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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 34 New Delhi August 11, 2018

Post-Sachar Discourse: Search for an Inclusive Idea of India

Sunday 12 August 2018

by Badre Alam Khan and Mohammad Shahid Alam

Recently under the banner of the Institute of Objective Studies (IOS), a report has been released on ”Vision 2025, Socio-Economic Inequalities: Why does India’s Economic Growth need an Inclusive Agenda?’’ on July 6, 2018. A keynote was delivered by an eminent scholar, Amitabh Kundu, who is currently the Chairman of the Post-Sachar Evaluation Committee, 2014, and a former Professor of the JNU at the Jamia Millia Islamia, in the presence of eminent personalities like former Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi, Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Contemporary Studies Director Vijay Mahajan and other dignitaries. This programme was also attended by Abusaleh Shariff (who was directly associated with the SCR and Kundu Committee Report), and Jamia’s teachers, research scholars, and general audience. While introducing the theme of the report, Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam, the IOS Chairman, made important observations like ‘a major difference between the Vision 2025 document and others is that the earlier reports were the work of governments [SCR], while the present one is from an NGO (IOS) affiliated to the United Nations’.

Discussions around Vision 2025

Let us come to important points of the Vision document 2025, as mentioned in the introductory note brought out by the IOS, which essentially focuses on the need for building a secular and inclusive society as enshrined in our secular Constitution and on lines of the SCR (2006). In this respect, editors like Amir Abdullah and Abdul Azim Akhtar have done a wonderful scholarly exercise by putting together 17 papers in the proper perspective and brought out their ideas on Indian Muslims and the varied issues and problems they confront in everyday life. While identifying the important areas of intervention by the state as well as civil society groups, the introductory small booklet points out‘The report focuses on educational, economic and political upliftment as well as the issues of security for the Indian Muslims. It focuses on the five critical areas of Health, Education, Political Representation, Employment and Security.’ (Amir Ullah Khan and Abdul Azim Akhtar, Editors, An Introductory Copy “Vision 2025, Socio-Economic Inequalities: why India’s Economic Growth needs an Inclusive Agenda” IOS, New Delhi, 2018, p. 2)

Broadly speaking, the themes which have been covered under the report are Muslim political representation, violence against Indian Muslims, security and equity issues, anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat (2002). Moreover, some papers have also discussed topics like Hindutva and Indian Muslims, Muslim women and issues of development, reform of Muslim personal laws and role of police during communal riots, stereotypical images of Muslims in popular media and finally caste among the Indian Muslims etc. In the light of previous (SCR) and current reports, the editors have given some worthwhile recommendations. In this respect, the introductory copy points out that more and more educational institutions like the AMU should be established. The dropout rate among the boys and girls should be checked, more schools and colleges should be opened by the government, particularly in the Muslim concen-trated areas. And the Muslim community should be encouraged to assimilate quality education etc.

Moreover, the report also points out that Muslims should be motivated to join the government services, mainly in the field of education and police forces. Secondly, Hajj and Waqf Board officials should be made accountable for their activities. And these institutions should not be headed by political appointees. ‘Pakistan’ should not be used to stigmatise the Muslims of India as is usually done by the communal forces, and the concept of Islamic banking should be introduced, the report adds. In short, on the basis of the above-mentioned points as outlined in the Vision 2025, one could argue that current reports like the earlier SCR (2006), Rangnath Mishra Report (2007) and Kundu report (2014) have envisaged an inclusive idea of India. To elucidate these points further, the booklet rightly states:

 “We envision India in 2025, where all Muslims are assured of, and have access to, equitable and inclusive growth through public and private service delivery and are able to pursue their aspirations with optimal health, education, wellbeing and quality of life. This vision will be realised by empowering all Muslims and minorities and their institutions, through building leadership, capacity, accountability and diverse partnership etc.”

Having spelt out Vision 2025, now let us first discuss how the community responded to the SCR recommendations. It is to be noted that within the community opinions are somehow divided along the caste and gender lines. A Muslim feminist scholar, Farah Naqvi, has raised the point that the SCR has not said anything concrete about Muslim women’s problems. Besides, she said that it was surprising to note that not even a single woman member has been included in the SCR. (Read her public talk at the Jamia Collective, on May 10, 2018.) In addition to that, Pasmanda leaders like Ali Anwar initially had shown their disagreement with the terms and conditions of the report and some of its recommendations as well. Pasmanda leaders argued that if caste as a category had been taken seriously by the SCR, the outcome would have been quite different.

