The next five years could be epochal. Narendra Modi indeed has a chance to alter India’s destiny. And his biggest contribution, according to me, is not expected in the arena of just development, but ‘just development’. Read more

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BJP prime-ministerial candidate Narendra Modi kicked off his election bid from Varanasi, an ancient seat of Hinduism, with a blog beholden to city’s multicultural traditions. Read more

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The Muzaffarnagar riots present us with another somber opportunity to reflect on the dangers that can easily weaken India’s social fabric. Riots are often triggered by political patronage. They not only drive communities apart, but they also render victims vulnerable to further manipulation by sinister forces. Read more

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If you press number 11 on the panel of the elevator of Paryavaran Bhawan, a government building in central Delhi, the doors flung open to a huge signboard with a large picture of Mahatma Gandhi and one of his famous comments: “A civilization is judged by the way it treats it minorities.” This is the UPA government’s minority affairs ministry.
The words from the Father of the Nation offer a re-assuring feeling to any visitor. The office also symbolizes a bold shift in the way India addresses the development needs of its large minority population, of which Muslims are the largest. For the first time, the country had a ministry for minority affairs and programmes dedicated exclusively for their welfare.
The UPA government began a promising story when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set up the Sachar committee in 2007 to probe disadvantages faced by Muslims, which were spoken about but without much readily available empirical evidence. It is accepted wisdom that religious minorities, caste or ethnic groups can lag significantly in terms of general welfare when compared to the rest of the population.
The Sachar committee reported that Muslims held fewer than 5% of government posts and made up only 4% of undergraduates. Their poverty rates were found to be only slightly better than low-caste Hindus, such as Dalits, while their literacy rate ranked well below the national average. These historically persistent deficits in progress can be stubborn and they tend to pull down overall productivity and growth.
The United States pursued a policy of affirmative action in the 1960s to stub out discrimination. It outlawed discrimination against the Blacks, passed the Civil Rights Act, that stemmed from the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitutions. The US labour department began monitoring employment data, strongly pressuring all public, not-for-profit and even private organisations linked to government to promote diversity. Courts began to admit statistics on low employment figures of Blacks as evidence of discrimination (Weisskopf). This way, aggressive affirmative action in the US brought a whole new paradigm shift in state policies.
Muslims, like the rest of Indian society, especially those considered ‘middle-class’, have little patience when it comes to social, political and economic opportunities. They also exhibit some sort of “group anxiety”, which concerns their status and position in society. Therefore they have often been courted as a political class by political parties, which tend to lure them with sops.
Prime Minister Singh attempted to change this with a vigorous approach to improve socio-economic progress among minorities, which proved controversial, as it generally does, because it is seen as favouring some.
Yet, the focus was on correcting skewed development indicators of Muslims. Despite these efforts, Singh had some sobering news to break when he answered questions during a press conference on January 3.
Humne Sachar committee ki sifarishon ko laagu karne mein kaafi kaam kiya hai. Mujhe dukh se kehna padta hai ki ye tamaam aavaam tak nahin pahunch sakaa. (We worked a great deal to implement recommendations of the Sachar committee. I am sad that we could not reach all these to the people),” the prime minister said.
The UPA government’s minority welfare agenda, one of its prime planks, could be floundering due to inadequate outreach and discrimination, the very drawbacks it aims to plug.
Evidence from two new reports indicate that despite funneling over Rs 7,000 crore for multi-pronged plans in the past five years, discrimination could still be holding back socio-economic recovery of over 150-million Muslims, the country’s largest minority.
One of these reports, a four-year study by the Centre for Equity Studies (CES), even blames the UPA government for lacking “political courage” to directly address Muslims for fear of being criticised.
Separately, the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) recently found that a flagship scheme to spruce up services and infrastructure were not benefiting their targeted community because investment were being made in areas outside Muslim habitats.
In a recent probe on police excesses, the minority panel stumbled upon 10 schools either built or upgraded for granting Muslims access to education functioning in areas with few minority students in Bihar’s Araria district — among the 90 minority districts targeted nationally. Likewise, over Rs 100 crore were spent to create angawadi centres to service disadvantaged Muslims, but all of these were in areas with little scant minority population.
Alarmed, the government has shifted to identifying minority-populated blocks, rather than districts, as the PM said. This should ensure more guided outreach.
The CES study by Harsh Mander, among others, analysed conditions in three Muslim-majority districts — Darbhanga in Bihar, 24 Parganas in West Bengal and Mewat in Haryana. It found that, apart from failing to “identify or address” the actual obstacles faced by Muslims, the “scale” of intervention was “too small”.
Those behind implementing the plans “lack conviction …to directly battle the socio-economic structural discrimination faced by Muslims”, the report states. For instance, the study found only 22% of funds for multi-sector plans 2010-11 had been utilized countrywide by the middle of third quarter.
“Muslim women and men…were unanimous about one thing: the single most important and valued contribution that they wanted from government was education, in government institutions with both Hindu and Muslim children,” the report states.
Of all programmes, a national scholarships programme is said to have met with resounding success.
India’s federal system presents its own set of problems. This is the start of a long walk to progress. Six years of minority welfare cannot correct historical trends. Despite the US having one of the most institutionalized affirmative-action policies, American white families have six times the financial assets as the average Black.
Muslims are right to complain about slow progress.
Given his initiatives, I don’t think the Prime Minister failed us, but he certainly needs to find out why his efforts did not bore us the fruits. However, Muslims do not seem to be very upbeat about Singh’s efforts to ameliorate their conditions despite some unprecedented efforts, something the prime minister himself realizes, given his own comment.
The larger point is that the development discourse regarding Muslims that Singh has sought to institutionalize must carry on. It will show results some day.
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Not so long ago, it was widely presumed that, in a modernizing and fast-growing India, sickening religious clashes aimed at garnering votes would be a thing of the past. The western UP rioting, like those preceding it in Bihar, points to the opposite. “Communal polarization” has staged a comeback. Read more

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At a hall inside Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, there’s only room to stand. Scholars, students, journalists and professors struggle to fit in. Some of them are comfortable squatting on the floor, as they take copious notes.

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No part of Gandhi’s life has escaped scholarly attention in a corpus of a little over a century. Literature on him is abundant. Read more

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The media is going yap, yap, yap and blah blah blah over Modi and Rahul. Blah …Modi… blah… Rahul …blah blah blah. Read more

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An aspect of Israel that goes largely unnoticed is that the fiercest critics of its policies are Israelis themselves. Alice Miller is one such Israeli. Read more

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It’s about time we put growth in its place, to borrow a line from economist Amartya Sen. Much has been made of our “high growth” – 8% or 9% or whatever. Growth in itself cannot lead to development, which is why economists such as Sen have been making a case for “growth-mediated development”. Read more

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