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Salman Khurshid has it right

Salman Khurshid has it right

Author: Prafull goradia
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: July 4, 2011
URL: http://dailypioneer.com/350724/Salman-Khurshid-has-it-right.html

India's Muslims can prosper only if they join the national mainstream and abandon the mullah-dictated path that has led them to deprivation. The Sachar Committee's ill-conceived recommendations will naturally gladden the hearts of the clergy, but they will do nothing for the welfare of the Muslim community. A case in point is the contentious issue of waqfs and their utility in the 21st century

Union Minister for Minority Affairs Salman Khurshid has taken a welcome lead in the national essential of enabling Muslims to join the country's mainstream. In his report, Justice Rajinder Sachar has made several destructive recommendations, one of them being the creation of a waqf cadre on the lines of the IAS. For opposing this suggestion, Mr Khurshid has unfortunately been castigated by Mufti Mukkaram of Fatehpuri Masjid.

Whether the mufti issued a fatwa or otherwise, his contention reflected an extraordinarily reactionary attitude of some clerics. Evidently, he finds the thought of Muslims integrating themselves with the rest of Indian society unacceptable, presumably because that would dilute the control of the clergy over the community. To accuse Mr Khurshid of blasphemy for merely questioning the wisdom of Mr Sachar's ill-conceived recommendation is to cross all boundaries of reasonableness.

This controversy takes me back to the winter of 2006 when Professor James Mayall of Oxford University had directed a seminar at India International Centre. One of the sessions was chaired by Mr Boothalingam, son of the illustrious ICS officer. A participant of the session was Mr Sachar. When questions were being answered, I asked Mr Sachar whether he had harboured a particulary soft corner in his heart for the Muslim community and whether the city of Lahore enjoyed his special affection. His answer to both the questions was, "Yes of course." Which in turn led me to inquire as to why had he then come away from Lahore in 1947, never to go back. His forthright reply was that the Sachar family had no plans to leave Pakistan and, therefore, his father, Bhimsen Sachar, went to hear Mohammed Ali Jinnah address Pakistan's Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947. He had accompanied his father.

After attending the session, Mr Sachar expressed his deep desire to travel in an aeroplane, which he had not done before, to his father. Since there was no plane service then between Karachi and Lahore, father and sone flew to Delhi. The next day, they called on Jawaharlal Nehru who told them that they must not return to Lahore as it was burning and insisted on their staying back in Delhi. They had no choice but to obey him and thus they stayed back in India, said Mr Sachar. The narrative, however, convinced only a few and amused everyone.

This takes us to another function at India International Centre arranged for the release of a book by a former editor of Organiser, KR Malkani. In the course of the discussion that followed, several nationalists turned to former ICS officer Badruddin Tyabji and criticised what they described as Muslim pampering. The gentle Tyabji replied as to how he could answer such questions when the Government in India as well as its policies were framed and run by Hindu leaders.

No doubt, there are persons like Mr Abusaleh Shariff, Member Secretary of the Sachar Committee, who keep repeating that Muslims have been discriminated against in the context of education, employment, banking, urban living space, et al. Little does Mr Shariff recall that his community solidly voted in the 1945-46 election for the Muslim League whose single point programme was India's partition.

When Rajendra Prasad wrote his book India Divided in reply to Jinnah's Pakistan Resolution of March 1940, he had reminded the Quaid-e-Azam that his proposal would render the Muslims remaining in Hindustan as aliens and not citizens. The latter kept silent. Probably, he remembered what he had told the Cabinet Mission sent by the Atlee Government in 1946 - that the minorities in both the dominions would act as reciprocal hostages. Any ill-treatment of its minority by one dominion would be met with a tit-for-tat by the other dominion. Evidently, scholars like Mr Shariff and his empathisers have chosen to ignore history.

Scholars unaware of much history may not also be aware of the origin of the waqf as an institution and what followed over the centuries. The subject is dealt with in lucid detail by Professor Asaf AA Fyzee in his well known work, Outlines of Muhamaddan Law (OUP Delhi, 1999). The word waqf means 'Dead Hand'. Prof Fyzee considers the institution to be a handicap for the natural growth and development of a healthy national economy. The charity implicit in waqf keeps people away from industry and lethargy breeds degeneration. Agricultural land deteriorates and its yield lessens. All in all, waqf is not an unmixed blessing for the Muslim community.

In 1830, waqfs were abolished in Algeria and Morocco while in 1924 Turkey nationalised waqfs and their assets were handed over to a Ministry. Egypt soon followed this example. Little wonder that Prof Fyzee regretted that the verdict of the Calcutta High Court, which was endorsed in 1894 by the Privy Council in London, was not allowed to prevail in India by an Act of 1913 which the British Parliament passed for the Indian Empire.

The Privy Council had endorsed the opinion that the waqf was a perpetuity of the worst and the most pernicious kind and was, therefore, invalid. The Oxford History of Islam (OUP New York 1999) has similarly criticised the institution; it is also an Islamic source of revenue at the cost of other communities. The book describes at length how the Ottomans had used waqfs for squeezing out Christianity from eastern Europe.

Mr Shariff could be correct in his belief that Muslims have been discriminated against. For example, on the one hand waqfs have been left alone whereas zamindars and jagirdars were deprived of their ancestral lands. The princes, who had been solemnly promised privy purses and paid for years, were all deprived by Mrs Indira Gandhi. Any number of industries largely owned by Hindus were nationalised: Coal, banking, general insurance, etc. Would Mr Shariff still like to pursue a separate IAS-like service for administering waqfs?

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