By Arjavi Indraneesh
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s jibe about Rahul Gandhi contesting from a place where the majority was in minority, a reference to the Muslim majority of his Wayanad constituency, had Congress and other opposition parties up in arms. The remark was interpreted as yet another instance of BJP’s anti-minorities bias.
With Modi firmly in saddle once again, a PIL petition filed by BJP leader and lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay in the Supreme Court challenging the declaration of certain sections of the population as minorities based on their ratio at the national level is bound to be counted among the saffron moves against the minority communities.
But the substantive issues raised in the petition, on which the court has sought Attorney General K. K. Venugopal’s views, have merit and are likely to be the subject of animated public debate. The petition has sought that, instead of deciding minority status on the basis of national data, minorities be defined on the basis of state-wise population data.
The petition argues that the Hindus, who are a majority community as per national data, are a minority in several north-eastern states and in Jammu and Kashmir. But the Hindu community is deprived of benefits that are available to the minority communities in these states.
It asserts that the definition of ‘minority’ as per Article 29-30 of the Constitution is being misused for political benefits, adding that Hindus in the states where the number of the community has decreased be given minority status.
The petition points out that as per 2011 Census, Hindus are minority in eight states — Lakshadweep (2.5 per cent), Mizoram (2.75 per cent), Nagaland (8.75 per cent), Meghalaya (11.53 per cent), Jammu and Kashmir (28.44 per cent), Arunachal Pradesh (29 per cent), Manipur (31.39 per cent) and Punjab (38.40 per cent).
Christians are in majority in Mizoram, Meghalaya and Nagaland and there is significant population in Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Kerala, Manipur, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal but they are treated as minority.
There is certainly merit in the argument. The most appropriate case is that of Kerala, where the communities are divided almost on equal basis, with the Muslims and Christians comprising close to a third of the population. Hindus have a higher proportion only in terms of their religious denomination; otherwise, socially and economically the Hindu population of the state is clearly divided into separate groups. It is a travesty of truth to consider the Hindus as part of a homogenous religious group for the purpose of defining their economic and social status, because the sub-groups within the community show huge variations in their levels of progress.
Kerala is probably one state where the minority communities have used their constitutional status to lionise economic benefits, which in turn has pinched the others. Unlike in other states where the minorities are backward in terms of social and economic status, in Kerala Christians and Muslims dominate nearly all walks of public life, including sectors of economy, business, trade and even the professions. They enjoy unmatched political clout and have been in a position to influence the policies of the government of the day. And the two communities have used their unique strength for the betterment of their members, which often happens at the cost of others.
Unlike in other states, communalism in Kerala is mostly based on economic considerations. With its secular credentials never in doubt, Kerala has had few incidents of peace and stability being disturbed on account of communal tensions. Minorities enjoy unfettered religious freedom in the state and instances of any particular community being denied their right to practice their religion are unheard of in the state.
But when it comes to economic communalism, there is fierce fight all the time and it is often the ‘majority’ community that bears the brunt because their majority is only a technicality. It is a fight among the sub-groups, which are well-entrenched due to their own typical strengths, but the constitutional guarantees provided on the basis of minority status invariably becomes the deciding factor.
There is clearly a case in Kerala for treating all communities equally in deciding the stakes of development because the minority or majority status is a misnomer. The situation in some of the states cited in the petition may not be as pro-minorities as it is in Kerala, and yet there are issues of similar nature, particularly in states like Goa, Tamil Nadu and the north-eastern states.
Upadhyaya’s petition says that Muslims are a majority in Lakshadweep (96.20 per cent), Jammu and Kashmir (68.30 per cent) and there is a significant population of the community in Assam (34.20 per cent), West Bengal (27.5 per cent) and Kerala (26.60 per cent) and alleges that they are enjoying ‘minority’ status, and communities, which are real minorities, are not getting their legitimate share, jeopardizing their basic rights guaranteed under the Articles 14, 15, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.
The petition is being heard by a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi. It is coming up for hearing in four weeks time. (IPA Service)