A good, if belated, initiative

A good, if belated, initiative

It is good that as least someone has said now what was long overdue. Union Minister for Minorities K Rehman Khan, in a note to Congress Vice-President...

It is good that as least someone has said now what was long overdue. Union Minister for Minorities K Rehman Khan, in a note to Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, has stressed the need to pursue a bolder policy of secularism, presumably to stem the rising crescendo of certain right-wing opposition groups when polls are just round the corner in four States and the Lok Sabha elections less than 10 months away.

The minister’s observation is significant and perhaps interpretable in more ways than one: first, it reflects the keenness in a large section of party men that the leadership should take effective steps to counter the opposition offensive and consolidate its vote base among minorities and weaker sections of society; secondly, to get rid of the growing impression that the UPA has not only been going soft on some of its basic policies, including secularism, but also has been unnecessarily defensive in the face of Opposition onslaught.

The concept of socialism, which was the party’s economic credo, is no longer viable in the wake of the sweeping wave of present-day globalism and laissez-faire holding sway. Yet, even in these circumstances the party has steadfastly stood by the concept of multiculturalism and unity in diversity. In fact, this still remains the Congress USP. Even if nobody seems to be much bothered with ideology, welfare schemes have not been given a complete go-by under the present dispensation.

The Left-Right cleavage of the heady days of the past no longer exists but what makes the Congress stand out vis-à-vis the other national grouping of the BJP is its broad acceptance as a force of moderation and liberalism in the country.

Over the last few years, however, an impression has gained ground that there has been a dilution of certain basic policies, more notably on its vigorous pursuit of the secular ideal. Even though the government has been on the mat on issues of non-governance and corruption against its ministers, the main Opposition party, on its part, has now shifted its exclusive attention to secularism vs. nationalism. This change in electoral priorities has led to a slanging match between the Congress and the BJP.

Dilution of policy matters has not entirely been the doing of the Manmohan Singh dispensation. The malaise can be traced to the events dating back to the 1990s– the BJP’s rising fortunes, the coming of Janata Dal during VP Singh’s time and the emergence of the Vajpayee-led NDA government at the Centre. Thereafter, the base of the Congress went shrinking though it retained its all-India presence. Meanwhile, the BJP continued its rapid growth as a formidable rival to the Congress– the latter being forced to take defensive positions on fundamentals. No wonder, its secular credentials too took the beating.

The electioneering this time promises to be a real no-holds-barred affair and nothing would be fair or foul in this cut-throat fight for power. Also, this is going to be an all-in fight in the prevailing circumstances, as in the instance of the killings of five of our Army jawans in Jammu region as a result of a blatant Pakistani act of violation of the LOC.

They included four Jawans belonging to Bihar. A serious, even if unintentional, lapse on the part of the Nitish government, coupled with a highly offensive yet stupidest remark by a minister, led to a fierce debate and the BJP put the JDU in the dock, even as one of BJP’s senior MPs attributed the JDU’s behavior to its anxiety not to offend its vote-bank (an obvious reference to the Muslim vote).

While it is for the BJP and the JDU to decide how to settle their political scores, the former has no business to link Pakistan’s invidious action with political alignments at home. After all, any linking of such an act of Pakistan’s callousness with the Muslims in India even if remotely is most reprehensible, to say the least. Such insinuations not only betray bad taste but are downright offensive. Happily, we have a formidable line-up of anti-communal political groupings across the country in the south and in the north as well to take care of such matters.

Equally, it is important for the Congress to act expeditiously to fulfill its long-standing commitments to the Muslims who have many legitimate grievances– the decreasing representation in jobs and, at times, blatant discrimination in selections. The arrest of Muslim youth on flimsy terror charges has only vitiated the atmosphere. Of course, nobody would expect a Minister say it all and one does not have details of what Rehman Khan has said in his note. However, it is refreshing that someone in the Government has taken the initiative even if at a late stage. The proof would lie in translating the words into deeds.

Anser Kidwai

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