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The South Asian Insider

Manifesto Manthan: Does Congress’ Poll Promises Institutionalise Legal Discrimination Against Hindus?

By: Rahul Shivshankar
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is determined to paint the Congress into a corner. A communal anti-Hindu corner at that. In election speech after speech, he claims to have unearthed a Congress conspiracy to institutionalise legal discrimination against Hindus if it is voted to power. The prime minister believes this conspiracy is hard coded into the clauses of the Congress party manifesto for 2024.
Modi alleges that the manifesto in its present form commits itself to affirmative action that will lead to the balkanisation of India as the document has the “imprint of the Muslim league” upon it. Of course, the Muslim League the prime minister is invoking refers to the pre-independence special political vehicle founded by anglicised barrister-politician Mohammad Ali Jinnah to champion the creation of Pakistan.
Not just this, the prime minister believes that the manifesto commits any prospective Congress-led government to roll out policies overwhelmingly biased towards Muslims. Is the prime minister seeing the ghost of appeasement where none exist? The Congress thinks so.But a deeper inquiry into the Congress manifesto reveals many ambiguously worded proposals to further the cause of what it terms “social justice and equity”.
For instance, in clause 1 of the “Equity” chapter of the manifesto, the party has promised to conduct a “socio-economic census” (different from a caste census) to ascertain the financial condition of various sections of society. Basis this survey, the manifesto vows that the Congress will strengthen affirmative action.
A census by itself is harmless. But this census, albeit arduous but statistically heavy academic exercise, could acquire a sharper edge when it is read in conjunction with Congress chief campaigner Rahul Gandhi’s “X-ray” statement. Indeed, a day after the manifesto was released, Rahul Gandhi promised to conduct, in his words, “an X-ray that will provide an insight to (all) minorities on just how much of a stake they are entitled to have in the share of the nation’s resource pie.” Moreover, Rahul Gandhi later in the same speech goes on to proclaim, “We will also conduct a financial and institutional survey in a historic step to ascertain the distribution of wealth held by different communities.”Many are convinced that the only reason for ascertaining wealth distribution is to undertake a redistribution of it for the uplift of minorities, particularly Muslims. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2006 had in fact said as much when he made it clear that minorities, especially Muslims, have a first claim on the nation’s wealth.
The manifesto also pledges that if the Congress comes to power, it will pass a constitutional amendment to remove the Supreme Court-mandated 50 per cent cap on reservations for Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBC).
Is this promise to raise the limit on reservation quotas, so to speak, primarily aimed at appeasing Muslims? The question is answered by precedent.In 2004, for instance, then Congress Andhra Pradesh state government had announced reservations for Muslims in government jobs and education. The SC stayed the implementation of the Muslim quota above the 50 per cent cap but had allowed it within the 27 per cent OBC fold. Crucially, the SC had then referred the matter to a five-judge SC bench which in 2022 began hearing pleas challenging the constitutional validity of reservations on religious grounds.
Despite the setback it suffered in the Supreme Court, the Congress has never given up on the idea of benefitting Muslims. In its 2009 and 2014 manifestoes, the Congress had promised nationwide reservations for Muslims in jobs and education. The 2014 manifesto even committed the party to “pursue this matter closely in court to ensure that the policy is implemented through proper legislation.”
There are other proclamations in the Congress manifesto that require close reading. For instance, there are promises to ensure “the economic empowerment of minorities” as this is “a necessary step for India to realise its full potential”. Besides, there is also the express promise to “ensure” that Muslims receive their “fair share” in jobs, education and even sports. The use of the word “ensure” adds a whole new dimension to the otherwise ambivalent proclamations. The word “ensure” suggests that the Congress has committed itself to drawing up policies favourable to minorities in the eventuality of securing power.