Ministry for minorities: Tokenism yet again?
The appointment of a minister for minority affairs has been a huge let down.
During the election campaign, Modi had stated that he would be the prime minister of all 1.25 billion Indians. So demoralized has the Muslim been in recent years that a simple promise of equal rights was music to his ears.
What the Congress has done to him in six decades of independence is clear in the Sachar Committee Report of 2006. In it he saw his decomposing visage. So deep was the rot, that anything the Congress did to keep the pretense, was no more than a highly advertised relief camp for administering palliatives - a Ministry for Minority Affairs here, a Minority Commission there and, if elections are nigh, call in the town criers to read out a hundred point programme for Muslims. And, yes, as a final act of electoral craft, call in the Imam of the grand apparel, always ready with his skates on.
Having been seduced early by Jawaharlal Nehru who wore the Shervani with a rose in the button hole, spoke Urdu, visited Maulana Azad once a week and befriended left leaning Arab leaders the Muslim felt he was being led by one of his very own. Mahatma Gandhi secured the Muslim's right flank: he supported Maulana Mohammad Ali's call to save the "Khalifa" in Turkey.
And what were the gifts handed to the Muslims? The leadership banned Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses", reversed the Supreme Court judgement on Shah Bano, delayed upgradation of relations with Israel citing Muslim anxieties. In every instance, what profit for the Muslim? These steps, instead, further alienated him from the mainstream consensus.
As part of this variety of tokenism, came the Ministry for Minority Affairs, the Minority commission, and sundry steps which issued from the party's transparently insincere commitment to secularism.
There were considerable expectations of the Congress. The cumulative effect of disappointments resulted in an irretrievable Muslim exodus from the party from 1989 to 2014.
The outcome of the 2014 elections has left him in a state of psychological bipolarity. He is actually quite indifferent to the demolition of the Congress. Across the board he has the same lament. The Congress used him as a vote bank. But a satisfaction at Congress collapse has been balanced by the colossal scale of Modi's ascendance.
In an outstanding film, "Queen", the protagonist is shocked to her foundations by an unexpected turn of events. She resists the temptation to turn back. Instead she bravely proceeds on the path she would have traversed if the traumatic incident had not taken place. It becomes a wholesome journey of discovery.
The Indian Muslim was rapidly preparing himself for the New Deal of equal rights. Hence, acute disappointment at the unimaginative Congress style tokenism of a Ministry for Minority Affairs.
Such a ministry creates an impression of special facilities for minorities without delivering anything of consequence. Let me introduce you to a handful of annoying tokenisms.
Visit the Indira Gandhi International Airport and watch the Haj Terminal. It creates an impression of privilege, one which irritates non Muslims, without being of substantial use to Indian Muslims. Haj takes place once a year. Does a terminal round the year make any sense?
Likewise, what possible sense is there for the Ministry of External Affairs to keep one Ambassadorship reserved for Muslims? It is an unwritten rule that the Ambassador to Saudi Arabia must be a Muslim.
Is there a particular advantage in posting a Muslim ambassador to Riyadh? Ambassadors in Washington, Moscow, Beijing and hundreds of other countries are unlikely to be all Muslims.
The argument that Muslim pilgrims travelling to Mecca and Medina need consular help is only partly valid. For this purpose, the Consul General at Jeddah would suffice. Jeddah is not far from the two holy cities. But must a full fledged ambassadorial post in Riyadh be out of bounds for non Muslims?
The convention of posting only Muslims to Saudi Arabia is flawed on the secular principle, ofcourse, but also for practical reasons.
In a pool of 800 IFS officers, barely one percent are Muslims. A result of the special dispensation is that Muslim officers end up with a series of Saudi postings. When MEA official spokesman Syed Akbaruddin was offered the Riyadh ambassadorship, he excused himself. He had already done two extended postings in Saudi Arabia. This turned out to be a boon for Ambassador Hamid Ali Rao who was to have retired. He has been given a year's extension.
(02.06.2014 - A senior commentator on political and diplomatic affairs, Saeed Naqvi can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed are personal.)
(Posted on 02-06-2014)