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Anshul is a Political Science and Law graduate from the University of Delhi. He is interested in political, legal and policy developments and frequently writes on related themes. You can contact him on anshulkumarpandey [at] gmail [dot] com.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Debating UCC - Saving Secularism from 'Secularists'

(Above) Untitled by M.F. Hussain

Part IV of a series of articles on the Unifrom Civil Code. To read Part I, Part II and Part III, click here, here and here.

Where did the politics of appeasement disguised as Secularism take us by the dawn of the 21st century? In an article published in LiveMint, Director of the India Enterprise Institute, Mr. Rajiv Mantri, listed some of the shameful instances through which ruling parties had sought to bribe the members of the minority community to secure their votes. Aptly titled “Saving Secularism from the Secularists”, most of the paragraphs from his article are worth reproducing here in their entirety:
In 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appointed the Sachar committee to study the social and economic condition of India’s Muslim community. In 2006, the Prime Minister said that minorities have the “first claim on India’s resources”. In the same year, the government tried to conduct a survey on the religious affiliations of India’s soldiers. In 2009, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government enunciated the Right to Education (RTE), from the provisions of which minority schools are exempted but with which most “Hindu” schools must comply. In 2011, the UPA government brought forward the Communal Violence Bill, which did not recognize communal violence committed by minority communities against the majority community.

In March 2013, Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde wrote to minority affairs minister K. Rahman Khan that special Muslim-only fast-track courts would be set up for trial of terror cases. In January 2014, in an astounding display of New Delhi’s executive interference in the functioning of states’ police and judiciary, Shinde wrote to all chief ministers asking them to set up special screening committees to look at cases where minority youths had been jailed, following up on a communication in September 2013 by the home minister that told all chief ministers to ensure “wrong arrests” of minorities were not made.

In January 2014, Jains were declared a “minority” community by the government, the same month when the Union minority affairs minister said the government was seriously looking into religion-based reservations for minorities. Like in the case of the RTE, the government is creating incentives for the balkanization of society, since becoming a “minority” results in benefits flowing from the minority affairs ministry, and various exemptions become available with minority status under existing laws.

This has happened before, when in 1980 perverse incentives forced Swami Vivekananda’s Ramakrishna Mission to try and declare itself non-Hindu in a bid to escape the Indian state’s intrusive hand. As early as 1951, T.S.S Rajan, a minister in the Madras state government, had said that it was the wish of Jawaharlal Nehru, that paragon of “secularism”, that there should not to be any private temples. This thinking cemented government control on Hindu temples, but allowed “minority” places of worship to remain outside the state’s influence.

Uttar Pradesh, which has been run by a “secular” Samajwadi Party government since 2012, has been creating Muslim-only welfare schemes. The state government has an education scheme only for Muslim girls—spare a thought for the Hindu girl denied aid because of her faith. The government has created special tribunals to expedite the hearing of cases relating to Muslim-owned property. The Akhilesh Yadav government went so far as to attempt unilaterally dropping charges against those accused of terrorism—something it had promised it would do before the 2012 assembly elections—but was restrained from doing so by the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court. In August 2013, Yadav announced that 20% of the share in all 85 state-administered development schemes would be reserved for minorities.

Andhra Pradesh, under Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) and the unquestionably “secular” Congress party, set a new benchmark for persistence in the pursuit of minority appeasement. As Arun Shourie documented in an Indian Express article titled “Chasing that bank of votes again”, the Reddy government tried relentlessly to create Muslim job reservations, starting June 2004, but kept being rebuffed by the judiciary which held that such reservations were unconstitutional. The state government eventually secured religion-based reservations within the other backward classes (OBC) quota for a subset of “caste” Muslims only.

The YSR government also created a special allowance for Christians to visit Bethlehem, on the lines of the Haj subsidy provided for Muslims, besides doling out taxpayer funds to Christian organizations for the refurbishment and construction of churches. YSR’s son-in-law, Christian evangelist Anil Kumar, held large-scale evangelism programmes with assistance from the state government.

In the most tragi-comic manifestation of Nehruvian economics combined with “secularism”, government-controlled temples in Andhra Pradesh were so inefficiently managed that they were unable to deal with the large number of cows being donated by devout Hindus and stopped accepting such donations. In the most grotesque illustration of the YSR government’s insensitive attitude towards Hindus, it has been reported that such cows may have been auctioned to slaughterhouses.
One can go on and on with this list as it is endless. Is this the secularism that Nehru and the Indian National Congress championed at the time of independence? Can these instances of blatant minority appeasement for votes be justified in the name of affording "special protection"? Does this kind of political behavior incentivize or disincentivize the need of reform? 

However, I need to reiterate and rehash the original point that I have been trying to make through these articles - blaming Nehru and the original Congress leadership for this degeneration of secularism to psuedo-secularism to outright minority appeasement is unfair.

In the heat to denounce the behavior of Indian National Congress and its politics of minority appeasement, there is a tendency among most writers to clump the entire leadership together. This leads to a complete distortion of truth and does a great disservice to the ideas and the ideals that went into the making of our constitution. Here is former BJP MP and the Editor of The Pioneer Chandan Mitra saying this in as many words:
“…the fact is Nehruvian secularism, with all its flaws was not minority appeasement.

In Nehru's time, history was never officially doctored. We did not have school textbooks that insisted Vedic Indians merrily slaughtered cows for dinner, or extolled the virtues of Aurangzeb's "even-handed" treatment of all his subjects, or accused Guru Tegh Bahadur of letting loose "plunder and rapine" in Punjab. We studied books written by nationalist historians like R C Majumdar without being told he was a "communal" writer.

Sir Jadunath Sarkar was revered as a pioneering historian, not reviled as a hagiographer of a "Maratha bandit". We did not have special financial provisions for minority institutions to pursue obscurantist educational agenda. Nehru did write to Congress leaders after Independence that the "need of the hour is to secularise the intelligentsia", but never advocated courting the mullah.”

- The Daily Pioneer, August 16, 2004, Web: http://www.sify.com/legal/fullstory.php?id=13545030
The fact is that far from prodding the leadership of the minorities to embrace reform and develop "scientific temper", the Indian National Congress and the other so-called 'secular' parties have only practiced vote bank politics which has, in the end, done incalculable harm to the minority community itself. Their representation in government services, education levels, job availability etc. as documented through the Sachar Committee Report, makes a compelling case for the abolishing of personal laws and the enactment of a uniform civil code which guarantees the rights of Muslim women in keeping with the constitutional scheme of liberty and equality for each citizen. I will examine the Sachar Committee report and its findings in one of the upcoming articles in this series.