The politics of appeasement

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The politics of appeasement

Saturday, 21 July 2018 | Prafull Goradia

Whatever the exact sentence construction by Rahul Gandhi in his purported statement about Muslims and the Congress, the dog-whistle was not in doubt. But he was only being loyal to his party’s legacy which has always put the community first

While hosting a number of Muslim intellectuals, Congress president Rahul Gandhi was reported by Urdu daily, Inquilab to have stated: “Yes, Congress is a Muslim party”, which the Congress has vehemently denied but the newspaper stands by. What is not in question, however, is the party lending support to the setting up of Darul Qazas in every district as proposed by the All India Muslim Personal law Board. Earlier, the Congress had refused to support the passage of the Bill (already passed by the lok Sabha) to prohibit instant triple talaq. The Congress leaders must have assessed that such support would upset many Muslim men.

The provisions of minority rights as enshrined in Articles 29 and 30 of the Constitution belong to the same species. It is reassuring that a full Bench of the Supreme Court is currently hearing a case on this subject. Thus, it is to be hoped that the stand taken, to begin with, by former Solicitor General, Harish Salve, wherein those minority educational institutions, which receive special aid from the Government, should cease to have reserved seats on religious lines, would be accepted by the Supreme Court.

It is not widely known that Articles 29 and 30 owe their origin to communalism. The Constituent Assembly was elected in January 1946.  On December 13 of the same year, Jawaharlal Nehru, as the head of the interim Government, moved what was called an Objective Resolution in order to appease the Muslim league, hoping that it would not press for Partition. As it happened, the endeavor to appease the league failed and the country was divided.

It will be useful to recall that the Constituent Assembly had been elected on the basis of Muslim constituencies (then called separate electorate) and 85 per cent of the voters had voted for the league whose single-point manifesto then was Partition. Evidently, all Muslims in the Assembly were beneficiaries of this 85 per cent vote. What is extraordinary is that the Objective Resolution and the resulting Articles continued to be debated as if nothing happened on August 15, 1947.

In other words, what was proposed to placate the league and thereby avert the Partition, was enshrined in the Constitution despite the creation of Pakistan. In the words of Jawaharlal Nehru, spoken in the Assembly on November 8, 1948, “Nearly two years ago, we met in this hall and on that solemn occasion it was my high privilege to move a resolution which has come to be known as the Objective Resolution… It tried to embody the spirit that lay behind the Indian people at the time. It is difficult to maintain the spirit of a nation or a people at a high level all the time… Nevertheless, I hope that it is in that spirit that we have to approach the framing of this Constitution … always using that resolution as the yard measure with which to test every clause and phrase of this Constitution.” (Pages 317-318, Constituent Assembly Debates, Vol. VII 1999.)

Articles 29 and 30 were described in the resolution as safeguards provided for the minorities. In the process, considerable discrimination was introduced into the educational system. A school is either run by a Government or aided by a State. In either case, the Government has the final say in the policies of the school.  If, however, a school happens to be run by the members of a minority, the Government does not interfere. In effect, schools run by Hindus either accept Government aid and face interference or abstain from the aid. In spite of this background, the Constituent Assembly on November 9, 1948, patiently heard ZH lari, a Muslim leaguer from Uttar Pradesh, who got elected on a pro-Partition ticket.

While pleading for reservation as well as special rights for Muslims, lari said, “We never said that Muslims in these parts are going to migrate to Pakistan. We are the children of the soil and as such we claim the rights of citizens of India.” Vishwambhar Dayalu Tripathi, another member, shot back: “What did your leaders do in PakistanIJ”

Prof KT Shah, yet another member, tried to insist that no expenditure on any private institution should be defrayed from the public purse. Yet, Nehru and his Government ignored the exhortations, and went on to enshrine in the Constitution financial burdens which most States are now finding difficult to bear…For the simple reason that the combination of a subsidy and freedom of management has led to the proliferation of madrasas.”

The Nehru Government was anxious to retrieve the Mohajirs who had landed in Karachi. To take the example of Benares weavers, Nehru’s friend Sri Prakasa, who was then the High Commissioner, said to them, “Why have you come hereIJ No one wants you here. Do get back home. Why do you want to destroy my cityIJ It is you who have made it famous in the world.” I immediately used to issue permits to them to go back, so he wrote in his book, Pakistan: Birth and Early Days.

Syama Prasad Mookerjee saw the riots in East Pakistan as part of a deliberate and cold-blooded plan to exterminate or expel the minorities from East Pakistan. It is this conviction that made Mookerjee suggest an exchange of population. Nehru rejected this suggestion out of hand. As recorded in his Selected Speeches, he went on to explain: “An exchange of population is something which we have opposed all along. It is something which I consider not only undesirable but also not feasible.”

In his book, Government from Inside, NV Gadgil, a senior member of the Nehru Cabinet wrote: “I have already described how systematically Pakistan drove out its Hindus and how they encouraged Bengali Muslims to enter and occupy some areas in Assam. The Indian Government took no notice of these. On the other hand, Nehru was greatly annoyed when once Vallabhbhai suggested mutual exchange of Hindu and Muslim populations and a proportional division of land between India and Pakistan. But one has to confess that such an exchange would have been beneficial in the long run.”

The Indian Muslim remained, on the whole, aloof from the mainstream of Indian life after the Partition, but in almost all cities, communal Muslim organisations continued their poisonous propaganda. Thousands of Muslims, who had gone to Pakistan, returned and were given back their properties.

The Hindus received no such justice. Indira Gandhi was comparatively less partial. Nevertheless, at the Shimla conference with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, she allowed the release of 93,000 Pakistani prisoners of war to return scot-free; although the Indians were told that former Pakistan Prime Minister Bhutto had verbally promised to make the line of Control in Jammu & Kashmir the permanent frontier between the two countries so that the Kashmir issue stands settled for all time.

Rajiv Gandhi was more confused but no less a player of communal politics. In 1981, the Madhya Pradesh High Court awarded alimony to a long-divorced Shah Bano. In 1985, a five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court dismissed her former husband’s appeal and endorsed the alimony. However, the Prime Minister, exhorted by the Muslim clergy, nullified the apex court judgement by having the Muslim Women Act 1986 passed by Parliament. Thus, the clergy was appeased but what about justice to a poor widowIJ

UPA Chairperson and former Congress chief  Sonia Gandhi was consistently biased and her nominee Prime Minister Manmohan Singh not only appointed several committees for alleviating the Muslim community’s socio-economic conditions but also promised it the first 15 per cent of the country’s resources. To be fair to Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, he is no more to blame than to say that he has been loyal to his long-set family and party legacy.

(The writer is a well-known columnist and an author)

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