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Cong takes minority flak

- Terror frame-up to riot bill raised at public consultation
Television footage of Rahul Gandhi at the meeting
in New Delhi on Monday. (PTI)

New Delhi, Dec. 23: A public meeting for minorities called by the Congress today witnessed the party being criticised on several counts, such as its failure to address the problem of Muslim youths being framed in terror cases and to pass the communal violence bill.

Also under the scanner was the Congress’s failure to set up an equal opportunity commission and a minority quota in government jobs, and the poor implementation of existing welfare schemes.

The complaints came from Muslim participants at the second of a series of “public consultations” the party has been holding to receive suggestions for its 2014 poll manifesto.

Rahul Gandhi — the meetings are part of his plan to “open up” the political system — attended the daylong interaction for an hour. Several other senior Congress leaders and Union ministers too were present.

While the party’s failure to pass the communal violence bill, promised in its 2004 manifesto, cropped up as a major concern, many spoke of the continuing legal troubles of the thousands of innocent Muslims falsely implicated in terror cases.

The government accepts that young Muslims have been victimised in almost all the states, including those ruled by the Congress. But all the government’s talk of fast-track courts and rehabilitation of the victims hasn’t changed the situation on the ground.

Today, the Congress promised to address this concern in its manifesto but several participants demanded immediate action as the elections were still months away. The government may explore the possibility of suitable action in the coming weeks.

Rahul agreed on the need for a legal framework to ensure the security of minorities but added: “No person of any community or caste should ever be scared in India.”

He recalled how, at a relief camp in Shamli near Muzaffarnagar that he visited yesterday, a boy had told him that he lived in fear.

The Congress vice-president said everyone should join hands to fight politics that thrives on creating fear. He said the Congress believed in “shanti ke sath kranti (peaceful transformation)”.

Rahul has asked Congress leaders from Uttar Pradesh to try and arrange the essential items that the Muzaffarnagar riot victims would need in their relief camps during winter.

At today’s meeting, he spoke of developing leadership among the minority communities at all levels and explained that this was why he wanted to open the system up and encourage all sections of society to join the political process.

Over 200 people — including intellectuals, activists and leaders working for minority communities — participated in the meeting. The first such consultation, on December 13, had focused on issues relating to Dalits and the backward castes; today’s was about minorities’ problems.

Several Congress leaders from the minority communities, such as Salman Khurshid and Oscar Fernandes, were there. Some of the participants were impressed that political leaders were willing to listen to the common man’s ideas.

The suggestions ranged from social issues to political representation. The main demands were about access to education, the establishment of minority educational institutions, and creation of awareness in the rural areas about central welfare schemes.

Minority affairs minister K. Rehman Khan gave the details of the economic aid provided to minorities, including assistance relating to the Sachar Committee recommendations.

He promised action on the suggestions received on how to improve the delivery mechanism.

Rahul apparently views the exercise as a key step towards keeping his commitment about mass participation in the political and governance processes. He spent over an hour also at the December 13 meeting, where he said the manifesto was not just an election document but the key governance roadmap for the party.

He wants the manifesto prepared by January-end so that a public debate can be held for at least two months before the elections. The next three interactions will focus on women, the youth and industry.