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Hard facts to face

How Gujarat’s Muslims fare is the ultimate measure of Modi’s governance,and must be objectively studied...

Written by The Indian Express |
May 22, 2010 1:50:05 am

The normally sedate Planning Commission found itself the venue for some unexpected aggression at the annual discussion for Gujarat. Chief Minister Narendra Modi brandished his own data,and vented his sense of victimhood when it was pointed out that his state seemed to studiously ignore its Muslim children. In a letter to Modi on May 18,Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission,Montek Singh Ahluwalia,had pointed out the disparities in primary and upper primary school enrolment: while the state’s Muslim population hovers at 9.1 per cent,only 4.7 per cent of primary school children and 4.8 per cent of upper primary school children were Muslims. However,Planning Commission member Syeda Hameed (who had once headed a women’s rights forum to investigate the Gujarat riots and its traumatic aftermath) was the clear target of Modi’s ire.

Whatever the actual state of schooling in the Muslim-dominated area of Juhapura,Ahmedabad — the specific area that was disputed — there is little point objecting to a critical assessment of the gradual disentitlement and ghettoisation of Gujarat’s Muslims. After the violence and pain of the 2002 riots,one of the most scarring incidents in India’s recent history,and the state administration’s perceived complicity,Muslims have been fearful and insecure,and have increasingly retreated behind their own walls. There is persistent anecdotal evidence of how Muslims are being cut off from public services,including NREGA,and that Muslims who inquire about jobs are turned away. Despite all Modi’s attempts to refashion himself after the riots and talk a bland “development” talk seemingly emptied of ideology,there is no denying that his politics thrives on,and exploits,these social divisions.

In fact,it is precisely in that realm,of education and health and social services,that Modi’s rhetoric must be tested. How effectively has he drawn in the state’s religious minorities into Gujarat’s growth and success? Does his fabled governance genius translate into a better life for those his politics rejects? If he is confident that it does,then Modi should be open to verification of his claims. That could undercut the idea that Gujarat’s Muslims are deliberately deprived of public services. A question as important as this should not be taken over by bluster — and neither side in this confrontation should object to impartial,empirical facts on the state of Muslim welfare in Gujarat.

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