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Mainstream, VOL LX No 23, New Delhi, May 28, 2022

Review: Rani and Raza on Heewon Kim’s The Struggle for Equality

Friday 27 May 2022


Reviewed by: Chanda Rani and Aamir Raza

The Struggle for Equality: India’s Muslims and Rethinking the UPA Experience
by Heewon Kim

Cambridge University Press
Pages‘s: 247
Online ISBN: 9781108235839

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government (2004-14) led by the congress came to power with strong policy initiative for the religious minorities of India more specifically aiming at Muslims. A series of measure were identified for the implementation to create a new overarching framework of equality of opportunity for Muslims. But under its ten-year rule most of the policy initiatives were put on the back burner. The UPA government which was committed to deliver substantive equality for religious minorities fails to deliver its promise.

The book under review, The Struggle for Equality: India’s Muslims and Rethinking the UPA Experience is authored by Heewon Kim, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of religion and Philosophies, SOAS, University of London. The book covers the vast range of policy initiative for minorities by the UPA government from 2004to 2014. It critically explores the causes and factor which led to the failure of UPA government in providing the substantive equality of opportunity to religious minorities. This book examines the detailed case studies of effort to improve to improve Muslim employment in the public sector and in the enactment of anti-communal violence bill. At the same time, it also reflects on the role of history and institutions in shaping the policies for religious minorities.

Many remarkable and scholarly books have been written which explores the question of religious minorities in India and their marginality. But ‘The Struggle for Equality’ by Heewon kim is unique in a sense that it tries to moves beyond the traditional understanding of minorities in India. Unlike previous scholarship it does not explore the question of Muslims through the prism of electoral incentive and Hindu-Muslim binary. Rather than following the conventional path Kim rivetingly engages and deliberates on institutional policy analysis. She brings fresh perspective into the shortcomings of the policy process and confirmatory evidence of the broader pattern of institutional path dependence which is totally a new approach to the study of religious minorities in India. Path Dependence approach explains institutional variation across time and space, emphasizing the role played by initial conditions, critical junctures, timing, and sequence in structuring institutional development( p- 32).

Based on the Institutional policy analysis the author uses the combination of neo-institutionalism and historical institutionalism to situate the comparative experience of minorities especially the Muslims. Within historical institutionalism Kim relies on the concept of Path dependence to understand the nature of the Indian state’s policies on religious minorities since independence. It has also shaped and outlined the parameters of the UPA’s policy process.

Heewon Kim in this book interrogates some hard- hitting questions like how the Policymakers interpreted religious minority rights and rejected the political claims of religious minorities. She focuses on the formation of group rights in constitution making process and puts reflection on how in contrast to the protective provisions for SCs, STs and OBCs the social exclusion of religious minorities was relegated to back seat and aimed to restricted their claims to the culture sphere only. She traces this to the time when the idea of Indian nation state was germinating. Looking closely at the constituent assembly debates and the speeches of the political leaders, kim find that Minority rights which had assumed political dimensions during colonial rule were severely curtailed while group rights were largely confined to socio-economically disadvantaged Hindu-caste. While elaborating this further she argues that this distinction institutionalized different form of path dependence for socio-economically disadvantage groups among religious minorities and the majority and give rise to rival structures and institution of regimes of ‘competing equalities’.

The book has focused on the detailed case study of Muslims employment and service delivery during the UPA administration which clearly shows how the promise of increasing Muslim representation in national public sector employment remained largely unrealized and the share of minorities in government employment remains low- less than half of the share of their total population in the country. It also explores the key decision made by the policy actors, the debates in both houses of the parliament as well as the executive level and the public controversy around reservation for minorities, particularly disadvantaged Christian and Muslims. The issue of Reservation and service delivery clearly illustrate how policy path dependence and institutional opposition has contributed to undermining the UPA government objective.

Kim in this work has also undertaken the detailed case study of the UPA’s effort to legislate the anti-communal violence bill by focusing on legislative process throughout UPA1 and UPA2 and the policy actors around the bill. The bill sought to create a new framework for tackling communal violence. It redefined ’communal violence’ as ’ any act of omission or commission which constitutes a scheduled offence’ and the target groups was to include not only religious minorities but any group, caste or community’(p-174). The bill went through a number of reincarnation from 2005 to 2013 which clearly shows that UPA’s commitment to the legislation was limited and half-hearted. It clearly indicates the UPA’s inability to steer the passage of these bills through parliament, situating this outcome within the broader context of the traditional post-conflict management practices of the Indian state. The UPA era ended with ‘competing equalities’ for SC’s and ST’s, on the one hand, and religious minorities, on the other, largely in place. largely in place. Today in the scenario of violence and any form of discrimination SC’s and ST’s have special legal protection but religious minorities do not have such protection.

This book unlike traditional academic on Muslims and UPA heavily dwell in terms of policy process, that is the stage of policy evolution from inception to execution. All in all, the book main attempt is to better understand the institutional resistance to the UPA’s policies that rendered them ineffective or non-implementable, especially against policies targeted at disadvantaged Muslims. This resistance is explored both with reference to the nature of the policy process during the UPA government and the enduring influences of historical institutionalism that ultimately defined the possibilities of change. Based on the empirical sources the book presents a rich and comprehensive account of public policy in India and this book is definitely worth a read for anyone interested in Indian Muslims and understanding the current political imbroglio.

(Reviewers: Chanda Rani is a Researcher at CSDS and a Former postgraduate student at Jamia Millia Islamia and Aamir Raza is a Researcher at CSDS)

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