We are willing to highlight the discourse around the SCR, current Vision 2025 (which is based on the broad theoretical perspective mentioned in the SCR) and its political ramifications in the wider society. In this context, we would like to mention the wider-range of perspectives like the Hindu Right, Left-liberal, community leaders, Pasmanda leaders and some feminists’ critical viewpoints about the SCR. Here we would like to say that all perspectives have not presented holistic pictures underlined by the SCR. However, we will not discuss all these views in detail, but our focus will remain confined to only the manner in which the Hindu Right has usually propagated myths around the SCR while comparing it wrongly with the W.W. Hunter report (1871) and other colonial documents. Toeing the line of Kundu, we would like to argue that the SCR, which is followed by other reports including the current Vision-2025, is much broader and really envisaged the idea of an inclusive India, enshrined in our secular Constitution.

RSS’ Critique of SCR

Let us discuss how the Hindu Right-wing had earlier responded to the SCR in particular and the minority rights discourse in general. It is pertinent to note that communal forces had created a lot of myth around minority appease-ment, which is empirically untenable. In this respect, noted journalist Ajaz Ashraf rightly exposed the myth of the Muslim appeasement debate. As he writes, ‘The Sachar report punctured the myth of Muslim appeasement. No longer could anyone accuse the Indian state of favouring Muslims: the report showed that they lagged behind other communities, barring the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, on just about every socio-economic index.’ (April 21, 2018, in, accessed on July 7, 2018) In a similar way, French scholar Christophe Jafferlot and Kalaiyarasan A. in their recent article have also debunked the appeasement debates, falsely created by the communal forces. As they write, ‘Muslims faced rapid socio-economic decline. Yet, any move in their favour is made to look illegitimate.’ (See, Jafferlot and Kalaiyarasan, “The Myth of Muslim Appease-ment” in The Indian Express, April 20, 2018) However, while discussing the myth around the growth of Muslim population in India, Rakesh Sinha writes:

“It is a common knowledge that the Muslim population is growing much faster than other communities. In the past 40 years, the total population of India has grown by 134 per cent while that of the Muslims has grown by 194 per cent. The gap in the growth rate of Muslims and total population is almost 10 per cent.” (Rakesh Sinha, on ‘’Deceptive Equality, Deconstructing: The Equal Opportunity Commission’’, India Policy Foundation, New Delhi, 2009, p. 24)

 In complete contrast to Sinha’s arguments about the growth of the Muslim population, a noted sociologist, Tanweer Fazal, has shown that the growth rate of the population is declining among the Indian Muslims. As he writes,

“The Sachar Report demolished the Right-wing discourse that had thrived on perpetuating stereotypes regarding high Muslim fertility, reluctance towards contraceptive usage, propensity towards madrasas, etc. Analysis of population figures revealed a constant decline in Muslim fertility and growing tendency among Muslims to adopt contraceptive usage.” (Tanweer Fazal, “Between ‘Minorityism’ and Minority Rights: Interrogating Post-Sachar Strategies of Intervention”, History and Sociology of South Asia (2010), p. 149)

In a similar way, very thoughtful and critical points were made on the issues of Muslims and family planning of India by Dr S.Y. Quraishi at the same seminar on July 6, 2018. He spoke on myth and realities about the Indian Muslims particularly related to the growth of population, issue of polygamy and status of Muslim women. Moreover, Dr Quraishi concluded that the myths propagated by the Right-wing and corporate owned media houses were empirically untenable and the problems of the Muslims associated with these aspects were similar to those of other communities. It is wrong to say that in the case of Indian Muslims, the religious factor played an important role on these issues, said Quraishi.

It is crucial to underline that the staunchest critique of the SCR has come from the RSS-BJP combine. RSS ideologues like Rakesh Sinha openly rejected the SCR and equated the report with the W.W. Hunter report (1871). His argu-ment was that the committee recommended reservation on grounds of religion, which is unconstitutional and will create a communal divide in society along religious lines. Further, he went on to say that the report will in future generate separatist tendencies among the Indian Muslims, as it had happened in the case of the Hunter report as well, subsequently preparing the ground for the demand of Pakistan. In this respect, Sinha wrote: ‘This [SCR] recommen-dation reminds us of the Morley-Minto reforms which introduced the poisonous ideology of communal electorates and permanently strained the fissile Hindu-Muslim relations which led to partition.’ (Prof Rakesh Sinha, on “Deceptive Equality Deconstructing the Equal Opportunity Commission’’, India Policy Foundation, New Delhi, 2009, p. 32)

