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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 11

A Positive Move

Editorial

Saturday 1 March 2008, by SC

This week has witnessed several noteworthy developments on the domestic front. Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, presenting his fifth and the UPA Government’s last full Budget, took some concrete steps towards helping the aam aadmi so that, to use his words, the latter too becomes a “part of the growth story†in the country—the farmers and salaried classes have been sought to be given assistance in terms of a Rs 60,000-crore waiver of loans for small and marginal farmers while the income tax threshold has been raised for the salaried classes; at the same time the job guarantee scheme is being extended to all districts, there are major hikes in outlays on education, health and the social sector. In sum, what he has done is aimed at cheering up the poor and the marginalised without changing the basic thrust of the current economic strategy.

Of course, there are several queries about the Budget and those have been left largely unanswered.

Three days before the Union Budget was unveiled in Parliament, Railway Minister Laloo Prasad lived up to his reputation of playing to the gallery by announcing substantive cuts in passenger fares without hiking freight rates (which have in fact been marginally lowered) in his Railway Budget for 2008-09. This he could do, as in previous years, as he presides over a cash-surplus organisation thanks to the low per unit cost. Laloo has also laid focus on public-private partnership on a significant scale. But most striking was his announcement that licensed porters would be absorbed by the Railways to fill up vacancies among gangmen or other Group D posts alongside promoting gangmen to man level crossings that are at the moment unmanned; this announcement understandably elated the porters in several railway stations as it is expected to benefit an estimated 37,000 of them. The political impact of this decision could indeed be far-reaching.

However, here too there are several questions, which warrant replies, and some of the Opposition leaders as well as those of the supporting parties have raised them sharply.

In the midst of these events, shaped largely due to the inevitable logic of the approaching elections, has come the most promising message from the Islamic seminary of Darul Uloom; at a conference at its headquarters in Saharanpur (UP), attended by 4000 delegates from the madrasas and representatives of other schools, senior dons of the reputed Deoband seminary unequivocally set their face against terror by labelling both violence and terrorism as “anti-Islam and anti-national†. The declaration of the conference is shorn of any ambiguity—it maintains that “Islam sternly condemns all kinds of oppression, violence and terrorism†while making it abundantly clear that, according to the tenets of the religion, “mischief, rioting and murder are among the severest sins and crimes†. The declaration appeals to the Muslims to “fully understand the alarming situation…and feel the pulse of the present so that they might not be employed as tools of anti-Islamic and anti-national forces†.

The Deoband scholars’ categoric assertion against terrorist acts by terming them as anti-Islamic is of exceptional value. This positive move on the part of the Deoband clerics merits wholehearted support of all secular democrats who, however, still feel that weakening the stranglehold of fundamentalist intolerance over all religions has become imperative in the present setting.

February 29 S.C.

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