The Lok Sabha elections, 2019 are in progress in India. The largest democracy is going to polls and the electoral promises are unraveling thick and fast. Almost all political parties and prospective candidates have promises to make to the voters and some political parties have them written in the form of manifestos which spells out their vision for the society and policies that they wish to implement when voted into power. This manifesto doesn’t always translate into reality or is implemented in its entirety if the party is voted into power but does give the voter a glimpse of its world view or what can we expect from the party in some degree. The manifesto is also the stated position of the political party and thus it is morally binding on it to implement it. This article will analyze the manifestos of some of the political parties to understand how they locate minorities in their idea of India or the current Indian society for the next five years.
Why is it important to undertake this exercise of locating minorities in the manifestos of the political parties? Firstly, as famously said, a society will be judged by how it treats its weakest members. The Minorities in India, especially the Muslims are socio-economically more backward than Dalits having little access to quality education or livelihood and having little if no representation in government bodies or agencies. Today though India is recognized as the largest and most vibrant democracy, the scourge of mob lynching, communal violence and hate crimes can’t be wished away from India by remaining silent about them. Minorities in India are treated as second classes citizens and come under attack from various quarters- elected representatives, non state actors and the state itself. Never has India gone to polls so divided along religious lines amidst polarization and with the urgency to save its very soul-a secular and democratic India. The centre stage in the political discourse today is assumed by how one perceives minorities and their status in India. This is manifested in the issue of Kashmir, personal laws and specifically triple talaq, construction of Ram Mandir, the reverence of cow and subsequent intolerance spiraling into mob lynching of innocent people mostly from the Muslim and Dalit communities. Some of the candidates for the elections are accused of terrorism based on hatred for particular religious community resulting into the loss of lives of innocent citizens and thereby mocking the secular democratic fabric of our country.
In the above scenario, it is important to see how different political parties have placed the minorities in their manifestos. While some political parties don’t release their manifestos, the author was not able to access the manifestos of all political parties. Here the political parties and their manifestos are classified by their outreach- firstly, National parties or having a larger perspective as against restricted to particular region or constituency and secondly political parties for social justice or regional parties which mostly have their stronghold in a small number of states. These regional parties also have their roots in movements for social justice.
The discourse on rights of minorities has been primarily on three pillars- right to security, right to non-discrimination or equality and finally right to preserve culture. These are the rights recognized for minorities by international bodies like the United Nations and spelled in the ‘Declaration on the rights of persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities’. They have also found place in the Indian Constitution under different articles. Thus the location of the minorities in this article will be analyzed using this framework of understanding. It is observed largely that while some political parties had absolutely no mention of rights of minorities, some had a piece meal approach and some had a holistic inclusive approach towards minorities thereby defining the scope given to minorities in the manifestos.
Bhartiya Janata Party:
The manifesto of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) which is the ruling party at the Centre remains silent on the issues of minorities. Overall, the manifesto is conspicuous by the absence of any perspective on minority from the point of view of security, equality or preservation of culture. What are striking are the promises of BJP on issues which have contributed to the marginalization, demonization and exclusion of minorities in the country thereby widening the fault lines along religious lines in India- envisioning a homogeneous and fractured India. Only a passing reference is made to development with dignity for all minorities. However this is not elaborated by spelling out concrete measures for development of minorities. But what do find clear and elaborate mention are the construction of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, prohibition of practices like talaq e- biddat or triple talaq and Nikah Halala, implementation of National Registrar of Citizenship in other areas of the country, Citizenship amendment bill and the uniform civil code.
Starting with the promise of implementing NRC in other parts of the country and Citizenship Amendment Bill, it directly strengthens the narrative that Hindus are the rightful citizens of India and citizens practicing other religions are second class citizens of India. The message is clear that India is the natural and rightful land for Hindus and not a secular state which has no state religion. This narrative is to the detriment of the minorities which should face no discrimination and threat to their security. The hatred and violence faced by the Bengali speaking Muslims and Hindus in Assam over the decades and the plight of four million citizens, some of them in inhumane detention camps, who didn’t find their names in the NRC list of July 2018 is an indicator of what can be the fate of minorities if NRC and all the arbitrariness it stands for is implemented in the rest of India. It will also give traction to the myth that most Muslims in India are Bangladeshi migrants amid rising hysteria of Muslims being anti-nationalism. Similarly, uniform civil code and prohibiting practicing of Halala and triple talaq cited as ensuring equality to women, in the way argued by the BJP is only achieving demonization of Muslims by portraying them as backwards due to their practice of Islam. Overall the BJP hasn’t promised or assured the minorities of their rights on any of the three dimensions- no security in the atmosphere of gruesome mob lynching and communal violence, no equality or steps to end discrimination when the minorities and especially the Muslims have been recognized as the most marginal social groups in the country by reports like Sachar commission and Rangnathan Mishra commission and lastly no right to culture to the minorities. The manifesto overall paints India as moving towards a Hindu Rashtra marked by inequality and exclusion.
