As the BJP-led NDA government fights a perception battle on the issue of minority rights, its Minority Affairs Minister, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, left the government red-faced on Wednesday when he said that minorities in India “sometimes feel like second-class citizens”, before clarifying that he had made the statement in the context of vote-bank politics.
“India is a model country for minority rights — look around in the neighbourhood and you will know… Although the Constitution guarantees equal rights, there is a deficiency in the feeling of that equality; sometimes we feel like second class citizens. The real issues often get buried,” Naqvi said while delivering the annual lecture of the National Commission of Minorities.
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Naqvi subsequently said it was not a commentary on the social conditions of the minorities.
Although many reports, including that of the Sachar Committee and subsequently the Kundu Committee, have shown how little has been done by successive governments on bettering the socioeconomic conditions of Muslims, the Narendra Modi government, in the two-and-a-half years it is in power, has constantly faced criticism on minority-related issues — from the debates on intolerance and award wapsi to the rise in cow vigilantism.
Naqvi also made a powerful case for peace and amity between communities, saying it would be ideal if cases taken up by NCM do not have to be related to riots. “We are committed to no riots. Indian Muslims do not need certificates of patriotism from anybody — they are the reason why radical organisations have not been able to make inroads in India,” he said.
Addressing the event, Peter Ronald deSouza, professor at the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), took examples from around the world to make his point that when it comes to resolving demands of minorities in vibrant democracies, India can show the way to the world despite the state’s attitude having been wanting on many occasions. “As the world struggles with working out the moral, legal and social terms of the majority-minority relationship, India’s engagement with this question since the last 70 years constitutes a valuable global intellectual resource,” he said. “Let us appreciate this fact even though, in its independent history, India has waxed and waned on minority rights; even though, at particular moments such as now we feel the state is backtracking, that the regime in power, both earlier and today, is insufficiently appreciative of this resource…”