It started with what seemed to be an off-the-cuff, common-sensical remark, or so one would gather from the agency report carried over the week-end, in which the minority affairs minister Salman Khurshid was reported as having said in Chennai:
"Sachar Committee report is not Quran. It could be wrong and its recommendations and observations need to be looked at with a critical eye. The recommendations should not be seen as a special thing given to Muslims"
Mr Khurshid was delivering a lecture, ‘Minorities of India: Issues and Challenges,’ at the Justice Basheer Ahmed Sayeed College for Women, last Saturday
Mr Khurshid apparently also asked the gathering why the Muslims were limiting themselves to community-centred issues and "also exhorted them to think on larger issues like corruption, human rights and Naxalism: “Why are Muslims silent on the Lokpal issue or on the issue of freedom for Binayak Sen."
Some Muslim groups were quick to take offence, joining issue with his invocation of the Quran and terming it as "blasphemy, (behurmati)":
Salman Khurshid must quit the Government and the Congress
Regarding the non-inclusion of vital recommendations of Joint Parliamentary Committee on Waqfs and the Prime Minister's High Level Committee on Muslims (Sachar Committee) in Waqf Amendment Bill 2010 drafted by his ministry, Shri Salman has said in Chennai on 25 June that Sachar Committee Report is not Quran. This is blasphemy, (behurmati).
Earlier, in a letter to Zakat Foundation of India, Shri Salman said that the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Waqfs and the Sachar Committee cannot claim monopoly to wisdom (though he did not mention that he is weighing their wisdom against whose).
Does this mean that the Congress and UPA have been making fool of the Muslims for five long years in the garb of Sachar Report? Also, by saying this Shri Khurshid has opposed the Prime Minister and the Union Cabinet who approved the Sachar Report in 2007 and made the Ministry of Minority Affairs as nodal ministry to monitor implementation of the Sachar Report.
Shri Khurshid has also over-ruled the pivotal recommendations of the JPC on Waqfs without giving any reasons thereof while presenting the Waqf Bill in Parliament. Thus, he has violated the privileges of both the Houses of Parliament by showing down the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on Waqfs and hiding his non-compliance of JPC. Shri Salman has gone against the Congress and UPA policy regarding Muslim interests and against the collective responsibility of the central government which is the cornerstone of our sacred Constitution. Thus, he must resign from the Government and the Congress. Also, the Government, the Congress and the UPA should clarify their position vis-a-vis Shri Salman's statement committing blasphemy against the Holy Quran and rejecting the recommendations of the JPC on Waqfs and the Sachar Committee (most of which overlap).
As Seema Chinsti reports in the Indian Express today, the minister's remarks have also upset, among others, Dr Abusaleh Shariff, the economist who oversaw the writing of the Sachar Commission report, who has written an open letter to the minister, stating among other things:
“The Minister has a lot to answer as to how will he eliminate large deficit in achievement levels which Muslims have encountered during the last 60 years or so. This has occurred mostly due to discriminatory practices followed by successive governments including the Congress governments both at the Centre and the many states. Sachar recommendations are sensitive to mainstreaming and...points to the areas in which discrimination has occurred and Muslims have suffered.”
Shariff, who has been critical of the BJP and even Left-ruled states in the past, has written that “reservation” policy in India is discriminatory and keeps Muslims out of its ambit at the national level and in most states. “So are access to higher education and even primary schools. (On) public employment, the Centre is the most discriminatory. The banking sector has almost removed the Muslims from its programs.”
In something which may embarrass the government, he adds: “Pl(ease) note I am using the word discriminatory too frequently in this note but the Sachar report ...consciously avoided using this word, just to save the face of the government in power and we used some diplomacy; otherwise this report very clearly highlight the discriminatory practices. My new research is strong in highlighting how mainstreaming is not pursued by governments themselves and how public spaces are denied to minorities. Let the Minister come out with a strategy to bring diversity in public spaces (Schools, Universities, Urban Living spaces, government employment ...) which this ministry is silent about (for the) past five years.”
