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Sparks over ‘minorities-first’ thrust

New Delhi, Dec. 9: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said minorities, especially Muslims, “must have the first claim on resources” — a comment that prompted the RSS to draw a parallel with Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s “pre-Partition” language.

Singh told the National Development Council that his government would have to “devise innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably the fruits of development. These must have the first claim on resources”.

The statement comes after the Sachar committee reported that Muslims are lagging behind other communities.

Late in the night, the Prime Minister’s media adviser clarified that Singh was not talking about Muslims alone, but about all minorities, scheduled castes, schedule tribes and other backward classes.

The government was expected to unveil a specific action plan, following a debate on the report in Parliament. But that seems unlikely because of a time crunch and, more important, because the government at the moment does not have anything to offer other than a 15-point charter announced earlier this year which is awaiting implementation.

Sources said the Prime Minister had in mind a cabinet note appended with the charter, which said 15 per cent of the targeted development programmes, including the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme, Urban Renewal Mission and the Rural Health Care Mission, should specifically benefit the minorities.

Left-ruled Bengal is the only state to have set aside 15 per cent of the financial outlay of several departments for minorities.

The BJP’s Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, said: “Such a statement does not behove a senior leader like the Prime Minister.”

The RSS’s Ram Madhav said: “This is precisely the language used by Mohammed Ali Jinnah before Partition.”

BJP sources said they will raise the issue in Parliament on Monday.

On the other hand, Mulayam Singh Yadav, who projects himself as the champion of the minorities, was defensive. In his address to the development council, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister had said: “All efforts for economic development will be futile unless… equal opportunity to all sections of the society is made available…. The poor and helpless persons cannot be classified on the basis of caste, creed etc.”

In his speech, the Prime Minister had said the collective priorities of the Centre and all the states were agriculture, irrigation and water resources, health, education, investment in rural infrastructure and programmes for Dalits, other backward classes, minorities, women and children.

Situating his proposal in the context of the 11th Five Year Plan, the Prime Minister said the plan must fulfil the “dreams of our founding fathers” for an India that was “inclusive, caring and equitable”.

But he added: “We cannot escape from the fact that the Centre’s resources will be stretched in the immediate future and an increasing share of the responsibility will have to be shouldered by the states.”

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