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What Muslims expect from the UPA government

June 12, 2009 15:17 IST

Till just before the elections, the mood in the Muslim community vis-à-vis the Congress party was that of disappointment. The arrests and killing of youngsters -- most of whom the community claimed were innocent -- in connection with terror attacks in the country, the Batla House incident in New Delhi, the targeting of youth in Azamgarh. All these incidents had left the community feeling let down and simmering with anger against the Congress.

The elections came and a majority of the community backed the Congress, playing a major role in the party's revival across the country, especially in Uttar Pradesh.

What is the mood after the elections? What do they expect from the Congress? And what are they themselves doing about the situation?

First, Muslims have -- at least for the time being -- set aside their disappointment with the Congress.

"Actually I don't think they have entirely forgotten or forgiven the Congress for its dismal record in the past five years. The main thing with the general election was that it became a fight between two major fronts at the national level. One was the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance and the other was the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance. All across the nation, the mindset of people with a secular bent -- not just the Muslim community -- was in favour of the Congress.

"The fact still remains that the Congress got these votes because of the lack of a credible third front that stands for secularism," Suhail K K, the national president of the Students Islamic Organisation of India, said.

Now that a majority of the community has voted for the Congress, there is a sense of entitlement. And with it comes the expectations.

"The Congress now should not be afraid of the BJP's appeasement criticism. Because we have seen what the so-called appeasement has done for the community -- nothing," educationist P A Inamdar said.

"With great difficulty it has won back the support of the Muslim community. Now they should work hard to keep that. In the past five years, a great opportunity was lost. We now hope that not only will things be rectified but they also will be taken to their logical conclusions," he said.

As a first step, the community is ready to look within. Leaders have fixed education as top priority and are exploring ways to ensure that the educational needs of youngsters is taken care of. "Muslims lag behind when compared with the national average in all categories -- primary, secondary and higher education. If we start addressing the problem today, it will take 32 years for us to catch up with the national average. That is why we have decided to focus on education," M J Khan, president of the National Economic Forum of Muslims, said.

"When it comes to jobs, their presence in the government sector is less that of all other backward classes put together," he said.

Suhail, who works with the student community, agrees. "There is sort of a revivalism inside the community in terms of education. The thing is that people have come to realise that the real weak point of Muslims is education. They have actually given stress to this. This is a good thing. But it is a long process. A lot needs to be done for the results to be seen," Suhail said.

The education sector in cities where the Muslims are in considerable numbers is worse, P K Abdul Aziz, the vice chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University, said. "There are virtually no schools, primary education centres, colleges and universities in cities where there are Muslims in considerable numbers," he said.

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah also said there needs to be emphasis on education, especially when it came to educating women. "Having a Muslim president or a vice president for the country is not the benchmark. The community will grow only when there is wide spread employment," he said.

"More than anything, we have to give due importance to the development of women. Educating the women should be a high priority if we are to develop. The community must look within. We shouldn't be worried that it might be called communalism. Only we can help ourselves, nobody else will," he said.

Speaking in the same vein, Minister of State for Minority Affairs, Salman Khurshid cited the Cairo speech of United States President Barack Obama:

"Obama mentioned every segment of the Muslim world, except the Indian Muslims. Indian Muslims have been unable to assert themselves either at a national level or at the global stage," he said.

Even as the community is ready to take an honest look at its problems, it demands the certain basic help from the government. "Implementing the Ranganath Mishra and the Rajinder Sachar committee reports should be a priority. The Mishra committee report has not even been made public. Then, Muslims must be given access to a fair share of the nation's resources. There is a pressing need for reservations for Muslims. And finally, there is need for an equal opportunity commission in the lines of the one that exists for the Dalits," Khan said.

Khurshid said there were a certain aspects to be kept in mind when raising the demand for reservation. "When demand for reservation is raised, we must be clear on what basis and under which provision the same can be done.

"Article 341 has its social and historical aspects. If Muslims are asking for reservation under the OBC quota, they are included under this quota in many states. But Muslims have not been able to access the opportunities.

"The third scenario, where Muslims are demanding reservation as a religion, there are constitutional judgments that clearly deny reservations on the basis of religion," he said.

On the implementation of the two reports and the demand for a fair share of national resources, Khurshid said the prime minister is keen for the economic development of Muslims and that on quite a few occasions he has said that adequate resources need to be allocated for their speedy progress.

"It is now up to the community on how effectively it can translate the good intentions of the government into some concrete schemes," he said.

Eventually, though the community is slowly shifting its focus on education, the core issues of justice and equality loom in the background.

Thus, in effect, while the community is willing to move on and move forward, the past has not been entirely forgotten. "A significant part of our new manifesto, which largely focuses on education, is still on equality and justice. We are still demanding that a thorough investigation be ordered into all the recent blast cases and the arrests of innocent youngsters. Laws must be created to end the human rights violations on the community and the witch-hunt must stop," Khurshid concluded.

Krishnakumar P in New Delhi