It is pertinent to mention in this respect that through the presidential order 1950, Article 341 had been amended twice and Dalit Muslims and Christians were kept outside the fold of reservation because they belonged to other religious communities. Here, communal forces argue that they should not be given reservation because Islam and Christianity are non-Indic religions and in their religious scriptures, caste has not been sanctioned. However, in 1956 and 1990, Sikhs and Neo-Buddhists have got reservation and are included in the list of Dalits. Several academics and the SCR have said that not giving reservation to Dalit Muslims is contrary to the principle of secularism and violates several provisions of Fundamental Rights of the Indian Constitution. As the committee notes, ‘there were voices that questioned the non-availability of the SC quota for Muslims while it was available for Mazhabi Sikhs and Neo-Buddhists’. (SCR: 2006, p. 26)

In addition to this, long back RSS ideologue Dr Hedgewar had said that Muslims and Christians were cultural outsiders. In this respect, noted scholar Asghar Ali Engineer rightly observed: “Guru Golwalkar, who succeeded Dr Hedgewar, treated Muslims and Christians as ‘foreigners’ and ‘aliens’. He (Golwalkar) wrote that they, the (that is, Muslims and Christians) came to this country as guests and that guests should not overstay and go back to their own countries.” (Asghar Ali Engineer, ‘The RSS as an evolution from the minority perspective’ in Secular Perspective, April 16-30, 2001, p. 1)

To put it differently, the RSS-BJP and Sinha’s arguments on the SCR are not empirically tenable, because several eminent academics have argued that the SCR, if implemented holistically, has the potential to democratise the Muslim society in particular and Indian society in general. It is to be noted that the Committee has put forth an idea of establishing an Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) and of ‘Diversity index’. (SCR: 2006, pp. 240,242) In this respect the Report says: ‘The diversity principle which entails equity is to be applied not only between the majority and minorities but also between minorities so that the truly disadvantaged can and should benefit.’ If the recommendations made by the SCR and subse-quent reports are implemented honestly by the Central and State governments, Kundu argues that than we will be able to bridge the gap between gender, caste, and community etc. There-fore, it is wrong to say that the SCR recommen-dations are based on the colonial state policy to divide the Indian society along communal lines, and contrary to the principle of secularism, as held by RSS ideologue Prof Sinha. It is to be noted that a former Vice-President of India, Hamid Ansari, was also attacked by the communal forces when he spoke at the Golden Jubilee celebrations of All India Majilis-e-Mushawarat on September 4, 2015. Truly speaking, he spoke about the pathetic situation of Indian Muslims as mentioned in the SCR. In short, any genuine demand of Indian Muslims is considered by the Hindu nationalist forces as appeasement (often they call it pseudo-secularism), and contrary to the principles of genuine secularism.

The Academic Discourse around SCR

Contrary to Sinha and the Right-wing Hindutva forces, Prof Kundu strongly emphasised that the SCR and other subsequent reports put forward the idea of the ‘inclusive vision’ of India. To elaborate the point further, Prof Kundu, Chairman, of the Post-Sachar Evaluation Committee (2014), writes in his preface:

‘The Committee believes that a concerted effort must be made to cherish the unfulfilled dream of inclusive India and hence puts forward an operational strategy for this. It recommends that the government in power must work out the details of implementation of this strategy by taking all components of governance into confidence.’ (Kundu report, p. 14)

Noted sociologists like Surinder. S. Jodhka and others have said that for the first time, after the publication of SCR, the discourse around the minority community has been shifted from security/identity to development. As he writes, the ‘Sachar Committee shifted the discourse from identity politics to concerns for develop-ment, participation and citizenship by articu-lating the anxieties of a large cross-section of the Muslims about the deep-rooted prejudice and discrimination they often experience in everyday life—be it in the job market, in housing and in civic life’. (Surinder S. Jodhka, ‘The Problem’, in Seminar October, 2009, accessed on July 7, 2018)

In this respect, eminent scholar Javeed Alam noted that unlike in the colonial period of minority politics, which was headed by primarily the Muslim League led by Jinnah, the SCR has inaugurated the ‘politics of citizenship’ (based on socio-economic backwardness) among the Indian Muslims. (See, Javeed Alam, ‘Contem-porary Muslim Problems’ in EPW, 2010) It is crucial to note that even the progressive Left initially had not taken the report seriously and lamented that it will create a communal divide, as stated by Prof Kundu in a recent public talk organised by the Jamia collective held on May 10, 2018. Moreover, even social justice parties, like the SP-BSP have also not taken the report seriously and disagreed the terms and conditions along with some recommendations underlined by the report on the Indian Muslims.

