Divide and misrule

Welcome to the centenary celebrations of State-sponsored communal politics. It was in 1906 that the Morely-Minto Reforms injected into the Indian polity the poison of separate electorates and reservation of seats for Muslims, which eventually led to the partition of the country in 1947. Cut to 2007, and we have Karunanidhi announcing in the Assembly with all rational zeal and pseudo-secular gusto, reservations for minorities in education and government jobs. The intervening 100 years of rampant communal politics played out by the secular likes of Arjun Singhs, Karunanidhis, ‘Weepy’ Singhs, sundry Leftists et al have even beaten the British hollow in dividing India. These social engineers have successfully cut up the country into several nations; the partition pales, having yielded only two.

Lord Minto said this to Muslims: ‘…the Mohammedan community may rest assured that their political rights will be safeguarded’. The chilling consensus amidst all our present political parties in not just assuring but ensuring that the minorities get more than their due is a mighty improvement over Minto. Minority rights are guaranteed as a protection. Those rights should not be allowed to turn predatory. But as with the British, in independent India too, that’s what has been happening. The quota motto: rob Peter, pay Paul, let Paul prosper even as Peter turns pauper. That’s social justice, unplugged, short and snappy. No wonder the non-minorities are jittery. The recent verdict of the Allahabad HC (since stayed) that Muslims in UP can no longer be deemed a minority owing to their current’ numbers and strength’ only justifies those fears.

The law on minorities is a maze. While there are linguistic and religious minorities, it is only the latter that are talked about much. There is no constitutional clarity on who constitutues a religious minority, but it could be inferred from various legislative and legal precedents that those following the three Mid-Eastern faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam plus the Parsis are minorities. Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists are deemed as part of Hindus, often referred to as Indian religions in surveys and censuses. Though there is no numerical yardstick it stands to logic that minorities cannot go above 50%. However, the universal thumbrule is that to qualify for minority status, a group should be less than 10%. The current UP HC judgement has sought to deny minority status to Muslims on the count that they now constitute over 18%.

The Indian concept of minority itself is ridiculous. World over, only migrants and their progeny are declared as minorities. Only in India do we see the native sons of the soil passing off as minorities. Most minorities here are converts from Hinduism to Islam or Christianity, in this or earlier generations. But their conversion cannot negate the common culture, heritage, ethnicity and even ancestry in some cases, that they share with those who have remained in the Hindu fold. It is possible for a person to turn into a Muslim or Christian, but one cannot ‘become a minotiry’ simply by changing his religion because his origin cannot be altered now or ever. Yet, that is the perversion that prevails. So you can be part of the majority today, and morph into a minority tomorrow. And worse, the secular State will reward you with special privileges and economic gain for switching faiths!

If the idea of minority in India is ludicrous, the term majority is a mirage. Hinduism is a conglomerate of several sub-sects and castes. Though there is a broad cultural and scriptural homogenity among all of them, there are also enough social, economic, lingustic and geographic conflicts within. In reality, every group in it is a minority vis-a-vis the others. To make it seem like a monstrous majority ganging to gobble up the minorities is a media myth and a political ploy to keep the latter in perennial fear and reap block votes. Actually, it should be the other way round. Islam and Christianity being global religions, the adherents of those faiths here, in a way belong to a larger community with trans-national, not necessarily anti-national, pulls. The law not only quotes numbers but also talks of ‘strength’ to qualify as a minority. That way Muslims and Christians do have a larger ‘strength’ at their disposal. It is no secret that religious conversions is a huge enterprise in India backed by endless foreign funds, and Hindus are the target. Also, even a pebble landing on a mosque rooftop would raise the hackles of the entire Islamic world. An anti-conversion law in a State of India would elicit protest from none less than the Pope himself, though the impropriety of his meddling in our affairs would pass muster under religious freedom. To this day, Indian Bishops take orders from the Vatican, even as several wholly Christian countries have broken ranks with it. Minorities? Indeed!

Let’s touch base with TN. The CM’s announcement of quotas for minorities is in keeping with national political trends and the DMK’s poll manifesto and so there is no surprise over that. But one is keen to know the modus operandi. Will this late, but latest quota be apart from the 69% and if so will it pass the legal litmus test? After all quotas are not supposed to cross 50%. Again, if the minority quota is to be within the 69%, then will that not encroach and eat into the pie of the BCs, OBCs etc who now have the full quota cake? Can social justice take that knock? And since some Muslim and Christian groups currently get quotas under the BC-OBC banner, despite those religions claiming to be egalitarian and casteless, will the new quota include or exclude them? And what of the creamy layers amidst the minorities? Now, are we getting a bit too rational for even rationalists?

It is common knowledge that the SC has stayed a similar quote proposal of the AP Congress government. Now, the UP court verdict has followed. The 69% is already in the courts. Also, judges these days ask for demographic data to back Governments’ claims. Even the Sachar figures are under dispute now, with another arm of the government itself contradicting them. K too has relied only on a Sachar-like study and recommendation by a retired Justice. This ex-Judge could not have, obviously, given any other recommendation since K was committed, in tune with his burning itch for social justice ignited by his forbears in the Justice party. Now will the Judiciary respect such sentiments and urges or accept such data designed to enable a decision already taken? Well, the rational K knows all that and still has gone ahead with flying the quota kite!

So what’s next? What else, but another Bandh soon, given the legal trends on the issue of quotas. Readers can take this as advance notice as they were taken by surprise last time around.

e-mail the writer at [email protected]

Jawahar T R