Saturday, March 17, 2007

Beneficial development of the Muslim community in India

Yet again the Congress party tries it out - why does it consider that the Muslim community will fall under its spell and vote en masse for them in the UP elections?

In a conference attended by Muslims, the Congress party made the same promises that it has been making for some time now: it will give Muslims reservations in jobs, will implement the Sachar committee report, and overall will work towards the upliftment of the Muslim community.

If the Congress was actually serious about bringing the community up economically, it would leave aside these gimmicks and try and take some serious measures. The Government knows that religion based discrimination is never going to pass court approval, and now that the cover of the 9th schedule has also been thrown away by the Supreme Court, there is no way that the Congress can pass a law without it getting challenged in court.

In addition, trying to split the OBC and Scheduled Castes reservation quota will be opposed by those who are currently gaining from these quotas (whether these quotas actually benefit is another question altogether).

What should the Congress be doing ? I should re-phrase this question - what should all concerned people be doing about trying to bring a community (that is a significant minority in the country and equal citizens) to be able to share in the economic growth and prosperity in the country?

What ails the community? In not too many words, the number one problem is education. Make sure that the Muslim community (actually all citizens) have access to good quality education for their children. However this entails making sure that there is a thrust on providing facilities for all, as well as making sure that education standards are followed, teachers are made accountable, etc. As this starts to happen, there will be an appreciable increase in the economic prosperity of the Muslim community as they will start to get a more proportionate share of the job market.

The next major issue that needs to be improved in overall improvement in the quality of the areas that they live in. Like all other depressed communities, a significant section of Muslims live in areas that do not have clean sanitation and healthy living standards. Now, this is primarily a matter of leakage of funds. Municipal authorities have enough funds to make a major improvement in living standards (as the example of Surat after the plague scare shows). It is more a matter of making sure that these funds are properly deployed and there is a good auditing (with citizen communities if necessary) to make sure that these funds are properly utilized.

Another major problem has been that a lot of Muslims have been self-employed in the past (artisans, small scale industries, etc), but with greater consolidation and industrialization, a lot of these sections have been badly hit. The Governments (central and state) need to take up the matter of making sure that there are alternative methods of employment available (easier loans, more training programs, etc).

Finally, as part of a policy framework, the Government has to inculcate a no-tolerance zone towards any kind of discrimination against Muslims. This includes acting against the kind of economic boycotts that have been seen in Gujarat against Muslims, making sure that clashes and riots are rigidly prevented and trouble-makers, no matter what the religion, are acted against.

What the Congress instead is doing is trying to take public, short term measures for political gain. It will not reap any benefits. Instead, if they keep on taking measures that start offending the majority community, they will be massive losers in the political space. After all, we do need to realize that this slow pace of economic growth of the Muslim community has mostly happened during Congress rule.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 3:42 AM