On his blog, Dr Shariff provided the following additional comments [carried unedited]:
When a politician is cornered, this is how he will speak - unintelligent and illogical.
He is facing the heat and practically boiled in 100 degree centigrade on the Wakf issue. But his general direction that Muslims should get going on mainstreaming and reaching out to other departments is in fact Sachar Philosophy and directions. Note that many Minsters have told me that indeed Sachar Report is used as a Bible for charting out pro-poor, pro-deprived and minority empowerment strategies.
Note his (Salman Khursheed’s) comment on EQC [Equal Opportunities Commission] - this is also Sachar recommendation, then how can he be so critical in the beginning, this is an example of double standards. Salman bhai will have a lot to explain.
The Minister has lot to answer as to how he will eliminate large deficit in achievement levels which Muslims have encountered during the last 60 years or so. This has occurred mostly due to discriminatory practices followed by successive governments including the CONGRESS governments both at the Centre and the many states. Sachar recommendations are sensitive to mainstreaming and as it does that, it points to the areas in which discrimination has occurred and Muslims have suffered.
The reservation practices in India are discriminatory and have almost removed Muslims from its ambit at the national level and most states. So are access to higher education and even primary schools. Public employment, the Centre is the most discriminatory. The banking sector has almost removed the Muslims from its programs. Note that I am using the word discriminatory too frequently in this note, but Sachar report - the committee consciously avoided using this word, just to save the face of the government in power and we used some diplomacy; otherwise this report very clearly highlight the discriminatory practices. My new research is strong in highlighting how mainstreaming is not pursued by governments themselves and how public spaces are denied to minorities. Let the Minister come out with a strategy to being diversity in public spaces (Schools, Universities, Urban Living spaces, government employment ......) which this ministry is silent about since past 5 years.
Note that I am marking a copy of this email to Salman bhai. I hope he will garner enough courage and seek support from his cabinet colleagues so as to officially sponsor a comprehensive evaluation of the 5-years after Sachar which will lay bare the truth. Note also that unintelligent reviews will begin appearing both in media and discourses during the next two years, and they will damage the credibility of the Congress Government. Therefore, it would be in the interest of the people of India, to come out with officially sponsored but independent review of the inclusive development reforms in India which have been undertaken during post Sachar.
I am also making this email to Just. Sachar and other members whose email I have retained in my address book.
Mr Khurshid explains his stand thus:
“ Sachar committee remains the central part of our minority manifesto. But there are some aspects that were not found feasible to implement even before I came to this ministry. Other aspects like the EOC that I believe is the next generation equality and equity instrument I am struggling to build a consensus within government. But each aspect has to be implemented in a manner that contributes to national bonding rather than a self driven separation. My assessment might be wrong but I have as much right to initiate debate as anyone else. Debate not dictation must be our approach. The attempt to stifle debate speaks ill of us.
Mr Khurshid, while maintaining that "several Sachar recommendations were being followed," points out that the debate is:
about how to approach the issue of helping Muslims. He underlined that he was against looking at just Muslims as the minority and not others.
“Exclusive delivery to Muslims as against ensuring equitable share amongst all citizens,” was not something he supported, he said. “In that context, I have requested a critical appraisal to ensure these are not used for ghettoization. It’s in this context that I said, for Muslims only the Quran cannot be questioned. All other books and documents are subject to critical scrutiny.”
Elsewhere, at Firstpost, R Jagannathan lists six reasons why Khursheed is right and Sachar and Shariff wrong:
- the lower economic status of Muslims is related to where they are located, and not (usually) their religion
- you cannot build a case for discrimination only by looking at areas where the numbers are stacked against the community.
- you cannot build a sense of empowerment among Muslims without talking about their success stories
- the Sachar data is highly biased.
- as Nitish Sengupta, points out, the lower economic status of Muslims in India was the result of partition
- Sachar completely ignores the internal factors that may be holding back Muslims.
Read more at Firstpost.
What do you think?