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An independent report on Government of India’s response to Sachar Committee recommendations

4 December 2011

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Excerpts from If We Walk Together by Harsh Mander

(Foreword to Promises to Keep: Investigating Government’s response to Sachar Committee recommendations - Revised Nov 9, 2011)

The Constitution of the republic of free India was crafted in troubled but idealistic times. The Indian people were still reeling from Partition bloodshed and the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, in the dark shadows of politics of religious hatred and division. Millions of refugees displaced from the land of their birth were painfully battling penury, loss and memory. The secular democratic Constitution adopted in 1950 promised India’s religious minorities equal protection and equal citizenship rights under the law, and the freedom to practice and propagate their faith.

Decades later, in 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh resolved to publicly take stock of the conditions of India’s largest religious minority, the Muslims, and appointed for this a High Level Committee chaired by Justice Sachar. For decades, India’s largest opposition party, the BJP, had denounced what they alleged to be a ‘pseudo-secular’ policy of ‘appeasement’ of Indian Muslims, in pursuit of ‘vote-bank’ politics. They charged that Muslims vote en block, and to capture their bulk votes, they were unfairly benefited by successive governments led by the Congress Party, at the expense of the country’s majority Hindu community.

The report of this Committee lay to rest this long-orchestrated political untruth, by demonstrating that on most socio-economic indicators, the average condition of Muslims in India was comparable to, or even worse than the country’s acknowledged historically most disadvantaged communities, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. This was evidence not of favoured treatment, but cumulative and comprehensive official discrimination and neglect. Therefore the constitution of this Committee by the Prime Minister was in itself was an act of political sagacity and courage. But, as we will observe, the government has displayed lack of nerve and loss of the same courage and conviction when called upon to address the development deficits in the Muslim community which were diagnosed by the Sachar Committee.

[. . .]

To actually alter the destinies of millions of our people who face discrimination because of their socio-religious identities, would entail enormous budgetary resources and highly visible programmatic interventions which openly target programme benefits to the Muslim community. I recognise that it is not be easy to muster the political courage for this. I speculate that political managers of the ruling combine possibly caution against providing grist to the opposition’s charges of ‘minority appeasement’. They fear the political consequences of government being seen as openly taking sides with a community which is currently stigmatised as regressive and violent, globally and nationally. Therefore they resort to small poorly budgeted almost token interventions, as this Report eloquently testifies.

I think of Gandhi in the months before he was assassinated. His last battle was to ensure that Muslims get a fair deal from the division of this country: not even the Muslims who chose to remain in India, but those who had opted for Pakistan. In the shadow of Partition, one can speculate how unpopular his stand was. His stand ultimately cost him his life. But he never flinched from what he believed was just and right. We do need to find a little of Gandhi again today.

[. . .]

In districts, we encountered officials who were de-motivated, untrained and often carried mainstream prejudices against Muslim people. They prepare plans without ever consulting the intended recipients: Muslim youth, women and impoverished workers. In state capitals, minority departments were typically marginalised, under-resourced and under-staffed. At the apex in Delhi is the union Ministry of Minority Affairs. It faces role confusion similar to other Ministries such as for tribal, women and child welfare. These ministries tend to have a self-image of being marginalised to the side-lines in the hierarchies of power. They have modest budgets because they are not primarily implementing, but advocacy departments. They should monitor and advocate for the disadvantaged group with each central Government department and state government. But for this responsibility, they neither have the clout, nor the motivation. [. . .]


Promises to Keep: Investigating Government’s response to Sachar Committee recommendations - Revised Nov 9, 2011
Centre for Equity Studies, New Delhi
*Centre for Budget Governance and Accountability, New Delhi
*Accountability Initiative, New Delhi
* & other partners
Revised: November, 2011