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Jains’ minority plea on Buddha table

Calcutta, Feb. 25: Barring a major change in plans, the Jains — one of the richest and most influential communities in the city — look set to end up beside Muslims and Christians as a defined minority before general election dates are announced.

The Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee cabinet is expected to ratify the community’s long-standing demand that it be conferred minority status when it meets tomorrow.

Senior officials in the government confirmed the proposal would be placed before the cabinet. If a last-minute brake is applied, it would only be because the government and the party do not want to be seen as playing votebank politics just before an election, they said.

But the goings-on that have led to the proposal to place the community on the minority list suggest anything but a peaceful meeting of minds within the CPM and the state government.

Eager not to be seen as going the way of “some other parties and alliances” in pandering to “demands that could be interpreted as being divisive”, some in the party and the government advised restraint. But till this evening, this lobby appeared to have been overruled by others who felt the decision would be more beneficial than harmful.

The fate of the Jain files — shuttled between one government department and another — reflects these crosscurrents, officials said.

The Delhi headquarters of the Shree Bharatvarshiya Digambar Jain Mahasabha first voiced the demand. “We have been raising this demand for some years now,” mahasabha spokesperson Bimal Jain, scheduled to land in the city on Friday, said over phone from Delhi.

Constitutional experts said the demand had a “strong legal basis”. Several courts, including Delhi High Court and Bombay High Court, as well as the Supreme Court, had in several verdicts acknowledged the Jains’ demand to be recognised as a minority community, they said.

“So you may say that the courts of law have already accepted the Jains to be a minority,” an expert said.

Besides, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and Uttaranchal have accepted the community’s persistent demand. The National Commission for Minorities has, however, been non-committal.

It was in this “confusing” backdrop that the battle was being fought. The mahasabha and other Jain organisations have been petitioning the West Bengal Minorities’ Commission for some years now.

State minority development officials said the commission sent this plea to the office of the advocate-general for legal comments.

But the advocate-general’s office sent the file back to the commission, apparently unwilling to get involved. It was then that the commission referred the matter to the state government.

Community members said they were demanding this status for reasons other than that put by other communities. Affluent and close-knit, they do not need soft loans and other advantages they can get from the West Bengal Minorities’ Development Finance Corporation. But the status will help them while fighting legal — and other — battles over their educational institutions.

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