Time for Change?

Manifestoes and Minorities

Irfan Engineer

Election time is season for Manifestoes of major political parties participating in the poll. Manifestoes are seen by some members of the public with cynicism and disinterest as they are observed more in breach by the party voted to power and major promises forgotten. When Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was voted to power in UP, they did not have a manifesto and in any case given the levels of literacy, how many members of the electorates bother to read manifestoes of the parties is a good question. Large sections of voters in India go more by oral promises of the candidates contesting elections, some vote on consideration of caste, ethnicity, language and religious community, others vote on the basis of local constituency level issues and popularity of the candidate contesting.

Manifestoes are nevertheless important as they are declaration of the political parties as to the governance measures they intend to undertake and their political and economic priorities, even if they go a bit overboard on their promises.

The vulnerability of minorities is due to their non-dominance and numerical inferiority as these entail absence of political influence in decision making bodies at legislative and executive level. Most countries had earlier policy to assimilate the minorities into the mainstream. This meant that while minorities would be guaranteed protection and security, they were expected to gradually affirm the culture, traditions, language or religion of the majority. If the minority concerned resisted assimilation, they would be vulnerable to the accusation of having subversive tendencies and their case for protection and security would weaken.

UN Sub-Commission acknowledged at a rather early stage that the minority issue demands a double approach, namely the prohibition of discrimination and special measures to enable the members of minorities to preserve and develop their own, separate characteristics. Prohibition of discrimination and minority protection are not identical but are twin concepts.

However, people now know due to Sachar Committee Report that the minorities are discriminated in opportunities for education, jobs and livelihood schemes, bank loans, government contracts, housing, health services and in extending benefits of welfare schemes and infrastructure like roads and drinking water to areas populated by minorities.

On the issue of security, Sikhs, Christians as well as Muslims have been targeted during communal riots with members of security force either shirking their duties or worst, colluding with the rioters and the guilty having no fear of being brought to justice. Nimesh Commission appointed by the UP Govt. finds that several innocent Muslim youth were arrested under draconian anti-terror laws and incarcerated for years. Innocent Muslim youth were incarcerated for over 6 years accused of bomb blasts in Malegaon in the year 2006—an offence for which Swami Aseemanand has confessed his guilt. Disproportionate number of innocent youth killed in the name of encounter by police accused of being terrorists are Muslims, be it Ishrat Jehan, Javed Shaikh, Sohrabuddin, Kauserbi, Sadiq Jamal etc.

Therefore, what the minorities need is non-discrimination, security and right to their culture and religion. However, most manifestoes promise separate welfare schemes for allowances and scholarships for education, and loans for livelihood and Higher education, with a ridiculously small budgetary allocation. Bureaucrats read the existence of special schemes for minorities to mean exclusion from general welfare schemes for livelihood, education, housing, infrastructure development and provision of utilities, subsidized foodgrains to the poor, etc.. The discourse in manifestoes on national (or regional culture in case of regional parties) does not take into account the diversity in general and different culture of minority in particular. Being insensitive to the cultural diversities smacks of assimilative expectations and therefore notionally ghettoising the minorities into a pigeon hole. Some manifestoes promise reservations for minorities on the basis of their religion.

Cultural nationalism or Hindutva is the core running theme of the BJP manifesto. India's ancient civilization is described from a supremacist perspective as one going back to several thousand years before the Christian era and unproblematic—with flourishing economy, trade, commerce and culture. The manifesto describes India as having a much bigger role and presence in industry and manufacturing than any nation in Europe or Asia with "a well-developed banking system and equally renowned businessmen, along with its financiers, who were contributing to create a flourishing and progressive economy." The preface of the Manifesto further states that "India was a land of abundance, prosperity, affluence, a land of sharing and caring living in perfect harmony and peace with the nature'', and then talks of returning to the roots—the "civilizational consciousness of India", without specifying what are the contours of this civilizational consciousness—is it cry for equality by Sant Kabirdas, Ravidas, Tukaram and other Bhakti and Sufi saints or the rigidity of caste system.

When the Manifesto lists the names of leaders who inspired Indian freedom struggle, there is not a single non-Hindu name mentioned, not even Bhagat Singh and Jawaharlal Nehru. The Manifesto calls for India as one country and one people without referring to the rich diversity which is its strength. The post Independence leadership of the country (read—Nehru) could not comprehend India's inner vitality, which was the main force responsible for India's survival despite several attacks and prolonged foreign rule (i.e., the Sultanate, Mughal and the British) and thus, failed to rekindle the spirit of India. The BJP's "Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat" thus would assimilate technological advancements (of the west) but discard the British institutional framework of administration (or Democracy) which, according to the Manifesto is quite alien to the civilizational consciousness of India. What more clarity is needed for one to understand that even in their election manifesto, the BJP pits Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat against the Constitutional framework? Of course in their election manifesto they are promising everything to every section of society. How will they reconcile the conflicting demands under the rubric of"Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas" with the limited means? They would offer the corporate sector develop allocating precious budgetary resources and help all the marginalized sections with subsidies.

