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Minority tag has to go one day: Antulay

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Last Updated: March 05, 2006, 20:41 IST

Minority tag has to go one day: Antulay

Abdul Rehman Antulay, Union Minister of Minority Affairs, talks about the objectives of the new ministry in an interview with Karan Thapar on Devil's Advocate.

Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil's Advocate. 58 years after independence is India justified in creating a ministry of minority affairs? Is the country justified in treating its minorities differently to the mainstream?

These are the key questions that I shall put today to the Minister of Minority Affairs, a new portfolio created just six weeks ago, Abdul Rehman Antulay.

Mr Antulay, 58 years after independence and at a time when we are proud to claim that India is a united country, how do you justify the surprise and sudden creation of a ministry of minority affairs?


A R Antulay: I think the first part of the question includes the answer. And you have answered it very well. All Indians are in the mainstream, you said something like that. This ministry is created, as per my perception, to bring all the minorities to the mainstream of Indian life.

Karan Thapar: So, you are saying that at the moment, as you see them, minorities are not in the mainstream?

A R Antulay: Everybody knows that all minorities don't feel totally at home. Otherwise, Gujarat wouldn't have happened. These things are happening both on religious basis and also linguistic basis.

Karan Thapar: Let's be honest. When you talk about minorities, usually you are talking of religious minorities and primarily you are talking about the Muslims.

A R Antulay: No, not at all.

Karan Thapar: You just mentioned Gujarat. Clearly, that means that you are talking about the Muslims.

A R Antulay: No. I said that When you said why do you think the religious minorities feel different from others.

Karan Thapar: And the example you gave was Gujarat.

A R Antulay: Because that was recent.

Karan Thapar: So, Muslims are prime focus of your ministry?

A R Antulay:No, not at all.

Karan Thapar: Or they are a very important part of your focus?

A R Antulay:No, Mr Karan. I think you know me very well. My secular credentials can never be doubted. Even the enemies and my opponents have not done so. And certainly, you being a friend, you will not do so.

I am a secular persons. That is why I thank Soniaji and I thank Manmohanji for having created this ministry, though late, for they could not have helped it because it was not there earlier. And also for having put me as a secular Muslim, as a secular Indian to bring all minorities to the mainstream.
Among the religious minority, there are Hindus also- Hindus of J&K, Hindus of Punjab, Hindus of the NE states.
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Karan Thapar: All right. Let's come to the substantive argument. You got the PR exercise over with. You've thanked Soniaji, you've thanked Dr Manmohan Singh.

Now, let me quote to you what the Supreme Court said in August last year. The Supreme Court said that the classification of religious groups as minorities would damage the unity of India.

Let me quote: "The whole country, which is already under class and social conflicts due to various divisive forces, will further face division on the basis of religious diversity. And then, most pointedly, the Supreme Court said encouragement to such fissiparous tendencies would be a serious jolt to the secular structure of India's constitutional democracy. I put it to you that the creation of a ministry for minority affairs is a slap on the face of the Supreme Court.


A R Antulay: I think, if you don't mind it, you are quoting out of context.

Karan Thapar: I am not.

A R Antulay: See, this was on the question of whether the Jains should or should not be included among the minorities.

Karan Thapar: Precisely, precisely.

A R Antulay: If you see the entire judgment, read it as a whole, not a part of it, that's out of context thing will not convey the intent and purpose.

Karan Thapar: Forgive me, I am interrupting you. Their intent was to say that the classification of religious groups as minority should be ended. It should be diminished, it should not be added to.

A R Antulay: No, it's the contrary. Excuse me, I am really surprised that an intellectual like you would say that. They have said, yes. Even the Jains should be included among the religious minorities in the state, not at the Centre.

Karan Thapar: Absolutely. And we are talking about a Central ministry.

A R Antulay: What is good in the state is not good at the Centre?

Karan Thapar:That's certainly what the Supreme Court is suggesting.

A R Antulay:Mr Thapar, do you think if 'a' happens to be minority in a state, the same 'a' is not a minority at the Centre?

Karan Thapar: Let me answer your question by pointing you towards the views of Pratap Bhanu Mehta, who is not only one of the country's leading academicians, but someone who was personally chosen by the PM as a member of the new, prestigious Knowledge Commission.

