Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Indian Religious Minorities – Puppets in the hands of political parties

This morning, I was amused to see the front page of newspapers with UP Chief Minister Mrs. Mayawati proudly proclaiming to be the savior of minorities. She was flanked by minority community leaders and clergy who seemed equally happy and excited.

Few pages further I saw one full page advertisement by UP government (with tax payers money) detailing what all her government has done for minorities during her 4 tenures as Chief Minister of UP. The advertisement which detailed Crores of rupees spent on Haj, Madarsas, grants for daughter’s marriage and many such schemes which I found were noble but only transactional in nature, designed for short term gratification and favours. Similar advertisements were routinely published before elections by previous SP government headed by Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav in the past years.

There was no mention of any long term and sustainable scheme or project which will result in transformational change. There was no scheme to impart quality education which would result in job opportunities for minority students nor was there any mention of setting-up of any industry in a minority dominated area which will provide them with jobs. Ironically, another news pf the day on the same page is that Mrs Mayawati has withdrawn the land allocated to Rail Coach Factory which could have provided jobs, in a minority dominated area, to settle score with Mrs. Sonia Gandhi.

No wonder, despite all these tall claims and Crores down the drain, minority community in UP is among the poorest in the country. Off late UP has also been designated as the nerve centre of most terror attacks in the country. Militants and anti-social elements prey on illiteracy, poverty and insecurity of minority communities.

I found the photo opportunity perfectly alright from a politicians view point, who has mastered the art of playing with minority sensibilities for electoral gains, but was wondering as to how community leaders and clergy fall for these tricks time and again.

Minorities in post independence India have become an easy target of political parties who manipulate them as puppets for their electoral gains without a scant regard or concern for their well being. It makes me wonder if minority community will ever take note of such political manipulation and get out of the stranglehold of such pseudo secular political parties to devise their own socioeconomic development agenda.

This article tries to analyze this aspect and how it can be achieved -

The minority mind is suffering from triple whammy - anxiety, fear and denial.

Given the spate of terror attacks across the world resulting in a perceived fundamentalist tag, minority community is in the grip of anxiety and fear.
Minority youth is anxious about him being seen with suspicion by his friends and colleagues. On the way back from one of my college campus talks in Bangalore, one MBA student accompanying me hesitatingly asked whether society and industry will judge him on his merits and qualification or he will face the fundamentalist tag and discrimination. This was a rude shock to me. I felt sad for this young boy. I could imagine the state of his mind and anxiety he is living with.
I tried to counsel him by inquiring if he had ever faced any such discrimination at college or during job interviews, to which he said no. But to my surprise he mentioned that this was the prevalent feeling among minority community youth. He also mentioned that this was widely held view, not-refuted by community elders and religious leaders.

Another incident was narrated by a friend where he tried to refute some provocative and unsubstantiated statements by the clergy during a discourse at a place of worship. He was counseled by his colleagues and friends to keep quiet or else he may be harmed. He changed his place of worship after this incident.

This is a worrying situation. Educated youth living in anxiety and fear are an easy target for fundamentalist forces.

Minorities anywhere in the world are concerned about their identity and security and tend to stay together. They feel security in numbers. It is human nature. Hence, it is the responsibility of majority community to take minority community into confidence and give them a sense of security and belonging.

Another worrying fact is a state of suspicion & denial among the minority community.

It might be entirely true that none of the recently arrested youth are terrorists and we must not label them as terrorists till proven guilty.

At the same time when a mother, whose son has not visited the family for six years claims on national television flanked by her lawyer and clergy, that her son can not be a terrorist, it may not be true either. As a mother she genuinely believes in her son’s innocence but what message is being conveyed to the minority community and nation at large by huge presence of clergy who have no knowledge and interest in her son and are not even invited as per the lawyer. What are they trying to prove by their presence?

How about the incident where country’s most respected clergy showed-up to claim the bodies of two slain boys (let’s not call them terrorists till proven guilty) who were killed in an encounter at Jamia Nagar. Usually it is the family members and relatives who claim the bodies. This was followed by the offer of legal help from the university where these boys studied. Indian constitution does provide for legal help to those who can not afford it. What is university trying to prove by this offer of help?

There are conspiracy theories doing rounds already. Given the above, minority community has got the stamp of approval and is compelled to believe that it was a fake encounter with religious undercurrents and they can not get a fair trial.
Now, even the most transparent investigation and subsequent trial, if it results in conviction of these boys, will make the minority community feel that it has been wronged. The result, many more youth will be motivated to join fundamentalist forces. Where will this end?

This is not to say that fake encounters do not happen or police is fair and transparent, but proclaiming judgment by community and clergy even before trial is no solution either.

No solution to a problem can be found till we accept that there is a problem. Community leaders and clergy need to shoulder this responsibility and educate youth.Community leaders need to push political parties for better education and job opportunities for youth rather than electoral goodies of grants and sanctions.
Minorities need to evolve their own socioeconomic development agenda without political parties
No political party in India seems to be genuinely concerned about minority welfare and development. They all pay lip service and are guided by electoral calculations. No political party or leader has formulated a long term transformational agenda for minority development. Sooner minorities realize this, it is better for them.

Recently Congress made a big deal about Sacchar Committee report, but forgot to note that findings of the report are the result of its own policies and prejudices as it has governed the country for most of its post independence years.

As far as specific development policies and measures targeted towards minorities, no populist measures or appeasement policies from political parties will help as they will be scrapped or changed by the next government.

In an era of coalition politics where political parties make tall promises just to come to power, minorities themselves need to evolve their socio-economic development agenda which must be arrived after national debate and consensus. This should be a development agenda and not a religious agenda, which should be presented to all political parties and implemented in a bi-partisan fashion for its sustainability and effectiveness.

Another important aspect which minorities need to focus on is leadership.
As long as minorities continue to vote based on political rhetoric and pseudo-secular promises, their lot will not improve, as has been proven in the past 60 years. Like everyone else, they should vote on the development agenda of the political parties as over all development is going to benefit all. All political parties are opportunists and care only for votes. It’s the case across the world.
Minorities need to develop their own leadership. It should be popular leadership not religious or political leadership. It should be developmental leadership not divisive leadership. No political party in India has minority leadership of national stature and significance. Some are mere show-pieces and some are political opportunists.

A popular minority leadership focused on development is the best guarantee for minority welfare and development.

A confident majority is the best custodian of minorities’ interests
Minorities can not feel secure in a nation where majority feels deprived and is unsure of continuity of its majority status. History has taught us this lesson in pre-war Germany. A confident majority is the best custodian of minority interests.

Majority too needs to introspect.

India has a long history of peaceful coexistence of majority and minority communities. We have history of benevolent Mogul Emperors, not only preserved but also promoted religion and rituals of majority community. Any form of exclusive ideologies and religious supremacy leads to chaos and disaster in society.
We are a big and diverse nation, with a large poor and hungry population, which deserves a dignified quality of life. At the same time we are surging ahead with high economic growth to claim our rightful place on the high table in the community of nations.

We all need to work towards this national goal rather than burning places of worship, inducing religious conversions and planting bombs to kill innocent citizens in the name of religion. No religion can pardon such atrocities and those who indulge in such acts do not understand the religion.