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'Diversity index is high-priority for UPA govt'

June 22, 2009 08:40 IST
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Salman Khurshid, who holds the portfolios of minority affairs and corporate affairs, tells Sreelatha Menon that he wants greater public participation in development programmes.

You have been working in party positions for some time. Did you have a choice when you were offered a ministry?

Working in the party is interesting. As far as choice is concerned, it is for the party to decide whether one works for the party or in the government.

No, did you have a choice in deciding your ministries of corporate affairs or minority affairs?

No, no. That comes for very senior leaders.

You have held very unique ideas for the uplift of Muslims. So, when you got the ministry, did you have a vision of what you could do to change the way their matters were being handled?

The government has a structure and when you are outside the government, you can think more freely. It is like an artist who has to perfect his control over form and then go to modern art. You have to understand the form and structure of the government before you can go to reform. Hence, introducing my ideas or changes can come only after some time.

The Sachar Committee report has revealed the areas where Muslims need immediate intervention. But, do you think that the macro-level funding of infrastructure would help the community in the 90 Muslim-dominated districts?

That is a structure that the government has agreed to adopt in response to the findings of the Sachar Committee. If a macro-level approach does not go far enough in pulling the community out, then we will have to examine the impact of the programme. But it has only started a year ago. The programme will encourage focussed development through centrally-sponsored schemes. We also have 400,000 scholarships for Muslim students. If there are demands outstanding, more shall be given. Again, we will be doing what we can with the Wakf Joint Parliamentary Committee report. These recommendations are about making the Wakf more efficient.

What is your plan in the first 100 days?

The Equal Opportunities Commission is on our plate now. The Bill has to go through approvals before it goes on the floor of Parliament, when it meets after the Budget session.

Can the Equal Opportunities Commission address the discrimination Muslims face as individuals, say, when they seek to rent houses?

For individual grievance redressal, systems are in place, but for grievances against institutions and systems, none is available. Hence, the Equal Opportunities Commission would take that into account.

You have spoken about affirmative action for minorities by industry. Do you expect a good response?

We need a larger debate on affirmative action. It is a matter that goes beyond reservation. There is a commitment to reservation by the government, but it is limited to OBCs. Is there something beyond reservation for the OBCs? And can the reading of diversity index with affirmative action be the way forward? These are the matters to be debated and discussed. Anyway, it is only the beginning and the response has been positive. Every institution can be rated based on the index. So, this will help.

The diversity index has to be made by the Equal Opportunities Commission. When will it be ready?

It is a high-priority area for the government and will be functional in two years. It will have the infrastructure to create this index and to rate institutions on that basis.

Is there something you would like to add to what the government has programmed for the betterment of Muslims?

I want greater public participation in development programmes.

What would public mean?

It would mean institutions like universities, teachers, departments of economics and sociology in colleges. It is the big-ticket idea that I have to work on. Involving teachers does not mean that the work done by government officials is bad. Both are needed.

If the Sachar Committee had reviewed the status of Muslims 40 years ago, it would have found them much better. They have been pushed backward in every aspect. Isn't the Congress, which banked on the Muslim votes all these years and was in power most of the time, to blame for the neglect?

Before one blames the Congress, one must ask oneself what one has done for the betterment of Muslims. If you have built a school or college and then you are blaming someone -- that is acceptable. But if you haven't done a thing for the community and are asking for handouts, that can't be accepted.

But what is the role of the government?

It is a two-way thing. There was no Aligarh till Sir Syed came into the picture. There are role models like these and these examples could have been replicated. If the government help is then lacking, one can blame the government.

Health and education, where an urgent intervention is needed to improve development indicators among Muslims, don't fall under the purview of your ministry. Is that a constraint?

We have two jobs to do. We can do something or give something. And we can do advocacy with others to do something. The finance minister has talked of 15 per cent targets for loans for minorities. We can do this ourselves, but can ask the ministry concerned to enforce this.

You have a huge and tough task ahead. So what is the one happy thought that you can see about the ministry for minorities affairs?

My happy thought is that it is not a ministry of minorities, for minorities and by a minority-led government. But it is part of a national effort and it will show the majority is having a stake in the empowerment of the minority.

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