Beyond statistics and symbols ...
Dr. Vinay Sahasrabuddhe
Christopher Jaffrelot's article ( Indian Express, November 7, 2013) unfortunately; is not free from the stereotype outlook towards what Nrendra Modi in particular and BJP in general has been saying and doing as well.
Firstly, about the planning commission data, lets not forget that there are too many ways of defining poverty even amongst the planning commission experts and hence different statistics may come out if one chooses to apply different definitions of poverty.
Now lets turn to Sachar Committee report. While it is nobody's case that Gujarat now has nothing more to do for the Muslim community in the State, following observations of the Sachar Committee speak for themselves --
- In terms of literacy level, Muslims in Gujarat stood at 73.5 percent as compared to the national average of 59.1. While the figure for the urban males was 76, it was 81 for those living in rural areas as compared to the national average of 70 and 62 respectively in similar category. [The Sachar Committee report : Appendix table 4.1, Page No. 287]
- Even Muslim women in the urban areas of Gujarat have average literacy rate 5 point higher than the national average whereas their counterparts in rural areas of Gujarat fare even better with a literacy rate of 57 percent as compared to the national average of 43 in similar category. [The Sachar Committee report : Appendix table 4.1 b, Page No. 289]
-Also in Gujarat, a greater percentage of Muslims have attained primary, secondary and higher secondary level education compared to the national average and compared to other states. Against the national average of 60.9% (and 42.2% in UP), Gujarat had 74.9% Muslims at the primary level while the percentage is 45.3 at Secondary level as compared to national average of 40.5% and 29.2% in UP. [The Sachar Committee report : Appendix table 4.6 & 4.7, Page No. 295-296-297-298]
-The average years of secondary schooling for Muslim children between age 7 and 16 years is higher in Gujarat at 4.29 years compare to the national average of 3.26 years. The figures in West Bengal, UP and Bihar are 2.84, 2.60 and 2.07 years respectively. The truth is that the Muslim children in Gujarat are benefiting from equal opportunities to access secondary schooling as other children. [The Sachar Committee report : Appendix table 4.2, Page No. 290-291]
- In terms of per month per capita income, Muslims in the urban areas of Gujarat earn an average Rs 875 which is more than the national average of Rs 804. In contrast, it is Rs 662 in UP, Rs 748 in West Bengal, Rs 811 in Punjab, Rs 803 in Andhra Pradesh and Rs 837 in Karnataka. [The Sachar Committee report : Appendix table 8.2, Page No. 364]
- The story is similar in rural Gujarat where the per capita monthly income of the Muslims 20-25% more than the Muslims living in the rural areas of most other states. It is on an average Rs 668 as compared to the national average of Rs 553. [The Sachar Committee report : Appendix table 8.3, Page No. 365]
- In terms of people living below poverty line, Gujarat had 54% Muslims living below it in 1987-88 while the figure stood at 34% in 2004-2005 showing a healthy pace of improvement. [The Sachar Committee report : Appendix table 8.5, Page No. 367]
- Even in terms of share of Muslims in state employment, i.e, government jobs, it is 5.4% in Gujarat while it is 2.1% in West Bengal, 3.2% in Delhi and 4.4% in Maharashtra. [The Sachar Committee report : Appendix table 9.4, Page No. 370]
However, the discourse about Muslims and minority needs to be taken beyond statistics. The moot point is how, exactly; the BJP looks at Muslims and other minorities. There is enough body of evidence available to point out that BJP abhors the idea of minority-ism as it considers both majority and minority as equally important limbs of nation's body politick. In fact Pt Deendayal Upadhyay had rightly said way back in 1967 that `Musalman hamare shareer ka ek ang hain, unka khoon hamara khoon hai' (Muslims are a part of us, the same blood runs in our veins). This, I believe is the fundamental view of BJP which was also manifested through our slogans like “Justice to all, appeasement of none” or "One Nation, One People", stressing the essential oneness of our nation and society, without any kind of straight - jacketing whatsoever.
Since we are against straight jacketing and generalising, we never consider that all Muslims essentially use skullcaps or burqas. However, televised campaigning has its own compulsions and limitations. For them it is lot easier to establish the presence of a community at a gathering, through a particular apparel traditionally identified with that community. Taking this into consideration, local organisers requested Muslims to make their presence visibly felt simply to establish that Muslims are also participating in BJP/ Modi meetings, as against the media perception. This has nothing to do with any official policy of the Party. We have always believed that both, our Unity and Diversity are beyond visible presentation. A uniform help create oneness, but most important is unity of minds. Likewise, different apparels underscore the element of diversity but even without that, we have always believed in diversity of opinion, of world-view and life approaches as well. Hence, it would be futile in taking a course of action simply to send a message with a mere symbolic value. We know that there are groups besides Muslims who wear a skullcap and use burqa as well.
When we say, Nation First is our definition of secularism; we express our desire to go near to the definition of Ataturk Kemal Pasha of Turkey or Veer Sawarkar, closer home. We do understand that we can neither copy Turkish secularism nor go by the lessons learnt by other countries in totality. We have to build upon our own tradition of spiritual democracy, inherent to our culture and that alone is the sole guarantor of sustainable pluralism. We believe, discriminating people on faith and belief systems is against the very grain of true secularism. Our consideration has been that faith can not and need not be the criteria even for affirmative action and those in the Constitution Assembly of India had underscored this point while rejecting the idea of quota on religious lines, some 64 years before. This should explain quite a few actions of Gujarat government.
Coming to giving tickets to Muslims for the assembly poll, again the traditionally used prism to look at the things may not really help. BJP has its own Minority Morcha, a constitutional body to facilitate greater representation and participation of Muslims and other minorities. Parties give tickets only to those who are winnable. Although for Gujarat assembly elections BJP failed in finding out a candidate, at the local-self govt. level, we have dozens of Muslim members elected at various levels. We recognise their electability and give candidature. In fact, Haj Committees and Waqf Boards under BJP ruled States have performed well as compared to the Congress ruled States. This is because we dealt with them from pure good governance point of view. Poor economic status of Muslims even after 50 years of Congress rule out 60 years after independence, underscores the fact that Congress brand of appeasement has not served the cause of development of Muslims adequately.
For those who are used to take Congress brand of secularism credulously, one fact needs to be remembered well. In 1977, the Janata Party government introduced a Constitution Amendment Bill wherein one clause sought to define the word ‘Secular’ as ‘equal respect for all religions.’ The proposal was passed in the Lok Sabha where the newly elected Janata Party was dominant, but was rejected by the Congress majority in the Rajya Sabha.
Simply put, BJP / RSS views that the relationship between an individual and the society is that of a an organ and the body as a whole. With any of our organs being neglected or allowed to under-perform, the whole body will have to face the consequences. In this fundamental approach, there is absolutely, I repeat, absolutely no scope for any discrimination towards Muslims or any other minority group or the socially, economically, weaker sections of the society. To do so, will be to the nation's peril. After all, it was Natendra Modi who had told Nai Dunia editor not too long ago that his heart also beats for Indian Muslims. ("Let the dreams of Muslims, and their children, be fulfilled. This is what I want.")
The author is Director of BJP backed Public Policy Research Centre, Delhi. Views expressed in personal capacity.