A Welcome Agenda
It is gratifying to note that a poll agenda for the 2014 has been put forth by a conclave of Muslim representatives who gathered in New Delhi last month on the invitation of the Zakat Foundation of India. Notwithstanding all its shortcomings, the maiden exercise on behalf of the community is welcome as no one had attempted it before. That it has been couched in strictly matter of fact language and an idiom sans emotionalism, is another hallmark of the charter of demands. The drafting body deserves kudos for even pinpointing the specific recommendation from various official documents and the action and nature of action required from the varied executive and legislative bodies. It is good that controversial issues were largely kept away, lest the merchants of partisan politics could gather any grist to their mill in the run up to the elections in April 2104.
Never before a similar exercise had been attempted. The conclave has rightly put the demand for trial of those accused of terrorism by fast track court within a definite timeframe, as it is has emerged as the greatest worry for Muslim youth. The umpteen acquittals of the arrested youth have highlighted in ample measures that ‘State terrorism’ directed against the innocent youth has in fact replaced the sense of insecurity felt from the chauvinist and fascist forces. The process of harassment by official agencies has gone on for nearly a decade and has been the major reason for Muslim alienation from the national life and development. Seen as a tool of humiliating an entire community, there cannot be any compromise on demanding action on this account in unison. It is also in the fitness of things that the State machinery that perpetrates the ghastly brutalities against innocent is made liable to financially compensate for the years in incarceration and for causing the social hurt to families of people as innocent as Ishrat Jahan, Sadiq Jamal, Peer Mohiuddin and Sohrabuddin.
The document has very rightly highlighted that the conditionality of religion for reservation under “Scheduled Caste” owes itself to a Presidential Order rather than the Constitution of India. It debunks the entire theory of caste being integral to religion and creates the scope for the term being extended to Muslims as well as Christians. Curiously, the demand for reservation from the two communities was traditionally countered with reference to caste being alien to Islam and Christianity, a backhanded compliment to the two faiths. The refrain to Constitutional amendment for inclusion of the two communities in reservation category also loses its rationale.
It is rather very courageous to ask for repeat of delimitation exercise—it was held only prior to 2009 elections and is mandated to be held once in 25 years—in order to de-reserve the SC and ST constituencies across the country. Muslims so far had mainly shunned the subject, lest the communal forces use the opportunity to create a Muslim vs. Dalit axis for confrontation. It is fair to demand a reexamination of the sociological composition of all reserved constituencies in order that only where such communities are in decisive numbers be reserved for their election and Muslims are not deprived of using their numbers for fairer representation. Even the Justice M. N. Venkatachaliah Commission for redrafting the Constitution had recommended in 2003 that areas of Minority preponderance should be brought together to enable them to have their representatives in legislatures in proportion to their population. It is useful to be reminded that the Venkatachaliah Commission was appointed by former President Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee.
The demands pertaining to the Waqf too are in line with the perception that waqfs have been thoroughly mismanaged and Waqf Boards come handy for State governments to appoint (or get elected) the apparatchiks of party in power. However, it will be difficult to support the conclave’s demand to establish equivalence between madrassa and university degrees. It is an established fact that the hundreds of madrassas running across the country are producing misfits for the current age and are totally bereft of any value other than training people in leading rituals. Similarly, the interest-free financing in the banking sector is a nebulous concept not worth following at the current stage. One should not be misled by the self-created bravura on this account. A deeper examination would reveal that no Islamic country has delinked banking with interest and the ones that claim to be so in the West, are mere facades for inviting deposits from the oil-rich Arabs. Saudi Arabia does not allow Faisal Islamic Bank to operate from its soil.
It will be worthwhile for the community to present the charter to each and every political party and seek its endorsement prior to designing its electoral response.