After removing symbolic Muslim presence, now minority ministry is on radar to please the hardcore Hindutva constituency 

By Abdul Bari Masoud

The regime of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reportedly going to abolish the Ministry of Minority Affairs.  If it so happens, it would be another step to subjugate minorities after eliminating the symbolic presence of Muslims from the Union Cabinet.

According to Bangalore-based Deccan Herald, “The BJP-led NDA government is of the view that there is no need for an independent ministry for minority affairs (MoMA). It believes the ministry was created as part of UPA’s appeasement policy. Now, the Modi government wants to bring it back under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment as the Department of Minority Affairs.”

According to sources within the government, MoMA, which was founded by the UPA government in January 2006 in response to the Sachar Committee Report, would soon be combined with the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

After the merger, all of the ministry’s initiatives will remain in place, they stated. Ministry officials declined to comment. However, through its Press Information Bureau, the government refuted media reports that such a proposal was under consideration.

Reacting to the media report, Former Union Minister for Minority Affairs Dr. K. Rahman Khan said the current government’s intention towards 300 million minorities of the country is not good.

Speaking with Radiance, Dr. Khan, who is also a former deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha, stated that the government has the prerogative to retain or abolish any ministry or agency.  But the Minority Ministry was carefully thought out before it was established.

Shedding light on its genesis, the former minister said, “Before this, it was frequently said that the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment paid little attention to issues and programmes relating to minorities while preoccupied with the welfare of SCs and STs. Minorities also continued to be ignored. Because of this, a separate ministry for minorities’ affairs was created to handle the concerns of 300 million minorities.”

He warned that the closing down of the MoMA would be a major step in the wrong direction and it would convey the wrong message to the world as India is one of the signatories to the international minority rights conventions.

Echoing Dr. Khan’s views, Dr. John Dayal, writer and activist, told Radiance that the destruction of institutions is integral to the Hindu Rashtra Project in which there is a king, a Senapati who is his confidante, and a minister or two for domestic policy and foreign policy. 

“The prime minister has gone about it most systematically in the eight years of his rule. Religious minorities are not the main target of his exercise, but it is in relation to them that his actions are the most visible. His acts against ethnic minorities, federalism, right to information, the laws protecting scheduled castes and tribes, and even women and children, are there for all to see,” he added.

Asked whether the RSS and BJP talked of no minority or majority, Dr. Khan joked, “See! They established the Muslim Rashtra Manch, and the BJP established a minority morcha as its organisational arm.”

When Dr. Khan’s attention was drawn towards the plight of minority-related institutions such as National Minorities Commission, National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions, Waqf Council and National Minorities Development and Finance Corporation, etc., he said, “Since it is a well-known fact that the BJP has no good intentions about minorities and has no desire to solve their concerns, all institutions that are connected to minorities have essentially lost their functionality.”

He emphasised that while Muslims are the largest minority, other minorities like Sikhs, Parsis, and Jains do not experience issues with societal backwardness.

The objective of creating a separate ministry was to mainstream minorities through targeted programmes for their advancement following the Justice Sachar Report findings that the Muslim community lags far behind their co-countrymen in several social indicators.

Dr. Syed Zafar Mahmood, who played a key role in the Justice Rajinder Sachar Committee as its OSD, said in January 2006 the Union Ministry for Minority Affairs was created, putting together some of the then existing multifarious governmental responsibilities and schemes basically pertaining to the minorities.

Yet other related activities (e.g. the scheme for providing quality education to madrasas/minorities) still continue to be administered through ministries other than MoMA. All the six minority communities as defined in National Commission of Minorities Act, 1992 have been in the purview of this ministry, Dr. Mahmood told Radiance.

Now we are in October 2022 and the Government has not given any indication that it is mulling over possible winding up of the MoMA even though there are ‘apprehensions’ expressed in this regard in a section of the media, he said.

However, he said the fact remains that during more than three-fourth of the post-Independence era there has been no separate ministry of minority affairs. And the period of 17 years since 2006 MoMA has been in existence is almost equally divisible between the UPA and NDA regimes.

Political analysts and journalists who keep a tab on minorities issues opined that they get raw deal in the annual public budgets.

Talking to Radiance, senior journalist and analyst Abid Shah said a quick look at the demands for grants of the Ministry of Minority Affairs made in the Union Budget of 2021-22 shows that these are not moving up to any point that could make a difference.

“India’s minorities together form about 19 per cent of the country’s population and Muslims alone are 14.2 per cent of India’s population as per the 2011 census. Yet, the Budget allocation for the Ministry meant to look after their interests has been declining from 0.17 per cent in 2019 to 0.16 in 2020 and to 0.14 per cent in 2021 of the total Budget outlay. Some of the heads in the Budget papers of successive years deserve more attention than others,” he underlined.   

Seconding Shah’s observation, Dr. Mahmood also pointed out, “There is a well-known saying in Hindi: Mano to Bhagwan, na mano to pathar. That is to say, it is the perspicacity that decides the value of an object irrespective of its nomenclature. There is no separate ministry for scheduled castes but the national budget component for them is huge (even though the SC population is less than that of the minorities) while the vice versa holds for MoMA. The recent NDA overtures to the Pasmanda Muslims proffer another instance in view.”

There is no doubt that since the emergence of fascist forces in the country the minorities especially Muslims and Christians are at the receiving end. As Dr. Dayal pointed out that “Even judges, given the most important cases relating to religious minorities to decide on the last day or two of their retirement, rule against Muslims with a nonchalance because the spadework has been done by others in a seemingly non-threatening manner. One could talk about not just the Babri ruling by the outgoing chief justice, or the Hijab ruling by another judge of the Supreme Court not entirely feted for his love of Muslims, but passing milestones.”

He further said the damage to human rights in general has been done in the emasculation of the National Human Rights Commission, making it not only redundant but a handmaiden of a deaf government. Other commissions covering Minorities religious and linguistic, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, though being statutorily empowered, have been rendered almost jobless. The commissions for the welfare of children and empowered in a way by enforcing the laws against sexual and other exploitation of children, and the similar ones on women, are now being used to target social and welfare-oriented NGOs and institutions of Muslims and Christians, especially those working in areas which public wealth of forests and minerals is being exploited and the attack on the ministry of minority affairs is the final step.

He is also not happy with the functioning and performance of the minority ministry.

“Not that MoMA ever was a powerful tool, other than in parking a Muslim minister or a Christian IAS officer from some tribal group of the north-east or central India. Under a better combination of minister and secretary, it could however exert some pressure on welfare issues. It was with the MoMA and Minority Commission pressure that scholarships were instituted for minorities and enhanced in the 12th Planning Commission. The Planning Commission itself has been liquidated, significantly impacting the monitoring process.”

Taking a dig at the Prime Minister, he said, “It would seem the PM wants minorities to approach the RSS for resolving perceived and actual threats, and in the RSS, Indresh Kumar, who is the pointsman and guardian angel for religious minorities. A single window problem solver, so to say, in a world without any constitutional and institutional support.”

Syed Tanveer Ahmed, Secretary, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, is of the view that “It goes against the Constitution’s spirit to abolish the ministry. It will lower the country’s human development index. The government should instead concentrate on authorising additional funding and bolstering the ministry for the welfare of minorities.”

Following Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi’s resignation in July due to the expiration of his Rajya Sabha term, Smriti Irani, the minister for women and child development, is currently also in charge of the Ministry of Minority Affairs. Naqvi was merely the Modi government’s Muslim face. And there is no Muslim member of the ruling party in either Lok Sabah or the Rajya Sabha.

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