Originally Published 2011-07-15 00:00:00 Published on Jul 15, 2011
Talking about how minority tokenism is hurting the real cause, Saeed Naqvi says a non Muslim with a secular image in the Ministry of Minority Affairs would be able to chart out an agenda for minorities which is free of the odour of tokenism, which would really enthuse the community, not bluff it.
Tokenism For Muslims Now Counter Productive
In these unsettled times, it is always reassuring to be invited to banquets at the Hyderabad House hosted by the Prime Minister or members of his cabinet. It boosts one's sense of self, ofcourse, but it also enhances a sense of communal well being because, as one ambles up the carpeted staircase, one meets other Muslims in suits of reasonable cut. Next week, the beginning of Ramadan, will see the appearance of Shervanis and headgear peculiar to certain Sufi Shrines.

Would unsuspecting Presidents, Princes or Prime Ministers, from any one of the 54 Muslim countries, return suitably impressed with the well being of the world's second largest Muslim community, having seen so many of them at a banquet meant only for the country's highest echelons?

The Sachar Committee report into the socio economic condition of Indian Muslims would not make for such depressing reading had Justice Sachar taken into account Muslim attendance at VIP banquets and Iftar parties. In the interest of accuracy, a caveat must be inserted. For the Sachar report, flattering data would only emerge from banquets in honour of visiting Muslim dignitaries. If Justice Sachar were to ferret the guest list under Right to Information, he would find that a banquet for the Cypriot, Armenian, Serbian or even Israeli leaders would probably not have a solitary Muslim on the list. There would not be such self conscious deletion of the Muslim when other Western leaders visit but there would be no premium on them either.

The deep design behind the hospitality list for a visiting Muslim leader could possibly be that India is good to its Muslims and would therefore be good to the visiting leader's country. But, snicker my non Muslim friends, this communal outreach flies in the face of the secular ideal which entails even handed treatment. Is it a nagging awareness of deviation from the equal-rights ideal, which results in dollops of tokenism doled out? Invitations to banquets and Iftar parties are the tiniest part of this tokenism. And, above all, having been in the drill of democracy for 60 years, Muslims have caught onto tokens as pacifiers. Tokenism is now counterproductive. Do an opinion poll!

Most pernicious of all is institutionalized tokenism. A special Haj terminal at the Indira Gandhi airport for instance. This sort of stuff invites the chorus "appeasement!"

Further, there are Haj subsidies and special VIP Hajis on freebies to facilitate their passage to paradise. Does the government believe that such favours ensure Muslim support during elections? Yes, a benefit once conferred upon a group is difficult to withdraw because such a withdrawal would provoke editorials in Urdu newspapers. This, a government on sixes and sevens may not like to risk on the eve of the critical 2012 UP Assembly elections. After all, 14 of the 21 seats Congress won from the state have a decisive Muslim vote share.

If such fears are to determine policy, I am afraid other tokenisms will also have an extended lease of life. A government so pulverized on the issue of Muslims is not likely to alter a totally untenable policy that the ambassador to Saudi Arabia must be a Muslim. The argument that a Muslim ambassador is an enormous asset during Haj is about as convincing as the presumed requirement for a full fledged air terminal for Hajis. If the state pulled itself out of this area of patronage, it would make immense sense for private enterprise, Muslim or non Muslim, to step in to facilitate Haj. Business by its very nature is secular. Witness Indians in Saudi Arabia: senior management of Indian origin are increasingly non Muslim because they are better educated, they do not seek five breaks in a day for namaz nor a month for Ramadan.

There is a lesson here somewhere for the short sighted Muslim leadership which has, by converting a remarkably secular, internationally known university, Jamia Millia Islamia, into a "minority institution" has gifted a dud to the community. Graduates from this institution will be discriminated against even in Saudi Arabia. A Muslim minority institution faces resistance in the secular job market.

As for a Ministry of Minority Affairs the less said the better! It is grist to the communal mill whenever it stirs out to serve the community. I have said this before: a non Muslim with a secular image in this slot would be able to chart out an agenda for minorities which is free of the odour of tokenism, which would really enthuse the community, not bluff it.

(Saeed Naqvi is a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)
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