual error.

The earlier sentence said: “The government’s biggest achievement has been the 105th amendment in the Constitution which extended OBC reservation... "

It should have been the 93rd amendment.

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