Muslims didn’t get a fair share in the development and political representation in the decision-making process: former Vice President Hamid Ansari
New Delhi: Former vice president Mohammad Hamid Ansari decried that Muslims didn’t get a fair share in the fruits of development and political representation in decision-making bodies, as promised to them in the Constituent Assembly seventy-five years ago. He also expressed deep concern over the growing majoritarian tendencies and atmosphere of animosity toward minority communities.
He was speaking at an event held at the India International Centre to mark Radiance magazine’s 60th anniversary on October 22.
In his keynote address on “Media and Minorities”, former vice president and diplomat Ansari recalled the Constituent Assembly debates on the question of minorities to highlight the deplorable conditions of the largest minority group. He said a subcommittee on minorities was set up in 1946. It decided against separate communal reservations in its final report, stating that the minority issue was no longer relevant.
“In its final report in 1949, it voted against separate communal reservations. This, said Congress leader Ajit Prasad Jain on November 22,’smoothened’ our work of constitution-making, in particular the question of minorities, which has been our headache and which thwarted all our efforts for the solution of national problems, has ceased to be a live issue,” Ansari quoted in his address.
He pointed out that Sardar Patel had voiced the fervent hope that eventually “it would be in the interest of all to forget that there is anything like a majority or minority in this country and that there is only one community in India.”
“Three days later, on November 25, Sardar Patel said that in the interest of laying down’real and genuine foundations of a secular state in the country’, nothing was better for the minorities than to trust the good sense and sense of fairness of the majority and to place confidence in them. Likely, the majority must think of what minorities felt. He expressed the fervent hope that in the long run, ‘it would be in the interest of all to forget that there is anything like a majority or minority in this country and that in India there is only one community.”
The former vice president explained that while it was theoretically feasible, it was less so in practice, citing a friend’s advice to seek “to abolish the distinction between majority and minority.”
While referring to the Sachar Committee (2006) and the Kundu Committee (2014) reports on the condition of the Muslim minority, Ansari said what has happened to these promises everybody knows and underlined that the Muslim community’s problems remain unsolved despite these efforts.
“Three-quarters of a century later, history makes its own judgment on intentions and reality,” he added.
The former vice president asserted that minorities need “identity and security, education and empowerment, an equitable share in the largesse of the state, and a fair share in decision-making,” which explains the psychological insecurity that emerged among Muslims in the wake of the events of 1947.
He remarked, “This is true in a good measure for the Muslims, who constitute 14.2 percent of the population and now number over 200 million,” adding that “each of these is a right and has to be dispensed without discrimination.”
Touching upon the backsliding of the Indian democracy and growing majoritarian tendencies, he said, “Democracy admittedly is ruled by majority, but its essential prerequisite is Rule of Law, defined by Dicey as (a) absolute supremacy of regular law, (b) equality before the law, and (c) access to justice and the development of law by the judges on a case-by-case basis.”
He added that “studies have shown that democracies have been at times threatened by elected leaders who subvert the very process that brought them to power. ‘The electoral road to breakdown is dangerously deceptive,’ wrote Levitsky and Ziblatt in their 2018 book How Democracies Die. It opens the door to would-be authorities. They categorize key indicators of authoritarian behavior as (i) weak commitment to democratic rules of the game, (ii) denial of the legitimacy of political opponents, (iii) toleration or encouragement of violence, and (iv) readiness to curtail the civics of opponents, including the media.”
To underline this point, the former VP quoted former Vice Chancellor of the University of Delhi, Prof. Upendra Baxi, who has argued that “democracy goes beyond a mere division of functions in modes of governance and incorporates four core notions of rights, development, governance, and justice. This approach has been upheld in judicial pronouncements.”
Without taking the name of the ruling BJP and its parent body, the former VP remarked on the current polity that India was facing a majoritarian nationalism.
“This situation is aggravated manifold when majoritarianism is accompanied by an ideological superstructure designated as Hindutva or Hindu nationalism. It is described as an ideology advocating a movement seeking to establish the hegemony of Hindus and Hinduism within India. It is promoted through a sense of vulnerability in the public, facilitated by ‘tentacular organizations’ having strong affinities with the caste system”, he remarked. He said social historian Badri Narayan has described this as the “Republic of Hindutva,” as he underlined in his speech.
