UPA II: The secularism debate

On the first anniversary of UPA II, it is time we examine its secular credentials.

Sharique N Siddiquie

It is an old rhetoric that in spite of having so many different castes, cultures and religions, India is a picture perfect example of unity. But as a matter of fact, the reality is far from what we were taught. The continued caste tussle, regional divide and communal clashes have become the reality of the time and the ideals of secularism are present only in literature.

The current UPA government headed by the grand old party Congress, celebrating its first anniversary of its second stint to power, has always boasted on its promise of following a secular ideology, but how far it has followed the same is a point of debate.

On the first anniversary of UPA II, it is time we take a serious look at the secular credentials of the government.
Batla House encounter

The killing of two alleged Indian Mujahideen terrorists during an encounter at Batla House near Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi and the subsequent furore over their perceived innocence had given enough fodder to the opposition to target the government just before the Lok Sabha polls in 2009.

Although BJP failed to capitalise on the issue and subsequently lost miserably in Delhi, the Congress eyeing a grand comeback in Uttar Pradesh in the upcoming assembly elections in 2012 desperately tried to mould the issue in its favour to get the support of its traditional vote bank, Muslims.

So to serve the purpose, senior Congress leader and party’s Uttar Pradesh in-charge Digvijay Singh not only visited Azamgarh from where the two alleged terrorists belonged, but also pointed finger towards the encounter.

The Congress leadership disowned the comments but didn’t ask Digvijay Singh to clarify. Congress is not only playing the role of the party in power but also doubling it up with the role of opposition wherein, one of the factions gives out a message and sticks to it while others in the party conveniently distance itself to avoid controversy. This dual politics is suiting Congress and also helping it in weakening the opposition.

The only drawback that was there in the theory of Digvijay Singh is that, when the Batla House encounter took place; both state and the Centre had Congress governments which proudly claimed to have finished the masterminds of the deadly terror group Indian Mujahideen. If the encounter was fake, then Digvijay should have come out at that time itself.

But Digvijay Singh had chosen to remain mum. And now, the Congress has deployed him strategically to woo the Muslim voters of Uttar Pradesh. Congress is conveniently turning secular in the hour of need.
26/11 verdict & hanging of Afzal Guru

As the most awaited trial in the country came to an end and the lone terrorist arrested during the dastardly 26/11 attacks, Ajmal Kasab was sentenced to death, a new debate came to the fore thanks to the Sheila Dikshit headed Delhi government and that is of the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.

With, Congress desperately trying to regain lost ground among minorities, the issue is deliberately being politicised. As the demand to hang Afzal Guru is gaining momentum with every passing day, Congress fears a perceived backlash from the minority community over it.

By relating the hanging of Afzal Guru to Muslim sentiments, it seems Congress is trying to marginalise the minority community and giving fodder to parties like BJP to start their anti-Muslim rhetoric all over again.

This could help in cornering the Muslim votes in favour of the ‘saviour’ Congress. Looking at the upcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal where Muslims form a significant chunk of voters, this theory doesn’t seem too far fetched.

Sachar Committee report

Although the Sachar Committee report was tabled in Parliament on November 30, 2006 after much fanfare, the opposition had termed it another ploy to appease the minorities and brought forward a number of facts and myths about Muslims.

In the past one year of its second stint, the UPA government has even failed to implement its major recommendations.

Although the government is yet to implement all the recommendations of Sachar Commission, Justice Rangnath Mishra report recommending reservation for Muslims to bring them in the mainstream is the latest UPA II ploy again to woo Muslims.

In a country where caste based reservation is a cause of a major rift in society, this would have been like opening a Pandora’s Box. It also puts a question mark on the intentions of the Central government whether it genuinely wants to uplift the status of Muslims in the country or it is just trying to appease minorities for the sake of vote bank without giving too much away.
The Gujarat case

Ironically, BJP is often accused of communal bias against Muslims and has got a lot of flak for its inability to stop anti-Muslim riots in Godhra. But after years of positive governance by Narendra Modi, who was also tainted during the riots for his role, the state turns out to be a leader in terms of development.

Though it will be wrong to give a clean chit to Narendra Modi for his role in the riots, it is also a fact that if a state develops then that affects everybody cutting across religious lines.

What needs to be understood is that today’s Muslims want development and not just promises. It will be a shame if even after almost 64 years of independence, Muslims are promised security alone. Muslims have every right to demand development of their community on the model of SCs and STs, as their condition is equally pathetic.

The UPA II must give a clear message through its work that there is no substitute of development and just making tall promises won’t do.
1984 riots probe

The anti-Sikh riots of 1984 post Indira Gandhi’s assassination is a major blot for the Congress and its ghost keeps coming back to haunt the party.

Though Congress has managed to get the name of Jagdish Tytler cleared, he is still perceived as the perpetrator of the crimes together with fellow Congress leader Sajjan Kumar.

The Congress-led UPA that boasts of making a Sikh as Prime Minister for the first time in Indian history, still needs to take some positive steps to instil faith among Sikhs.

With four more years in its kitty, the road ahead for UPA government is likely to be bumpy. It is not going to be a cakewalk for Dr Singh as the nation has a lot of hopes on him.

Minorities comprise almost 20 percent of India’s 120 crore population and going by the statistics, 21 crore people are not ‘minority’. Development is their right and government should be bound to give them that development.

India boasts of ‘unity in diversity’ and it is the responsibility of the government to keep hope and faith alive by keeping the secular fabric of the country intact.

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