Here’s a comprehensive, five-point guide on how to root out sectarianism from the veins of Indian polity.
The Indian National Congress (INC) party in Karnataka led by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has decided to give separate religion status to Lingayats, effectively declaring the most influential caste-grouping in the state politics as a minority. The recommendation of the state government is now with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the Centre, which has been caught napping. It will now have to decide whether to accept or reject Siddaramaiah government’s recommendation. It’s in a lose-lose situation whereas the Congress has everything to gain irrespective of the outcome.
By classifying Lingayat as a minority religion, Congress has struck at the very heart of the BJP’s core vote bank. The party’s chief ministerial candidate B S Yeddyurappa is himself a Lingayat. The community’s share in total state population is anywhere between 16-19 per cent. This move not only hurts the BJP’s strategy of Hindu consolidation, it also helps split the Lingayat vote as the community is very much divided on separating from mainstream Hinduism.
Congress is undoubtedly the most divisive party in the country, with a history of shamelessly exploiting the country’s faultlines for electoral purposes. This is only the latest manifestation of its minoritarian agenda, perhaps the most diabolical in recent times. But that’s not the troubling part. This is exactly what’s expected of it. The worrying part is total cluelessness on the BJP’s part to respond coherently to it. BJP spokespersons were jibber-jabbering on TV debates last night saying how Lingayats aren’t that different from Hindus and that the people will punish Siddaramaiah for his attempt at dividing Hindus.
This is not a theological debate. The minority tag in this country is a big carrot, grown and nourished by Sonia Gandhi from 2004-14. A minority community enjoys unbridled autonomy of institutions, its children get scholarships, is rewarded with exclusive government schemes with separate budget, gets preferential treatment in loans and what not. And the BJP’s failure to put an end to this minorityism in the last four years is exactly the reason why the Congress is able to reap the carrots it had sown when it was in power at the Centre.
Separating Lingayats is just the beginning. This script will be repeated, in one way or another, in different states wherever it gets power. This is the Congress culture and mindset that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party should aim to root out. It’s time to shift focus from low-key agenda such as distributing cylinders and LEDs to firmly take the Congress’ minorityism head on. It’s time to consign Congress’ separatist policies to dustbin of history once and for all. Here’s a comprehensive, five-point guide on how to root out sectarianism from the veins of Indian polity.
First, amend Article 30 (1): “All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.” Replace the word “minorities” with “all sections of citizens”. This has been the BJP’s demand for decades. Giving parity to Hindus by amending Article 30 (1) was also part of election manifesto in the 1990s. Yes, it will need constitutional amendment. But at least, passing this in Lok Sabha will set the ball rolling and start the conversation. If the Prime Minister can speak out on “shamshan vs kabaristan”, why not Article 30, which is aiding Congress split Hinduism? If the BJP can fight for the rights of Muslim women, and bring in a law outlawing triple talaq, surely they can gather the courage to demand parity for Hindu institutions?
Second, abolish Ministry of Minority Affairs and stop all schemes that are currently run by it. All the programmes run by this ministry are communal in nature and only for the minorities. Why should scholarships be given to minority students only and not to everyone who need or deserve them, irrespective of religion or caste? Why should minorities be given loans at concessional rates? Why artisans from minority communities deserve a helping hand more than poor Hindu artisans?
This is not to say that the government shouldn’t give scholarships or help the poor with loans. It certainly should, but the basis of government’s aid shouldn’t be religion which is currently the norm.
Third, bring a bill to repeal National Commission For Minorities (NCM), 1992 Act and give back its functions to National Human Rights Commission. Similarly, all state commissions must be wound up. The Atal Behari Vajpayee’s BJP was a strong advocate of this but lacked majority to execute it. Some BJP-ruled states had indeed abolished minority commissions. What is the BJP’s excuse today with overwhelming majority in Lok Sabha?
Why should there be a separate commission for minorities? This is currently necessary because minorities and the majority are treated differently under the Indian laws. Once these laws are repealed, there is no need for a separate commission. This doesn’t even require constitutional amendment.
Fourth, repeal National Commission For Minority Education Institutions (NCMEI). This is an out and out sectarian body, which by law doesn’t allow a Hindu to be its member. Sonia Gandhi-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government set up this commission through an ordinance in 2004. She is guilty of normalising and legalising Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s thought process that Hindus can’t be trusted to oversee minorities.
This communal commission can be abolished by a simple repeal bill and doesn’t require a constitutional amendment. This commission’s sole agenda is to protect the rights of minorities’ education institutions enshrined in Article 30. Once that article gives parity to everyone to run their institutions, there wouldn’t be any need for NCMEI.
Fifth, repeal and replace the Right To Education (RTE) Act, which imposes heavy financial burden on non-minority private-unaided schools. These schools have no autonomy in selecting its students either. This has ensured that any Hindu entrepreneur with a philanthropic bent of mind would think 10 times before venturing into education sector. At the same time, minority-run schools, which are free from almost all government control or societal obligations are free to expand and proliferate. While, it may take time for Article 30 to be amended as it needs constitutional amendment, RTE can be repealed by simple majority in the parliament. Let the opposition oppose it. It would only help the BJP in painting these parties as anti-Hindu. The saffron party has everything to gain from starting the debate. It should initiate the process to end minority-raj in education sector.
On the Lingayat issue, the Congress has pinned the BJP into a corner thinking the latter has no choice but to play by its rules of the minority-majority. It’s sadly mistaken. As Harvey Specter of Suits would say, “you always have a choice” and “when you are backed against the wall, break the goddamn thing down”.
Mr Modi, tear down this wall of sectarianism.