A comparison of the treatment of religious minorities in Congress’s manifesto this year with that of its manifestos for 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha polls reflects the changing terms of political narratives since the BJP’s victory in 2014.
The omission of the recommendation of Sachar Committee in the manifesto this time is a tell-tale sign of the Congress’s recalibration of its stance on the minorities issue in the backdrop of the ruling party’s cultural nationalism politics.
Bundling the issues concerning religious minorities under the section ‘Religious And Linguistic Minorities’, the manifesto released on Tuesday devotes six of 11 points under the section on the issue of language, including sign language.
While the party promises to bring a legislation to “punish” hate crimes and atrocities against “minorities and other vulnerable sections”, several issues concerning religious minorities, in particular Muslims, are missing this time compared to the previous two manifestos.
The manifesto states: “We will pass a new law in the first session of 17th Lok Sabha and in Rajya Sabha to prevent and punish hate crimes such as mob-engineered stripping, burning and lynching. The law will contain provisions to compensate the victims and to hold accountable the police and district administration for proven negligence.”
It also promises to retain minority educational institution character of Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia, and grant Constitutional status to the National Commission for Minorities. These issues seems to have been spurred by political controversies surrounding these topics since 2014.
The tone of the Congress manifesto on issues of religious minorities pales in comparison to earlier ones, when the party did not hesitate to own up being at the “forefront in promoting schemes for welfare of minorities”, as the 2014 manifesto stated.
The party’s hesitations is reflected also from the omission of the issue of implementation of the Sachar Committee recommendations, which constituted an essential element of the party’s 2009 and 2014 manifestos.
Besides, the issue of providing reservations in educational institutions and government employment to address backwardness of minorities, as highlighted by Sachar Committee, finds no mention this time.
In 2014, the party had stated: “The Congress-led UPA has taken steps to address conditions of backward minorities by aiming to provide them reservation in educational institutions and in government employment. We will pursue this matter closely in Court and ensure that the policy is implemented through proper legislation.”
In 2009, the party had also cited the example of Congress-governed Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh to promise reservation for minorities at the “national level”.
While the manifesto promises a law to punish hate crimes, the Congress seems to have junked its previous “priority” of a law against communal violence. “The Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2013, which was drafted and introduced by the Indian National Congress will be passed as a matter of priority,” the party had promised in 2014.
Likewise, the issues of Prime Minister’s 15-point programme taken up during UPA-I, which envisaged physical and financial targets for minorities in all welfare programmes of the Central government along with a special development package for 90 minority-concentration districts, highlighted by the Congress in 2009, has not found favour this time.