Thursday, May 29, 2014

Najma Heptullah- Parsis need help (not Muslims)

Muslims just need a level playing field (how will that come about?).

Najma Heptullah is no Uncle Tom. However we get the feeling that her priorities (as stated) are quite misplaced. The only way to help Parsis (while respecting the stricter than Brahmin blood-line rules) is to clone more Parsis. Then again, with her medical/biology background she may be able to achieve just that. Bravo!!!

If you have six children it is always important to see what you can do for the weakest of them. So far as my ministry is concerned, of the six minority communities the weakest is clearly the Parsis.  

Dr Heptullah hails from a distinguished family (grand-niece of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, cousin of Amir Khan). Heptullah has a Master's degree in Zoology and a doctoral degree in cardiac anatomy from the University of Colorado at Denver, in the USA. She has also been the Deputy Chairperson of Rajya Sabha (upper house, Indian Parliament) for 16 years and she is now the Minister of Minority Affairs and the sole muslim member in the Modi cabinet.

What is clear from her comments is that while muslims may not be unfairly targeted by this govt, they will remain invisible, as far as handouts are concerned.  
The top demands from the community have been reservations in education and in jobs. These will not be implemented. To be fair, Congress has highlighted these demands many times (during elections), but has never made good on the promises. Also, efforts to introduce reservations for muslims at the state level (except in Tamil Nadu) have been stymied by the Courts.

The problem of reservations is a complex one. A reservation program for minorities will actually work out as a lose-lose proposition for muslims. The advanced minority communities (Christians, Jains, Sikhs) are likely to take disproportionate advantage of this provision. OTOH such a program would be vilified as a policy to appease the muslim vote-bank.

What is more promising (and legal) is a cut-out from the existing OBC reservation quota (4.5% was the Congress plank). Also, Dalit muslims (and Christians) can be made eligible for reservation benefits (this was first only for Hindus, later extended to Buddhists and Sikhs). However, to the extent the reservation pie is fixed, any quota for muslims will be fiercely opposed by the current Hindu beneficiaries.

Unfortunately, for the muslims, it looks like there are going to be only two viable coalitions going forward: (1) OBC + Forward caste team (and in select areas dalits as well) led by the BJP, and the (2) Dalit + Forward caste team led by Mayawati/BSP (which managed to secure the third highest vote percentage this elections (20%) but not a single seat). Neither group requires muslims, and will actually suffer if they are seen to be fishing for muslim votes (it will anger core supporters).

Due to H/M polarization, muslims at present have really no alternative but to vote for the Congress (A, B, C teams). There is also polarization within muslims, the BJP can expect to win the Shia and Bohra vote (these communities are relatively advanced and would not be seeking reservation benefits anyway). Since the "secular" parties do not have to earn the muslim votes, they will promise a lot and forget quickly (which is the case for the last 65 years). If anything, the track record of non-BJP governments in preventing riots is worse than that of the BJP governments.

Finally, as has happened already in Axom and in Kerala (and Hyderabad), there are viable right-wing muslim parties which have the advantage (from a muslim standpoint) of being  for, of and by muslims (conservatives). These parties may grow in strength in other parts of India as well (next stop West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh). If that happens, the secular parties will be wiped out (in a first past the post system) and BJP will win the mantle of the "natural ruling party" of India.

There are secular solutions to the above problems and a party like the Aam Admi Party should be able to champion such solutions and even win a mandate based on such a charter. A huge, diverse country like India is best represented by some modified form of proportional representation. Also the concept of reservations can be revisited and the targeting of communities can be in terms of economic backwardness.

Dalits and Muslims (the two most disadvantaged groups) are likely to benefit strongly from such arrangement(s). This is then the "social justice" gap that Indian democracy requires fixing (as fast as possible). It is important for the sake of the country that a left-secular organization like the AAP switches off the dramabazi and focuses on building bridges with the voters (which has been badly bruised by the 49-day tenure in Delhi)

It is surprising that Arundhati Roy (who was voted as the leading thinker in the world) has not proposed such (and other) practical measures which will move both secularism and democracy forward. But then as Omar says, it is not clear that the Pankajists will be happy if this actually happened by some miracle. They have found out that throwing stones from the outside is a hugely profitable business, thus it is unlikely that any help will be forthcoming from them any time soon.

Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptullah has said Muslims are too large in number to call themselves a minority and that it is the Parsis who need special attention, for they are a “minuscule minority”.

Referring to the issue of Muslim reservation in jobs, she said “there is no provision in the Constitution for religion-based reservation”. The matter is in the Supreme Court.
“If you have six children it is always important to see what you can do for the weakest of them. So far as my ministry is concerned, of the six minority communities the weakest is clearly the Parsis. They are a minuscule minority that is so  ‘ Muslims too many to be called minority, it’s Parsis who need special attention’ precariously placed that one needs to take care of their survival. Muslims really are too large in number to be called a minority community,” the minister told The Indian Express.
She said the very concept of minority and majority is relative and when talking about minorities it is imperative to understand that it is a term that encompasses many parameters, including language, apart from religion. Neither is there a ‘one-size-fits-all’ formula for the welfare of minorities.
The Ministry of Minority Affairs was set up in 2006 in the wake of the appointment of the Sachar Committee by the  then prime minister Manmohan Singh to look into social, educational and economic conditions of Muslims in India. Though it caters to all six minority communities — the latest addition being Jains — Muslims have, since its inception, been a special focus area for the ministry.
Heptullah is yet to get a full lowdown on the ministry’s programmes and schemes, but one scheme that she is not inclined towards is the Prime Minister’s 15-point programme for minority concentration areas. “It was started by Indira Gandhi in 1980 and in these 34 years all that has happened is that successive prime ministers have merely ‘inherited’ it without any real thrust on implementation. I will have to discuss with Narendra Modiji whether he really wants to inherit it. It is striking that it has remained at 15 points all this while without one addition or deletion which should have happened if there was application of mind,” she said.
Heptullah made no bones about her aversion to the idea of reservation, maintaining that it cannot be a solution for anything. “I am not in favour of reservation. I have come this far without reservation. What is important is positive action to provide level playing field. Once we do that politically, socially and educationally they will be able to compete with the rest.”


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