Finance Minister Arun Jaitley Wednesday said that if the benefits of growth had to percolate down to the last man, especially minorities, it is important that the growth rate should be high enough.
Delivering the eighth annual lecture of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) on “Economic Empowerment of Minorities”, Jaitley cited the example of poll-bound West Bengal to make his point.
Referring to data on the minority community in West Bengal, Jaitley said, “Why is it that in a state like West Bengal, which has otherwise seen political stability since Independence and has a sizeable minority population, data indicates living conditions which are far less than adequate? One of the reasons that struck my mind is that in terms of growth of economy, the state followed a model where growth levels were not fast enough and I think it is a question which should be discussed.” The minister was referring to the report “Living realities of Muslims in West Bengal” released recently in Kolkata by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen.
The minister added that post-economic liberalisation of 1991, the acceleration of growth rate from what was earlier referred to as the “Hindu rate” also led to substantial reduction in poverty. “We also have our fair share of policy diversions. We are a functional and reasonably noisy democracy. And, therefore, whereas the principal agenda really has to be to ensure the welfare of all, diversions do come up and some of them are extremely unpleasant diversions.” The “maturity of Indian society” would be its ability to ignore these diversions and take us on a path where we can “ensure a harmonious relationship in the society and a growth process which benefits us all”, he said.
Jaitley read out long excerpts of Constituent Assembly debates to emphasise his point that the commitment to minority protection in the Constitution is in effect a recognition of the diversity of India.
A follow-up statement by Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptulla on how, despite political rhetoric, the condition of Muslims in Gujarat was “better” than in West Bengal caused State Minorities Commission chairman Intaj Ali Shah to protest but he was cut short.
Heptulla recalled that when she took over as minister, she found there had been “a lot of rhetoric but the reality was very different… Bengal talks a lot about ‘no discrimination’, secularism etc but the living standard of Muslims in Gujarat is better than that in West Bengal.” When Shah tried to intervene, she told him: “This is not a question-and-answer session.”
In his brief speech, Minister of State for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said that in the two years of the Narendra Modi government, the share of minorities in government jobs had risen from 6.91 per cent to 8.7 per cent.
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