Writing in The Indian Express in January, this is what Pratap Bhanu Mehta says: "The UPA Government's approach to the well-being of Muslims is threatening to inject an insidious poison into Indian politics, whose ramifications for all Indian citizens are too dreadful to contemplate. This is the man your PM has appointed to the Knowledge Commission.


A R Antulay: That shows the greatness of the PM.
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Karan Thapar: In other words, the PM deliberately appoints people whose views he disagrees with.

A R Antulay:He may have appointed not one, he may have appointed many.

Karan Thapar: Is this not embarrassing?

A R Antulay:No, it's not embarrassing. It instills happiness in the minds of persons like me.
He may be intellectual. He is an intellectual, academician, I have respect for him. Hats off to him. But it's not necessary that I agree with what he says. I have my own views.

Karan Thapar: All right, don't agree with him. Let me explain to you why your critics think that the creation of the ministry of minority affairs is a wrong way of handling the problems. To start with, they say, a nation is more than just a geographical entity. It's a fusion of hearts and minds.

But when you classify people in terms of their individual religion rather than their nationality, you end up undermining the nation and you end up destroying the concept of Indianness.


A R Antulay: Mr Thapar, if we are a secular democracy, which I claim that we are and I am sure about it, this ministry is a ministry for national integration.

Karan Thapar: But the name doesn't suggest that. Does it?

A R Antulay: That's my concept. I am put as the minister there.

Karan Thapar:The PM put you as a Minister of Minority Affairs. Your embarrassment means that you have to change the name of the ministry.

A R Antulay:No. I am not changing the name. Concept I said. I didn't say the name.

Karan Thapar: So that concept exist under a contradictory name?

A R Antulay: No, not contradictory. To you it's contradictory. To me it's supplementary - not only supplementary, it's the soul.

Karan Thapar: Can I explain it why its contradictory? Inherent in the concept of minority affairs is the fact that you are setting Muslims apart from the rest of the country.

Inherent in the logic of what you are doing id the believe that Muslims are different and they need to be treated differently. That's the problem.

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A R Antulay:Not at all. A R Antulay will never do anything for minorities - any minority, any religious or linguistic minority - which is not in the interest of the nation.

If it is in the interest of the nation and also in the interest of the minorities, surely I will do it without least hesitation.

Karan Thapar: See, we are very lucky to have A R Antulay, a man so highly principled. But what if someone else was Minister for Minority Affairs? I am not talking about My Antulay. I am talking about the ministry - the concept behind the ministry.

And now let me quote to you Rafiq Zakaria, a former deputy leader of the Congress Party and in his time one of the most highly-regarded Muslim scholar. You know what he says? "There can be no meaningful separate agenda for minorities.

Gimmicks are no remedy. The minorities must realise that they have to stand on their own feet and rely on their own strength.


A R Antulay: Yeah, I subscribe to this theory.

Karan Thapar: That's why we don't need your ministry.

A R Antulay: You must prepare the ground so that they can stand on their feet. They can't stand on their own feet on water.

Karan Thapar: So you are preparing the ground with this ministry?

A R Antulay: Of course, I am preparing the ground. And they must move hand in globe with the majority/ There will be no distinction between majority and minority. They will come and they will go shoulder to shoulder along with all others.
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Karan Thapar: In which case, let me point out some of the problems about the way you are preparing the ground. To begin with, if you classify people according to their religion ...

A R Antulay:Why will they be not classified?

Karan Thapar: If you classify the people according to their religion officially, in the way you treat them, in the way you target them, you are pushing them into the hands of conservative mullahs and orthodox organisations.

You are undermining the hold of liberal opinion. That's the first problem. You are pushing the minorities into the conservative stream.


A R Antulay: The Census says so, Mr Thapar. Who were in power in 2001. Have you seen the figures of the 2001 Census? Are they not divided on the religious lines? Not for division, for the sake of knowledge.

Karan Thapar:There is a big difference between a Census, which treats people as Muslims and Hindus and government policies.

A R Antulay: It does not behove a person like you quibbling. You are quibbling the word. You must know, you must confront. Go face to face with problem. I will grapple the problem with the forelocks.

Karan Thapar:Then let me come face to face with the problem. It is because you insist on classifying religious groups as minorities and pushing them into the hands of the most conservatives that people like Sania Mirza and Taslima Nasreen are subjected to fatwas from narrow-minded fundamentalist mullahs.

