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Referendum on Muslim quota

Author: Shashi Shekhar
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: January 15, 2012
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/item/50877-referendum-on-muslim-quota.html

The UP Assembly election could end without a verdict on issues that matter more

The Congress’s communal brinkmanship and the Election Commission’s over-zealous conduct have made the contentious issue of a Muslim sub-quota the centerpiece of public debate in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election. The issue has effectively shut out debate on everything else to the point where it becomes necessary to ask if the Uttar Pradesh poll is now a referendum on this single issue.

The Congress has put both the Uttar Pradesh election and its own campaign on a dangerous trajectory. Its carefully crafted strategy of OBC micro-targetting is under stress while the upper caste vote is being alienated. The Election Commission’s zeal in shrouding Chief Minister Mayawati’s statues has put the Congress further on the defensive.

A high-stakes debate on the Muslim sub-quota is not without its unintended consequences to the other parties as well.  The real danger though is the high risk of competitive communalism from the SP and the BSP to deny the Congress its unfair share of the Muslim vote.

The incident of burning an effigy in Azamgarh over the Batla House encounter must be seen in the light of this competitive communalism the Congress’s sub-quota will spur in the dog-fight over Muslim votes. It is despicable that, despite repeated clarifications by Union Minister for Home Affairs P Chidambaram on the genuineness of the Batla House encounter, Congress’s Digvijay Singh continues to stoke a controversy while Amethi MP Rahul Gandhi fails to take an unequivocal stance on the issue.

The more the Uttar Pradesh election turns into a referendum on the Muslim sub-quota issue the less is the likelihood of a meaningful verdict emerging from this election.

In a recent article, political commentator Ashok Malik has observed how there is no space for politics of growth, aspiration and economic advancement in Uttar Pradesh. The liberal opinion-making establishment must stand guilty for this as much as cynical politics. There has been no serious repudiation of the Congress’ communalism on the sub-quota issue. More inches of print space and more minutes of airtime were devoted to fringe issues in States not even going to polls while the Congress’s cynical pursuit of quotas in Uttar Pradesh was given a free pass. What is worse is the glee and cheer with which sections of the media have reported on the party’s pursuit of community specific entitlements through the story of one Faizan of Azamgarh.

Faizan, we are told, was instrumental in advising Rahul Gandhi to announce a financial package for the mostly Muslim weavers in Uttar Pradesh, bypassing the State Government and middlemen. If media reports are anything to go by, Faizan, who makes three saris a week and earns about Rs 100 per sari, and other beneficiaries like him will be eligible to receive cheap credit and margin money directly in their bank accounts. The politically expedient manner in which central money was doled out by the Congress in Azamgarh notwithstanding, one’s heart goes out for Faizan.

The polio-stricken father of two, who is thrilled at this one-time bail-out, will likely continue to make three saris a week and earn the same or less per sari. Unfortunately for Faizan, Uttar Pradesh goes to a high-stakes election only once in five years for Mr Rahul Gandhi to come around and pull strings in Delhi on his behalf. What happens to Faizan the day after the one-time waiver is spent and the credit dries up?

It is a shame that a Faizan should have to push himself into a corner into making a choice between dependence on a corrupt State Government and what is at best temporary relief.  It is tragic that an opportunistic Congress has raised the hopes of Faizan without offering any economic roadmap for how he takes himself, his family and his community of weavers out of the quagmire they currently find themselves in.

BJP leader Uma Bharati in a Press conference in Delhi alluded to the need for the Muslim community to look beyond quotas, citing the example of Muslim prosperity in Gujarat. A sentiment earlier expressed by the PDP leader from Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti, in her remarks at the National Integration Council meeting in New Delhi last year.

It must be asked why the Muslim debate in Uttar Pradesh has to remain hostage to a fight over the spoils of reservations. It must also be asked why a Faizan of Azamgarh has to be condemned to a lifetime of dependence seeking bailouts that will only be doled out at the discretion of cynical politicians in Delhi. Surely a Faizan of Azamgarh can do better than three saris a week and earn Rs 100 for a sari to dream big of a future, where his enterprise mass produces thousands of saris a week.

There is a message for Azamgarh’s Faizan in Mehbooba Mufti’s anecdote of a Muslim businessman in Gujarat benefiting from the kind of Governance that facilitates entrepreneurship.

If only a Faizan could look beyond the dog fights over sub-quotas, false hopes from bailouts and dangerous polemics over victimhood and terror. If only a Faizan could break free from the status quo to demand the kind of governance that fosters economic growth, creates economic opportunity and promotes enterprise, this Uttar Pradesh election would be markedly different.

Uttar Pradesh’s fate in 2012 could be as much a victim of its failed politics as it may be of its voters’ failure to break free from the past to demand better and dream big.
 
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