Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine
Jamadiul-Awwal / Jamadiul-Akhir 1423 H
August 2002
Volume 15-08 No:188

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Editorial


A Third Muslim President
Facetious Plea


A Third Muslim President

A third Muslim President is in Rashtrapati Bhavan in Indiaís 55 years of democratic history. His near unanimous election in the backdrop of genocide of Muslims in Gujarat has befuddled Muslim opinion. Notwithstanding President A. P. J. Kalamís career as a defence scientist, his vision of developing India in terms of militarisation, his celibacy, obsession with veena, Bhagvad Gita and vegetarianism, his elevation to the highest post, even though ceremonial in nature, should not deter us from saluting the Indian democracy.

The very fact that a Tamil-speaking Muslim, from the family of humble seafarers and boat-makers hailing from a remote corner of India, could clamber up to the august office in the Rashtrapati Bhavan should indeed evoke rich tributes. There may be reasons for attributing Kalamís election as President of the Republic to electorally expedient politics in which minority appeasement comes as a convenient ploy. But it cannot be denied that Kalam ascended to the top echelons of the Defence Ministry sheer by dint of his talent, single-minded devotion to developing nationís defence capability to the stage of invincibility and hard work. His career as a defence scientist spans over four decades. And that did not come cheap, at least to a person whose ancestry is Muslim despite his personal life betraying several strands of plural characteristics. It surely is a tribute to the true spirit of secularism that informs this countryís polity. This should be enough to debunk those who dismiss Indiaís secularism as purely superficial. India and Indians value talent, innovation, devotion, vision and integrity. Given these qualities, individuals from even the most helpless minorities could rise to the supreme positions. The way up may be arduous, but not beyond grasp.

As for those who question the personal traits of Dr. Kalam ó celibacy, vegetarianism and veena ó there is hardly any scope for public scrutiny of personal idiosyncracies in a pluralist democracy like ours. Islamís emergence in a land inhabited by principally non-vegetarian people should not be taken to mean that it is intolerant of vegetarianism. Celibacy could also be a personal choice for medical reasons, though Islam is a strong advocate of marriage. And playing music has remained a part of culture of several Islamic lands and sufis such as Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi. But interpreting Kalamís persona in such narrow terms would be gross injustice to understanding the larger issue of his emergence as the President of India.

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Facetious Plea

The West Bengal Minorities Commission has made it very facile for its Leftist government to reject the demand for reservation for Muslims in government jobs and educational institutions. In its report for the year 2000-2001, the Commission chairman Justice Khawja Mohammad Yusuf has held that providing reservation to Muslims in the state would be against the law as the Constitution did not provide for reservation on the ground of religion. This plea from the Leftists is rather bizarre, going by the excellent and stainless record of the West Bengal government in maintaining communal harmony in the state.

According to Census figures, Muslims make up nearly 23 per cent of the population in West Bengal. But their representation is just around 2 per cent in government jobs and around the same in higher education. It seems a mere riot-free atmosphere has not helped them in coming up in government jobs, business and industry. The business environment has undergone a vast transformation in the country and big business pre-supposes high level of education and skill development. The state is bereft of even the rudimentary Muslim leadership in education, business, industry, entrepreneurship. Unless a sizeable section of the Muslim society comes up in these fields, the basic nucleus of modern self-help institutions such as banks, schools, colleges, technical institutes, media and cooperatives will not materialise.

It is facetious to say that the Constitution bars reservation for Muslims. Three South India states, viz, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh have provided reservation for Muslims among the backward classes (BC) category. In Kerala, it goes upto 12 per cent, while Karnataka reserves four per cent exclusive Muslim quota under II B category and elsewhere provides for more under II A for certain other Muslim caste groupings. Uttar Pradesh has included several Muslim occupational groups in general OBC category.

If political will could be gathered, West Bengal could follow any of these precedents. Given the communityís unstinted support for the Leftists for 25 years, it should not be difficult for them to concede the demand for at least 10 per cent quota for Muslims in the state jobs in order to undo the sense of alienation.

With quotas being determined on the basis of gender and rural/urban divide, keeping only the religion away from the ambit of the basis for reservation somehow smacks of a deliberate effort to pander to communal lobby. The poverty of Muslims in West Bengal and their marginalisation from the mainstream development is tell-tale and it does not require any commission to probe this. Even a criterion like traditional socio-economic and educational backwardness could make the entire Muslim community eligible for reservation. But finally, it all depends on the Government of West Bengal to drop lame excuses and demonstrate its sincerity in offering to Muslims what has remained long overdue for them.

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