That's why the Shahi Imam can presume to tell the Muslim community how to vote. You created the context which justifies such behaviours. That's why it happens.


A R Antulay: But Shahi Imam gave the fatwa, which Muslims didn't exactly follow. You know that. And you are only talking about the religious minorities. My ministry also includes linguistic minorities.
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Karan Thapar: Because it is at the level of religious minority that you threaten the fissiparous tendencies of the country as the Supreme Court has said, as Pratap Bhanu Mehta has said.

A R Antulay:Pratap Bhanu Mehta may have said so. I respect the man, but that does not mean that I succumb to his theory.

Karan Thapar:That's also the view of the Supreme Court.

A R Antulay:The Pratap Bhanu Mehta may have said so, but I may have a different view.

Karan Thapar: So you differ from Pratap Bhanu Mehta and you differ from the Supreme Court?

A R Antulay:No, I said you are doing something wrong to the Supreme Court by taking it out of context.
And, since you hit me, let me have my say. I am not here sitting in the dock for cross-examination. You are here to elicit information.

Karan Thapar:Absolutely. I have come to you because you are one of the few, who I think is embarrassed by the portfolio he holds.

A R Antulay:No, not at all.

Karan Thapar:That's why you rechristened it ministry of national integration.

A R Antulay:If suppose I had been embarrased, I would not have accepted it. He didn't give it to me before asking or consulting or talking to me. The honourable Prime Minister himself talked to me.

Karan Thapar:Let's come back to the subject we were talking about. I mentioned one reason why the classification of religious groups as minorities is dangerous. Let me mention the second reason.

If you target Muslims as Muslims and other religious groups as minority, you end up treating them as vote bank. You give them benefits as religious groups and in turn you expect the religious groups to vote for you. In other words, you end up manipulating their interest rather than serving it.

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A R Antulay:See very unfortunately, the basis on which the democracy flourishes in this country and anywhere in the world, you have totally forgotten. And that is the manifesto. You would say the manifesto is issued by a political party to gather votes. Yes, of course so.

Karan Thapar: Can I quote to you Rafiq Zakaria once again? Writing in his book published in 2004, he wrote: "After independence, Indian Muslims became a pawn in the hands of political parties and were maneuvered merely to obtain their votes. Your form of ministry, you form of religious focusing not only encourages that, it makes it inevitable.

A R Antulay: See Dr Zakaria is no more. I have respect for him. May his soul rest in peace. But Dr Zakaria was in Rajya Sabha. Was a deputy leader as you yourself have said. Throughout his life, he was with the Congress. He had ample opportunity to correct that wrong it he thought that it was a wrong.

Karan Thapar: All right. Let me then quote to you Abu Saleh Shari, appointed by the Prime Minister personally to the Rajinder Sachar Committee. Let me quote to you: "Muslims are largely important as a political tool to be used as a vote bank or as a mere token in India's claim to unity in diversity." One argues your entire focus encourages this.

A R Antulay:May I tell you one thing. I didn't know that you will bring so many persons' quotations. If you have brought these authorities, I could have brought in three times more.

Karan Thapar:All of these authorities are on your side - a Congress man and the people appointed by the PM to committees.

A R Antulay: PM has appointed many people. One of them is saying this.

Karan Thapar:You said that same thing about the Pratap Bhanu Mehta also.

A R Antulay:That shows that the Prime Minister doesn't want only Congressman. He doesn't want only those who subscribe to his political theory.
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Karan Thapar:It also shows that the Prime Minister made a terrible mistake in creating the Ministry of Minority Affairs. Because these people were appointed before he created the ministry.

A R Antulay:May I tell you something. Please wait for a year. Again come here for an interview and within a year if your view is not changed - that this ministry I thought wrongly was a ministry to breed and encourage fissiparous tendencies I was wrong, I am sorry about it if you don't say so, I bet.

Karan Thapar: I will happily come back to you after a year. I look forward to an opportunity of apologising to you. Because as I said earlier, A R Antulay is a man who will perhaps not misuse his ministry.

But it's not A R Antulay I was talking about. It's the concept behind the ministry. Let me put to you. As a result of the vote bank mentality that lies behind such religious focusing, you know what governments do? They go to the extent of even defying the Constitution or even the Supreme Court if the vote bank that they want to help is in some way enhanced.

