By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
NEW DELHI â€“ Even before the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government has resolved the nuclear crisis, raging over objections voiced by the left bloc on the much-publicized India-US civilian nuclear deal, a new political storm has begun brewing. This refers to Muslim leaders having dismissed the hype raised by the government over its follow-up action plan on Sachar Committee recommendations as mere â€œtokenism.â€ While Muslims seem unwilling to be satisfied by such promises, till they are confined to paper, Hindu extremist parties have threatened to launch a nation-wide agitation if the government tries implementing the same.
Tabling the 15-point follow-up action plan in Lok Sabha last week (August 31), Minority Affairs Minister A.R. Antulay said: â€œIt is a historic occasion and it is a historic statement.â€ In its report, submitted to Lok Sabha last year in November, the Sachar Committee went into details about social, economic and educational status of Indian Muslims, and their low percentage of employment in government sectors. The committee also made several recommendations, including reservation for Muslims, to improve their conditions. Of late, Muslim leaders from various sectors had begun accusing the government for sleeping over the Sachar report and for not doing anything for development of the community. In an apparent attempt to silence such criticism, the government tabled the statement on its follow-up plan. Antulay told the House that the government has already issued guidelines to improve representation of minorities in government, public sector enterprises, public sector banks and other services.
In keeping with concerns expressed by Sachar panel regarding anomalies in representation of Muslims in Lok Sabha and state assemblies, a high-level committee would review the Delimitation Act, Antulay said. For 90 minority concentration districts, selected by government, which are backward in terms of various developmental parameters, the government has announced targeted intervention for improvement of basic amenities and employment opportunities. Besides, in 338 identified towns and cities where the minoritiesâ€™ population is substantial, appropriate measures will be taken to improve deficiency in civic amenities and economic opportunities. In addition to opening more branches of public sector banks in Muslim concentration areas, efforts would be made to enhance priority-sector lending to minorities from the present level to 15 percent in three years, Antulay said.
In the educational sector, referring to three scholarship schemes exclusively for minorities, Antulay said: â€œA merit-cum-means scholarship for 20,000 students from minority communities for pursuing technical and professional courses has been approved already. The other two, a pre-matric and a post-matric scholarship scheme will be introduced shortly.â€ The corpus of the Maulana Azad Education Foundation will be increased and its operations expanded and streamlined. More schools, including ones for â€œgirls only,â€ will be opened in areas with substantial Muslim population. The madrasa modernization program will be revised, with focus on ensuring equivalence of qualifications from madrasas for subsequent access to higher education, Antulay said.
Referring to Wakf-issue, in addition to government considering a comprehensive amendment of Wakf Act to address its deficiencies, there will soon be a suitable agency for development of Wakf properties so that the augmented income is utilized for purposes intended, Antulay said. There was no reference to Sachar Committeeâ€™s recommendation favoring reservation for Muslims.
When questioned about the governmentâ€™s claim of having unveiled a â€œhistoric packageâ€ for Muslims, the general reply was that promises and proposals would remain meaningless till some effective action is taken to implement the same. Describing the governmentâ€™s plan as a â€œpolitical deception,â€ All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (AIMMM), headed by former legislator Syed Shahabuddin said in a statement that this is nothing less than a cover-up for refusal of the government to do anything concrete for the upliftment of the Muslim community in a time-bound manner.
Criticizing the seven-page report as mere â€œtokenism,â€ Mohammed Salim of Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) said: â€œThe Muslim community has been treated with tokenism since Independence. This is also one of them.â€ â€œWe hope that the government would implement it in letter and spirit,â€ National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI) Chairperson Justice M.S.A. Siddiqui said. â€œThese are mere announcements. We will be satisfied when serious attention is paid to implementing them,â€ Abdul Hameed Noumani, spokesperson of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind, said.
Describing these as â€œmere promises,â€ Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Ahmed Bukhari said: â€œIt is one year since the report came. They do not want to do anything. If they wanted to, they would have done something by now. We will not welcome the report till something happens.â€
While the Muslims are least likely to be satisfied till the government actually implements the proposals, Shiv Sena has threatened to launch an agitation if the government moves in this direction. Describing the follow-up report as â€œnothing but appeasing Muslims for votes,â€ Sena leader and Member of Parliament (MP) Manohar Joshi said: â€œA delegation of all Sena MPs, led by Uddhav Thackeray would meet the Prime Minister and apprise him of our stand on the issue. If the government continues with this appeasement, we will launch a wide-ranging agitation.â€ â€œWe believe facilities should be given on the basis of economic status and to every poor person, whether a Hindu, Muslim or a Christian,â€ Joshi said.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) decided last week (September 1) to form a committee under its former president, M. Venkaiah Naidu, to organize a countrywide agitation against the implementation of the Sachar Committee report on the status of Muslims.