Indian National Congress:
The INC or Congress in stark contrast to the BJP has released a manifesto which is inclusive towards the minorities. In the past the INC has been accused rhetorically of minorities’ appeasement by the Hindu Supremacists. However despite this accusation, the lived reality of the minorities tells a different tale. Under the Congress rule too, the minorities were victims of communal violence if not mob lynching to the extent seen today. The various Commission reports have given detailed status of backwardness of the Muslims in terms of education, livelihood and overall marginalization. Only on the front of right to culture, there seemed some assurance of preservation of culture but that didn’t stop the demonization of the minorities. The current manifesto has the following to offer:
In terms of security of the minorities, the INC starts off by recognizing that amongst the five internal threats to India is that of communal violence. It promises to put an end to vigilante groups and moral policing groups which indulge in violence with impunity. The manifesto says that communal violence will be handled deftly by firm use of the police forces. This is interesting given the trend of how biased the police force is against minorities and how they are compelled to follow the diktat of their political bosses who may habour similar bias. Given the bias of the police and under-representation of minorities in the police force, the manifesto states that Congress will work with state governments to ensure that their police forces reflect the diversity of the population of the State and gives greater representation to under-represented sections. It further states that investigations will be carried out into cases of communal riots, lynching and gang rapes by a special wing of the State police under the direct command of the State Headquarters of the police.
In the instances of communal riots, the manifesto highlights apprehending the instigators and bringing them to justice. To ensure that the atmosphere of impunity ends where communal violence is a new normal, the manifesto states that the district administration will be held responsible for communal riots. However, though the manifesto does mention the apprehending the instigator and not just the foot soldiers during the riots, it’s still a far cry from apprehending those who plan or engineer the riots in the institutionalized riot system thereby raising questions of effectively dealing with communal riots.
The manifesto also promises to pass a new law in the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha and in the 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.
Further in its attempt to be more inclusive in its approach to minorities and promoting a culture of peace, the INC has proposed National Integration Council to promote unity, solidarity, communal harmony, fraternity and reconciliation. Also in order to foster respect for all religions, the manifesto proposes setting up of an Interfaith Council for interfaith dialogue and increase mutual tolerance. In order to uphold the right to culture of the minorities, Congress promises to uphold the character of Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia as minority educational institutions. National commission of Minorities to be given constitutional status as stated in the manifesto.
In order to ensure equality, equal access to opportunities and representation of the minorities which is marked by its absence today, the manifesto promises to introduce Diversity Index as a metric to assess and ensure diversity in all government bodies, semi-government agencies, public sector enterprises and other public bodies. The manifesto promises to pass an Anti-Discrimination Law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, caste, gender or language in the supply of goods and services that are made available to the public in general such as housing, hostels, hotels, clubs, etc. It also proposes withdrawal of the Citizenship Amendment Bill. A special mention is made of equal representation of minorities, women, SC, ST and OBCs in Judiciary.
Overall the manifesto holds some favorable promises to the minorities- at least on paper as of now.
Trinamool Congress or TMC in the last few years have been in strong confrontation with BJP in West Bengal. Post 2014, West Bengal has witnessed large scale communal riots and aggressive polarization along religious lines. The BJP has often leveled charges of appeasement of minorities against Mamata Banerjee and TMC. Though TMC is very vocal in its support and commitment to the minorities and especially the Muslims, this has hardly translated into security or development of Muslims in the State which account for approximately 27% of the total population of the State. Thus TMC is criticized for paying merely lip- service to the minorities. Unfortunately in the TMC manifesto too no elaborate measures are spelled out for minorities on any of three aspects of security, non-discrimination and right to culture. Though the manifesto starts with its commitment to an inclusive, pluralistic and secular country and expresses concern over mob lynching under the pretext of cow protection and communal violence, it only dwells on what it perceives as achievements of the TMC rule in the last 7.5 years and doesn’t clearly spell out its vision for minorities in the next five years. It loosely mentions that TMC will aim at development and prosperity for all including minorities in a new India without giving a roadmap. According to the Manifesto, TMC has given record 2 crores 3 lakhs minority scholarships, loans worth 1300 crores for 8 lakhs minority youth along few other achievements in past 7.5 years. But the manifesto doesn’t have anything to offer to the minorities in the future.
Samajwadi Party (SP) has entered into an alliance with arch rival Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) for 2019 elections. BSP as a practice doesn’t release an election manifesto. These three parties rose in politics on the plank of social justice. This is also the larger claim of SP in its manifesto. The alliance is essentially of parties which traditionally have a support based amongst the marginalized like the Dalits, OBCs, Yadavs and Muslims. The SP in particular counts on the Yadav- Muslim factor for electoral success. This reliance and expectation of Muslim support (Muslims constitute 19% of total population of UP) hasn’t compelled the SP to ensure their security or development. The Muzzaffarnagar riots in 2013 saw many innocent Muslims being displaced and dead. Communal polarization and mob lynching is also highest in UP. But surprisingly none of this finds a mention in the SP manifesto. It only mentions how SP will find a constitutional solution to Kashmir problem especially the alienation amongst the Kashmiri youth. The minorities are completely excluded from this manifesto which claims to have social justice as its foundation. The question is how just is social justice without including minorities in it?
Due to constraint of word limit, the manifestos of the rest of the political parties will be examined in the next part.
To be continued…..
 The author has benefitted immensely from the discussions that took place at CSSS with CSSS team which will publish a detailed paper soon on the same topic in the Indian Journal of Secularism. The framework for analysis in this article is borrowed from the discussions along with some other ideas.