Affirmative Action, Not Platitudes by Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam (JANUARY 16, 2014)

Aam Admi Party leaders, in an interaction with Muslim representatives at Patna on January 14, have asserted that their party is above the considerations of religion and caste. They fought elections and did their politics as Indians not as Hindus, Muslims or members of some caste groups, they said.

What they said is true and nobody has a quarrel with it. Ideally, elections should not be fought on religious grounds, nor politics conducted on these lines. In advanced democracies people ask for and get vote on the basis of common citizenship, not on the basis of religion or colour.

However, beyond this the picture gets more complex. One of the Aap leaders asserted that when India would grow economically, every Indian would grow together. That is not the fact. The growth has not been inclusive here and only a small proportion of people has benefited from it.

The problem goes deeper and needs a more nuanced approach to development. There are large segments of society which have been left behind since independence, like Dalits, tribals, Muslims and other groups. There are groups that have deliberately been pushed back for centuries.

The makers of our Constitution partially recognised this problem and made special provision for pushing forward SCs and STs through reservation in educational institutions and jobs. Over the decades it has worked and SCs-STs have come forward, catching up with Muslims first, and then leaving them behind.

Trying to ignore such realities is not good a for political party. The situation of all classes and groups of Indians is not the same. To address this issue we need a differentiated approach–to each according to his needs, from each according to his capabilities.

In the United States, vote is not sought or given on the basis of colour or religion, but there is still an Affirmative Action plan in place that tries to apply what they call “positive discrimination” in favour of the weak to help them catch up with the better off sections, or at least move in that direction.

The problems of the weak need attention as they cannot be wished away or swept under the carpet. The growing deprivation of Muslims has to be addressed through Affirmative Action measures. Platitudes are no substitute for action.

For the entire society to grow at an even pace its backward segments have to be given extra help. It does not detract from anyone’s secular credentials or his / her Indianness.

 

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