The question that arises is: after more than one decade has passed, what would be the fate of the SCR in the current Indian political scenario, which is dominated by Hindutva politics? However, it is ironical to underline here that recently the former President of the Congress Party, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, openly said that the party had lost the Lok Sabha elections, 2014, because our party has been understood as pro-Muslim by the general Hindu masses. While addressing the gathering at the India Today Conclave in Mumbai, she said: “The BJP has managed to, I don’t say brainwash because that is a rude word, but it has managed to convince people, to persuade people that the Congress party is a Muslim party’. (‘BJP managed to convince people we are a Muslim party: Sonia Gandhi’ in The Indian Express, March 10, 2018)

 After her statement, acrimonious debates subsequently took place in the public sphere. In this respect, noted social activist Harsh Mander wrote an article in The Indian Express and argued that for the first time since partition, Indian Muslims have now become politically ‘untouc-hable’ in India. (See, ‘Sonia, Sadly’, The Indian Express, March 17, 2018) Further he noted: ‘Sonia Gandhi’s fear that the Congress is being per-ceived as a Muslim party completes the community’s abandonment.’ It has to be mentioned that, after four years of publication of the report, Mander himself wrote an article in The Hindu in 2011, and underlined that the report has not been satisfactorily implemented. In this context, he stated: ‘Even four years after the Sachar Committee Report revealed that Muslims were the most economically backward socially disad-vantaged community; still nothing has been done to address the development deficit of this commu-nity.” (See, The Hindu, February 20, 2011, p. 3)

However, it is surprising to note that one of the distinguished and so-called liberal Hindu historians, Ramchandra Guha, wrote an article in The Indian Express (see, ‘Liberals, Sadly’, The Indian Express, March 24, 2018), and like the communal forces he also squarely blamed the Muslim community for their socio-economic backwardness. However, several scholars and social activists like Javed Anand (‘Liberals in majoritarian times’, in The Indian Express, April 4, 2018, p. 13), Prof Apoorvanand (‘Liberally blinkered’, The Indian Express, March 24, 2018.) have expressed deep dissatisfaction with Guha. As Apoorvanand says, “liberals and RSS both want to shed Muslims their Muslimness”. He and several others also strongly expressed disagreement with Guha’s formulations (mainly when he drew an analogy between the Burkha and Trishul), and they argued that it is empirically wrong to say that the Muslim community is backward solely because of their innate religious conservatism. In short, they demonstrated that like other societies the Muslim community had liberal currents and many in the past cherished the progressive traditions. Progressive writers’ movement, which was headed by Indian Muslims, is a case in point.

Conclusion: Threat to an Inclusive Idea of India

Since the coming of the BJP to power in 2014, the ‘idea of India’ is under attack. The attack on the minorities in the form of mob lynching, economic disparities and intolerance are increasing day by day. The Sachar Committee Report, which came out in 2006 as a reply to these attacks and cherished the inclusive idea of India, should be relooked with a fresh perspective.

Sachar drafted the Report to uphold the ideals of the Indian Constitution and the democratic framework. The Report should be implemented to uplift the minorities. The readings of the SCR have been narrowly defined and not understood by the earlier secular regimes holistically, as pointed out by Kundu earlier.

 Let us conclude here our discussions by citing Babasaheb Ambedkar’s views on minority rights and nationalism.

 “Unfortunately for the minorities in India, Indian nationalism has developed a new doctrine which may be called the divine right of the majority to rule the minorities according to the wishes of the majority. Any claim for sharing the power by the minority is called communalism while monopolising of the whole power by the majority is called nationalism. Guided by such a philosophy the majority is not prepared to allow the minorities to share political power.” (Christophe Jaffrelot and Narender Kumar, “Dr Ambedkar and Democracy”, OUP, New Delhi, 2018, p. 172)

On the basis of the above arguments, given by the professional academics and the community of intelligentsia and including Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, one could argue that the Right-wing communal forces’ propaganda against the SCR and rights of minority community is quite misleading and motivated by communal thinking. Finally, we argue that if the recommendations and suggestions in the SCR, which is followed by the Kundu report 2014, and lastly Vision 2025, would be taken seriously by the Central and State governments respectively, it would it would help in future to build a really inclusive idea of India, which had been long back conceptualised by the founding fathers of our Constitution and nation-building.

Badre Alam Khan, is a Ph.D Research Scholar, Political Science Department, University of Delhi. Mohammad Shahid Alam, is a Ph.D Research Scholar, Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

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