Minority status will not help Muslims but may open Pandora’s box (Comment: Special to IANS)

Since the government has done away with the minority status of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), a debate has set in for and against the minority character and reservations.

Recently, at a conference at Delhi’s Constitution Club, one heard several so-called Muslim leaders very generously voicing their lip-service concerning the minority character of AMU. It reminded one of the saying that way to hell is paved with good intentions.

The fact remains, and history has proved this, that the minority character and reservations on communal lines are not in the interest of national unity and integrity as it starts a chain reaction of demands amongst religious groups, within and without. The ostrich mentality of reservations or minority status of some universities will not help Muslims. But it will open up a Pandora’s box. They either have to perform or perish on their own.

Those vying for the minority status of AMU and Jamia Millia Islamia should remember what India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, a Congressman and not a lesser lover of minorities, had stated while speaking on democratisation during an important session of the Constituent Assembly on May 26, 1949: “If you seek to give safeguards to a minority, you isolate it… Maybe, you protect it to a slight extent but at what cost — at the cost of isolating and keeping it away from the main current.”

Dr. Zakir Hussain founded Jamia Millia Islamia in 1920. He could have made it a minority institution if he had wanted to. But he did not want the institution to be linked with any one community.

It would be worth examining what the other founding fathers say about minority character and reservations. While a vote was sought for the charter of providing political safeguards to the minorities according to articles 292 and 294 of the 1949 draft constitution, five leaders (all Muslims) out of seven, namely Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Hifzur Rehman, Begum Aizaz Rasul, Hussainbhoy Laljee and Tajammul Hussain had voted against it. Interestingly, Sardar Patel strongly supported the charter.

K.R. Malkani, a former RSS think tank member, wrote in his treatise on Indian Muslims, The Politics Of Ayodhya And Hindu-Muslim Relations, that according to the United Nations, the group that’s identified as a minority is one that by religion, language, ethnicity or culture constitutes less than 10 percent of the population of a state. As per this statute, the Muslims were a minority decades ago but now they are not, he wrote.

Malkani also states that nowhere in the 52-odd Muslim countries or, for that matter, anywhere in the world where Muslims are a majority, do non-Muslims have the privileges, protection and rights that India offers to the minorities. As a matter of fact, Maulana Azad did not like the majority-minority syndrome and hence called Muslims as the second majority.

Be it Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, Muslim Dalits or other so-called minorities, reservations are a menace for the entire system. On the otherwise secular and composite fabric of India, reservations are a thorn in its neck.

Rather than extending the begging bowl for quotas, Muslims must tell the government to open more schools and a system for general uplift in their areas rather than police stations. Instead of fighting over smaller slices of a small pie of national income, what is needed is the expansion of the national pie which would help everyone to get their rightful and bigger share. The oppressed and the marginalised people need expansion of opportunities rather than favours from the state.

Words such as reservation, minority, majority should be deleted from the Indian Constitution in the context of quotas based on caste or religion. Umpteen reservations including the minorities, SC/ST, Kashmiri migrants and army personnel have already skewed the scales of merit.

The problem with this kind of lop-sided minority character and reservations is that the real beneficiaries may be the economically well-off “backward community” members who generation after generation reap the benefits at the expense of the real needy from the general sections who, actually, are becoming the “minority” as has been seen in the case of the 22.5 percent quotas in the institutions of higher education like the IIMs and IITs etc. The government needs to put a stop to such abuses. So many reserved places lie unfilled and the ineligible poor general category suffers.

The minorities should have an honourable place by having to stop looking at charity in the form of quota and accept the challenge of a competitive life. So far as the Muslim community is concerned, the reservations’ process will be wrought with imperfections as the community is divided into umpteen castes and sub-castes, a system that has percolated in them through their Hindu neighbourhoods.

Instead, financial aid should be granted on the basis of performance. If Muslims compete, participate and become go-getters, India will prosper.

Battered by the populist rhetoric and provocative militancy of its myopic, ill-educated clerics, the nation’s cultured and high potential minority stands at cross roads. Afflicted by utter educational backwardness, administrative apathy and political expediency, the Muslim community in India is caught in the asphyxiating tweezers-grip, owing to their opportunistic leaders, both inside the Parliament and outside, who are crying hoarse and indulging in pernicious vote-bank manipulation and who, finally, leave the poor Muslims to the mercy of God.

These so-called Muslim representatives have outrightly ruined their followers emotionally, economically, socially and educationally. Such leaders are not seriously interested in dealing with the main problems of the community. Muslim leaders and petty politicians are becoming richer day by day, while the people they represent, are going down the poverty line.

It is time that we Indians give up this ghettoized minority-majority mindset. Voices of reason demand that educational standards and qualifications should be uniform, whatever the language, religion or region.

(Firoz Bakht Ahmed, grand nephew of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, is an educator and a social activist. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firozbakhtahmed08@gmail.com)

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