The Manifesto uses a lot of platitudes as far as minorities are concerned but has nothing concrete to offer in terms of economic benefits or institutional framework to ensure that minorities enjoy security and the Constitutional right to equality. While in the past BJP would oppose any half hearted special measures to enable the members of minorities to preserve and develop their own separate characteristics and dub it as separatist tendencies within minorities, in their Manifesto the BJP promises that they will "curate their rich heritage and culture;" (by claiming Babri Masjid and 3000 other mosques?), "maintenance and restoration of heritage sites;"' (claiming Taj Mahal to be a Shiv Mandir, ABVP members vandalized the Taj Mahal and since when heritage sites were divided into minority and majority?) "digitization of archives;" (which one? Even archives conceived to be majority and minority?) "preservation and promotion of Urdu" (Hindutva cadres were involved in anti-Urdu agitation in Bihar in 1967 leading to riots in Ranchi-Hatia and riots in Bangalore over broadcast of news bulletin by AIR in Urdu). It is ironical that while the section on minority talks of "curating" rich culture, the section on "Cultural Heritage" promises "Uniform Civil Code"! The section on "Cultural Heritage", unlike to one on Minorities promises to provide appropriate resources for the maintenance and restoration of all national heritage sites, and to prevent their vandalisation in any form. Note that minority heritage is just described as that while other heritage sites are described as national! That is Hindu nationalism. What is Hindu is national and what is non-Hindu belongs to minorities and in its election magnanimity, the manifesto promises "curating" of such sites without promising appropriate resources or to prevent vandalization.

The Manifesto sheds crocodile tears on the backwardness of the Muslim community and borrows from the Congress programmes which are often violently opposed by the BJP—National Madrasa modernization and enable Waqf Boards to remove encroachments.

Congress Manifesto promises implementation and continuation of the same old programmes that were poorly implemented or remained unimplemented paying lip services to the minorities. It promises to "focus on accelerating concrete, sustainable and long term plans for the welfare of the Nation's minorities" which include scholarships for children belonging to the minority community, higher education support through Maulana Azad Education Foundation and effective management of Waqf properties and a law providing clear guidelines to prevent the usurpation and mismanagement of Waqf properties. The Congress would continue to focus on 'Priority Sector Lending' disbursement for minorities and "to ensure that members of the minority communities have easy access to credit and other incentives like tax rebates etc., encourage entrepreneurship." The Manifesto once again promises that "The Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2013, which was drafted and introduced by the Indian National Congress will be passed as a matter of priority" without explaining why the legislation was not enacted in the previous two terms.

The Manifesto also promises that the Party would pursue with the courts matter regarding reservation for backward minorities in educational institutions and in government employment and ensure that the policy is implemented through proper legislation.

Samajwadi Party Manifesto proposes to address industrial backwardness, poverty, illiteracy and unemployment, which it mainly attributes to the policies of the Central Government. For one thing 2012 UP Assembly Manifesto as well as 2014 Manifesto for Lok Sabha elections are practically the same promises. The SP Manifesto does not use the term minority but names the community it wants to benefit from its governance and programmes. SP admits that status of Muslims is worse than dalits and they need special protection and opportunities. SP Manifesto promises implementation of Sachar Committee and Ranganath Mishra Commission reports and implement those recommendations. It demands that the entire Muslim community should be declared as extremely backward and should be extended benefits of reservations on the basis of their population on the lines of SCs. The Party promises to establish educational institutions in districts which are dominated by the Muslims.

The Manifesto promises to release, compensate and ensure justice to the innocent Muslim youth who have been jailed under the pretext of anti-terror action. It also promises to take action against the guilty officials.

It promises to establish Urdu medium primary, middle and high schools in the districts dominated by Muslims and ensure jobs. It is unfortunate that Urdu language is being linked to Muslims. There will be special budget for technical education in Madrasas. There will be special provision to recruit Muslims in state security forces and camps will be organized to ensure their recruitment. A special budget will be provided for construction of boundaries of "kabristans" (Muslim cemeteries) to pre-empt illegal occupation of the land. There will be a special package for development and security of all dargahs in the state through legislation. Why the development of the dargah is mentioned in the section on minorities is an enigma as more non-Muslims frequent dargahs than Muslims. On all Government commissions, boards and committees, at least one member of minority community will be nominated. Illegal possession of waqf property would be removed and a Waqf Board would be established through legislation and property restored to the Waqf Board. Waqf properties would be outside the pale of Land Acquisition Act. The industrial areas where minorities dominate, e.g. handlooms, handicraft, carpet, bangles, lock, scissors, jari, jardosi, bidi, will be given Government subsidies and encouraged. For weavers of handloom sector, there would be waiver on interests and penal interests on arrears of electric bills. ITIs would be established to supply skilled workers for small scale and household industries. Grant of Rs 30,000 would be given to the girls who pass SSC exams for higher studies or for their marriages. Those Muslim educational institutions which qualify to be recognized as universities, would be given the status of university. Poor weavers would be provided free electricity like peasants. All legal obstacles for Mohammed Ali Jauhar University, a deemed university would be removed. A Medical college would be established with adequate funds. It also promises to eliminate communal riots from the UP state.

The Muslim community could be either included in various measures of governance and ensure their fair share and non-discrimination or special measures targeted only to Muslims could be promised. The Constitution does not permit the latter approach unless special conditions are met to overcome certain inherent disadvantages. Implementation of such provisions, even if sincere, would meet the Constitutional and legal roadblocks. The latter approach also invokes ire of non-Muslims and strengthens communal forces in the majority community. The SP Manifesto embraces the latter approach and their measures remain on paper unimplemented and un-implementable.

Vol. 46, No. 50, Jun 22 - 28, 2014