Concerned with increasing hatred and dehumanization of the Muslim community,Ansari quoted from a recent editorial comment that “India is witnessing the progressive normalization of minority baiting.” He underlined that hate is a toxic tonic. “It is, regrettably, becoming part of normal discourse and is not being discouraged. Hate crimes convey a message to targeted communities that they are unwelcome and unsafe, impacting the collective sense of security and well-being. It has been suggested that it necessitates a collective effort involving legislative reforms, sensitization campaigns, community policing, and youth engagement.”
He lamented that anti-Muslim sentiments were being intentionally encouraged by a group to get a political advantage. And this is happening with regard to Muslim minorities, despite the official claim that “we are a democratic polity with a strong commitment to the law.”
He also pointed out that the rule of law is under threat. “In a paper published in 2005, the late Goolam Vahanvati observed that ‘the Rule of Law in this country is under serious threat’ adding that ‘it would not be an overstatement if one concludes that each institution is destroying itself from within’ and that ‘there are cancerous developments eating into the fabric of each institution. If these trends are not arrested, they are bound to be destructive to the Indian state in the long run.”
Therefore, the challenge before us today is to develop strategies and methodologies to address them. Instances of breaches of security at the individual or group level continue to occur with disturbing frequency. Most reveal a failure of the state apparatus to respond in a timely manner, compounded by the failure of media houses that often ‘dictate a majoritarian mindset’.
A good instance of it is the report entitled Delhi’s Agony on the communal violence in Delhi in February 2020 and its section subtitled The Aftermath. Civil society reports on violence elsewhere, and court observations relating to them, like the Punjab and Haryana High Court ruling recently in August, suggest a disturbing pattern of neglect by local or state administrations.”
Continuing his address,the former V.P. also slammed the media, saying a major section of it has become subservient to the establishment. “The rationale for journalism in a democracy is to inform, educate, guide, and entertain. Each of these is a desired function, more so in modern societies whose size and numbers require means of communication other than direct face-to-face ones. This is sustained by law. Open criticism of government policies and operations is not a ground for restricting expression. We must practice tolerance for the views of others. Intolerance is as dangerous to democracy as to the person himself,” Ansaristated who was also a former chairman of National Commission for Minorities and a former VC of Aligarh Muslim University.
Former renowned BBC journalist Satish Jacob claimed in his address on “Media and Indian Muslims” that not just Muslims but also the media are under attack. He spoke extensively about the function of the media and concluded by saying, “As a member of the media, I have no qualms about stating that the media has let us down.” He sincerely expressed regret for the media’s involvement and the atmosphere it seeks to foster. Additionally, he made note of how Urdu became a victim of the partition.
The event was organized to commemorate the weekly’s 60th anniversary of its founding. When the national emergency was imposed in 1975, Radiance was outlawed, and its assistant editor, Ausaf Saied Vasfi, and chief editor, Yusuf Siddiqui, were imprisoned.
In his presidential address, Professor Salim Engineer, Chairman of the Board of Islamic Publications (which publishes Radiance), said, “In the last 60 years, Radiance has tried to become the voice of the voiceless, downtrodden, deprived, and oppressed people, serving Indian society. Radiance has been raising voices for justice, truth, and Muslims and other minorities, but also tribals and other weaker sections.”
In his inaugural presentation, Editor-in-Chief Ejaz Ahmed Aslam outlined Radiance’s journey over the past 60 years. He emphasized Radiance’s journalistic achievements for the country and society over the past 60 years.
On this occasion, a 10-minute short video that highlighted significant moments in Radiance’s journey spanning more than six decades was also screened.
Syed Khalique Ahmed, a former journalist for Indian Express; Syed Nooruzzaman, a former deputy editor of The Tribune; former Radiance director Intizar Naeem; and former ETV journalist Abdul Bari Masoud were all honored for their various contributions to Radiance during the event. The BIP secretary, Syed Tanveer Ahmed, conducted the program, while Radiance Views weekly editor Sikandar Azam gave the vote of thanks.