This is why when the Supreme Court strikes down the Aligarh Muslim University Act or the Assam immigration act, instead of accepting the Supreme Court verdict, you government has committed itself to passing legislations and undoing what the Supreme Court has done. That's the consequence of religious focusing and vote bank mentality.


A R Antulay:See every political party is after vote bank. I don't say this ministry is created for that purpose. I gave you the example of political manifesto. You say no political party should issue any manifesto or whatever before elections. Because they do it only for getting votes.

Karan Thapar:Mr Antuley, you know how far this votebank mentality goes? Your government even considered enquiring into the Army's recruitment policy because you thought that you could confer benefits on a particular religious community as a result.

You did it without realising that you are threatening the sanctity of the Army, possibly threatening the sanctity of India. That's the problem with vote bank mentality.

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A R Antulay:I think you have not read the sou moto statement made by the Defence Minister.

Karan Thapar:He is under pressure from the Opposition, from the press, from the Services Chiefs themselves.

A R Antulay: See, that's the statement made sou moto by the Defence Minister. If you have read that, you won't have put this question.

Let me refresh you memory. Sachar Committee issued a statement, not necessarily by the committee. Sachar is an eminent jurist, eminent lawyer. A circular was issued maybe by his committee, not necessarily by him.

Karan Thapar:Sounds as if you are suddenly disowning the Sachar committee.

Mr Antulay, the assumption that the problems of the Muslim community can be tackled by tackling them as Muslim's problems has actually failed. Because today, 58 years after independence ...


A R Antulay: Excuse me. Why do you say Muslims only. Christians are there. Sikhs are there. In fact, Jains are going to be there.

Karan Thapar: Because the cutting edge of my example is the Muslims. Let me finish, you should understand. Fifty-eight years after independence, the Muslims remain among the lest educated, the most poor, the most under-represented sections of Indian society. That is proof that targeting the Muslims as Muslims hasn't helped.

A R Antulay:How many years after Lincoln the blacks are considered part of the American society?

Karan Thapar:So, because the Americans were slow in helping the blacks, you are justified in being slow in helping Muslims?

A R Antulay:If you can quote so many people here, I would argue you with my own ingenuity rather than quoting something. I am saying what I feel. I am not taking help of someone to buttress my point.

Karan Thapar:In which case, let's leave Lincoln to history and to the Americans. Let's instead focus on the reports.

A R Antulay:You said 58th year. I said that because you said that. If 58 years is a big period, after how many years the blacks were included as citizens of the US, along with Rice.
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Karan Thapar:Let's focus on the excellent reports by people like Abu Saleh Shari, who last year in October produced an excellent thesis on Muslims' education.

Looking at primary, secondary, higher secondary and university education, he has concluded that Muslims in enrollment, not performance just in enrollment, were only marginally better than that of the castes, the Scheduled Castes.

Which means that 58 years after targeting the Muslims as Muslims to alley their problems, you have not even got them to schools. That's the extent to which your tackling of Muslim problems has failed.


A R Antulay: Now, you are contradicting your first question by putting the second question. Now you say that the Muslims do not have the basic education or primary education. Why are you talking of Muslims, why are you not talking of Indians as a whole?

Karan Thapar: All right. Let me then talk about religious minorities without defining which one I am talking about. And once again, I will quote Rafiq Zakaria. Why, because he was the deputy leader of your party. Because he was on your side of the political divide.

A R Antulay: He had ample time to correct it if he thought it was wrong.

Karan Thapar: He said: "The doles given to religious minorities by successive governments - both at the Centre and in the states - haven't made the slightest difference. Then he goes on specifically to talk about Muslims. He says Indian Muslims, their conditions in every respect continues to worsen with each passing year.

He says 70 per cent of them live in villages and are barely able to make ends meet. They are forlorn and radarless.

I put it to you that attempting to tackle the problems of Muslims as Muslims has failed. Give it up. Tackle it as individuals, tackle it as members of the nation.

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A R Antulay: Dr Rafiq Zakaria is a great thinker, a great educationist, great intellectual. But why should he have taken so long to realise it? When he was in authority - both in the state and the Centre - don't you think, he should have taken some corrective step?

Karan Thapar:But because he took so long, it doesn't mean that you can't benefit from his wisdom. Don't repeat the mistake again.

