Today, April 20, 2019, marks the first death anniversary of Justice Rajinder Sachar — a socialist visionary, a judge par excellence, a true secular democrat, an unrelenting champion of civil liberties and a wonderful human being. I personally feel a great sense of loss without him, particularly in my political activities.
Sachar was very involved in the affairs of Socialist Party (India), which he and senior socialist leaders like Surendra Mohan, Bhai Vaidya, Pannalal Surana and Keshav Jadhav formed in 2011 along with several young socialists. Sachar held on to the hope that the old glory of the Socialist Party and the original spirit of the movement/ideology will thrive once again in Indian politics. I often wondered about his optimism and used to ask him that if people around him did not respond adequately to his appeals, how could he hope that public, in general, would support his party and candidates?
To that, he only used to give an innocent smile, without the slightest sign of pessimism. His smile always kept us in a positive frame of mind.
In his later life, Sachar was known primarily for the Sachar Committee Report. The committee, headed by Justice Sachar, was constituted in 2005 by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with the aim to prepare a report about social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community in India.
The committee’s 403-page report was presented in the Lok Sabha on November 30, 2006. The findings and recommendations of the report immediately became a topic of sharp debate in political, social and intellectual circles. The report was considered a mirror that showed the true picture of the Muslim community. Consequently, it received praise from a large part of the intelligentsia as well as from political parties. Although there were some dissenting voices about the findings, recommendations and methodology of the report, it was well received by most people. After its publication, there were severe reactions as well.
The report brought attention for the first time to the ever-growing economic inequality and social insecurity and alienation of Muslims since Independence. It found, on the basis of official data, that the Muslim population, estimated at over 138 million in 2001, were under-represented in the civil services, police, military and in politics. Muslims were more likely to be poor, illiterate, unhealthy and to have trouble with the law in comparison to the other Indians. Thus the myth of “Muslim appeasement” was thoroughly exposed. Justice Sachar’s activities, including this Report, were guided by socialist ideology. First and foremost, he was a staunch Lohian socialist.
Soon, there was a race among various political parties to make promises in their manifestoes to implement the recommendations of the Sachar Committee Report. The only exception was BJP which, in fact, opposed the report vehemently. However, when one reviews the progress of by the central and the state governments, particularly with respect to the implementation of the report’s recommendations, the picture appears quite dismal.
The report states that the minorities, especially the Muslims, have been the ignored factor in all central governments. Amongst the various recommendations, the Prime Minister’s High Level Committee Report had recommended the establishment of an Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) as an instrument to prevent discrimination against minorities in the private sector in matters such as housing and employment. It was an important point, since courts cannot interfere in cases of discrimination in the private sector. This recommendation has been inexcusably sidelined. The EOC can be set up by the state governments without taking permission from the Centre.
A very urgent recommendation of the report dealt with the unfairness of divisions of electoral constituencies, which results in less number of Muslims in the legislature compared to their proportion in the population. This anomaly arises from the irrational demarcation of seats in the legislature.
In Uttar Pradesh, for example, there is abundant potential for a substantial number of Muslims to win seats. As per the report, to address this, the delimitation of constituencies in a fair manner is essential. But, on the contrary, the constituencies with a substantial number of Muslims have been reserved for Schedule Castes, and constituencies with a substantial number of SC voters are unreserved.
This is unfair to both the Muslim and SC electorate. The Sachar Committee had hoped that this issue would receive immediate government attention because the Delimitation Commission was at that time active and, evidently, any suggestion or exercise with respect to delimitation had to be undertaken during the term of the then Delimitation Commission. But, the Committee’s suggestion was ignored during the delimitation.
But now, as far as the Muslim minority is concerned, politics has taken a different turn after the advent of Narendra Modi on the national scene. As a result, no political party has mentioned the recommendations of the Sachar Committee in their manifesto. Justice Sachar wanted to live on till this election. Unfortunately, his health did not permit him to fulfil that desire. Had he been alive today, he would have felt very upset about this development.
This article first appeared in print under the headline: ‘The justice and his report’
The writer teaches Hindi at Delhi University and is president of Socialist Party (India)