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Indian Government Tries Minority-Card!

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS


Hindu and Muslim members of India’s ruling Congress party pray for the success of confidence vote for the Congress party-led government, in the northern Indian city of Allahabad, July 22, 2008. India’s government faces a tight vote of confidence in parliament on Tuesday that will decide the fate of a civilian nuclear cooperation deal with the United States and could trigger a snap election.   

REUTERS/Jitendra Prakash  


NEW DELHI: With due respect to all the concern displayed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for uplifting minorities in the country, one is compelled to wonder at the timing of the steps taken last week in this direction. Announcements made now, howsoever well intentioned they may be, are subject to being viewed as political tactics to woo the minority vote-bank. During a meeting of the union cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister (July 17), the progress of implementation of his new 15-point program for welfare of minorities was reviewed. The Prime Minister voiced the need for accelerating these measures. “The Prime Minister said that there has been progress indeed, it would be further accelerated,” Finance P. Chidambaram told reporters.

The cabinet gave its approval to several exclusive schemes for development of minorities, according to an official release. These include scholarship schemes for students belonging to minority communities, 30 percent of which would “earmarked for girl students.” There would be merit-cum-means scholarship for technical and professional courses at undergraduate and post-graduate levels; full reimbursement of fees for 70 institutions listed in the scheme; in addition to maintenance allowances and scholarships to students.

Taking note of baseline survey carried out to identify “development deficits” in 90 minority concentration districts, the cabinet gave its nod to “multi-sectoral development program formulated for addressing development deficits in areas of education, sanitation, pucca house, drinking water and electricity supply, etc.” The scheme would be implemented from 2008-09.

The Maulana Azad Education Foundation (MAEF) corpus has been increased from one billion rupees to Rs 250 billion “to enable it expand its education development activities,” according to the cabinet.

To enable minorities have greater access to credit, all public sector banks have been directed to open more branches in identified minority concentration districts. Till the end of March this year, 523 branches were opened in such areas, the cabinet observed.  Public sector banks are to step up lending to minorities from nine to 15 percent during the next three years. 

To improve access to education, states have been advised to open “girls only upper primary schools in minority concentration areas,” including the blocks with more than 20 percent population of Muslims.

In addition, the cabinet gave its nod to revise madarsa modernization program “to make it more attractive by providing better salary to teachers, increased assistance for books, teaching aids, and computers, introduce vocational subjects, etc.” Besides, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has been directed “to work out modalities so that universities are encouraged to recognize madarsa qualifications.”

Some of the measures initiated to enable “social inclusion” of minorities include setting up of an “autonomous assessment and monitoring authority” in the Planning Commission to “analyze data collected for taking appropriate and corrective policy decisions.” In addition, funds have been sanctioned for 13 universities to start centers for studying social exclusion and inclusive policy for minorities, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

During the same meeting, the cabinet also gave its approval to setting up of eight new Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) in Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa, Gujarat, Punjab and in Madhya Pradesh at a total cost of Rs 60.8 billion for six-year period. While the new IITs of Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh are likely to commence their sessions from the next academic year (2009-10), the other six are going to begin theirs this year itself, from 23rd July.

Equally significant is the central government’s decision to observe 11th November, the birthday of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the country’s first Union Education Minister as “National Education Day,” without declaring it as a holiday. Known as an eminent educationist and a great freedom fighter, Maulana Azad (11 November 1888 to 22 February 1958) also supported Hindu-Muslim unity and opposed the country’s partition on communal lines. His actual name was Abul Kalam Muhiyuddin Ahmed. As he had adopted Azad (Free) as his pen name, he is commonly remembered as Maulana Azad. An eminent Congress leader of his times, Azad earlier rose to prominence through his writings as a journalist.

Over the years, there have been demands from several states and various sections of the society to observe 11th November as “National Education Day.” In keeping with contributions made by Azad, the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development decided last week (July 18) to commemorate his birthday in a befitting manner. His contribution to the cause of education would be recalled with educational institutions at all levels being involved in “organizing seminars, symposia, essay-writing, elocution competitions, workshops and rallies with banners, cards and slogans on the importance of literacy and nation’s commitment to all aspects of education,” according to an official release. Besides, initiatives taken in setting up of model schools would be projected in “association with various industry bodies, whose fullest cooperation also would be sought in the development of human resources in the country.” The initiatives taken at all levels, including higher secondary education, vocational education and higher education sectors by the central government on its own, as well as through private-public partnership would be projected.

It is to be now watched, the degree to which these measures are actually implemented and contribute for uplifting minorities at all levels: — educationally, economically, socially and politically!


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