A R Antulay: That is what I say. If the Government of India has taken 58 years to bring about this ministry, don't think they shouldn't have done this if it is correct.

Karan Thapar:Let me quote to you once again.

A R Antulay:You can keep on quoting. I quote myself. I don’t quote others.

Karan Thapar:But I quote Pratap Bhanu Mehta, because he is on your side of the divide.

A R Antulay: Doesn't matter.

Karan Thapar:He says: "Everything that the UPA is proposing with respect to Muslims - from reservations to separate oddity - is retrograde.

A R Antulay: That is his view. That's not necessarily Antulay's view, not necessarily Manmohanji's view, Soniaji's view.

Karan Thapar:And you know that second problem? The first cost is that by targeting the Muslims as Muslims or religious minorities as religious minorities, you haven't really helped them at all. The second cost is that you have made them victims of Hindu backlash.

A R Antulay:Mr Thapar, if I knew that you are going to bring this much of research and quotations, I would have collected ten-fold more and confronted you with it.

Karan Thapar:You are the minister. I would have imagined that you have got this research in your fingertips. You don't need to collect it.

A R Antulay:That's why I didn't collect. And I am saying so, not as a researcher.

Karan Thapar: You don't need research to counter the point that I am making. I am making a simple point. Not only have you not benefited the minorities, and specifically the Muslims, worse still I am saying that your religious focusing have made them victims of a Hindu backlash.

Today, Hindus listen to your rhetoric, they see your religious focusing. They don't realise that it is not working. Instead they resent it. And they not only convert Muslims into beneficiaries, but also into victims. And you are to blame once again.


A R Antulay: I don't think you are correct in blaming the Hindus. Hindus are very tolerant. This country is tolerant. Indians are tolerant. They are not the same as you say.

Karan Thapar:But you are testing their tolerance, that's the problem.
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A R Antulay: No, you think so. Not they.

Karan Thapar: You are creating divisions by classifying one as Indian and the other by his religion. That's the problem.

A R Antulay:No. He is also equally an Indian. I say I am Indian, I am a Muslim and an Indian.

Karan Thapar:Government policies don't talk about Hindus, yet Government policies talk about Muslims. Why? Because you are dividing people by talking about one other's religion.

A R Antulay:Muslims? But why are you equating minority with Muslims?

Karan Thapar:Because they are the single biggest and because its the cutting edge of the argument. Because it's the minority that's most disadvantaged.

A R Antulay:Throughout the interview, you have not used any of the other religious minority and linguistic minority. You have used only Muslims. I think, excuse me for being little more frank, I think there is some bias which makes you put this question.

Karan Thapar:None at all. You certainly for the purpose of rhetoric and certainly for the purpose of replying suggest that I have a bias in my heart.

A R Antulay: No, no, not biased against Muslims. Pre-conditioned mind.

Karan Thapar: Yes, pre-conditioned argument, because by putting Muslims as the reference point, I actually give a cutting edge to the religious minority argument.

A R Antulay: You are again making a mistake. Do you know how many minority groups are there in India?

Karan Thapar:Do you know what academics say? I am not going to name the academic because you are going to get upset - Muslims in India will be far safer and more empowered not when we at every step heighten the consciousness of majority and minority as separate groups. Rather, Muslims will be better served when the distinction between majority and minority becomes irrelevant. Why can't you accept that principle?

A R Antulay: I said that in the beginning.

Karan Thapar: But you can't make it irrelevant when you are Minister for Minority Affairs.

A R Antulay:I said it in the beginning. Everybody should think that I am not majority, I am not minority. I am Indian. That is my goal, which I want to achieve.

I wish it was a live interview. I hope that your scissors will not cut a certain part.

Karan Thapar:Not a word. Every single word that you have said, including the insinuation that I have a bias in my heart, will be portrayed.

A R Antulay:But bias not against Muslims.

Karan Thapar:Let me end with one word. That there is hope that you won't in fact misuse the ministry that you hold only because I suspect you are embarrased by the name.

A R Antulay: I would have not accepted it if it was so. I would have said no sorry, I will not be accepting this.

Karan Thapar:Mr Antulay, a pleasure talking to you on Devil's Advocate.

A R Antulay:Delighted indeed. I am delighted talking to you after a long time.

Karan Thapar:Thank you, sir.

first published:March 05, 2006, 20:41 IST
last updated:March 05, 2006, 20:41 IST