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Najma against minority quota

The quota system inculcates a psyche wherein a recipient feels he is so inferior that he has to depend on a quota
- Najma Heptulla

New Delhi, July 1: Najma Heptulla believes in building confidence. Quotas, she says, don’t do that.

So instead of five per cent reservation for Muslims and other minorities in education and jobs, there are other ways, the minister claims, in which the same percentage from these communities can be “integrated” into the social and economic mainstream.

“If I manage to achieve this, I would consider it a job well done,” the minority affairs minister said.

Speaking to The Telegraph on Saturday, the BJP leader said she was clear about two points: first, a quota system was “patently unconstitutional”, “inherently divisive” and out of place in today’s globalised economy.

Second, she didn’t want Muslims to “live with a fear psychosis”. “Therefore, I want my ministry to focus on confidence-building by positive actions,” she said.

Najma lambasted the Maharashtra government for announcing a “sop” of 4.5 per cent reservation for the minorities, just months before the state votes. “They have promised something they cannot give because they know the measure will be struck down by the court (because the additional quota exceeds the stipulated 50 per cent legally permissible cap). Even putting this in the manifesto is wrong,” she said.

“Everything mentioned in the BJP’s manifesto is doable. The country runs on the strength of the Constitution, the courts, so how can you do something violative of their laws? The other reason is, in today’s globalised world, everybody is striving for excellence. The quota system inculcates a psyche wherein a recipient feels he is so inferior that he has to depend on a quota. The whole thing emanates out of the pursuit of vote-bank politics.”

Asked what the BJP’s outlook for the minorities was predicated on, she said: “It derives from (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi’s speeches. It is about inclusive development, his slogan of ‘sab kaa saath, sab ka vikas (including everyone, development for everyone)’. This is why he spoke of 125 crore people taking one step after another. The BJP’s manifesto talks of equal opportunities in education (and) jobs.”

On whether the notion of “equal opportunities” could ever be implemented in a divisive society of the kind that exists in India and which, therefore, entails statutory affirmative action like reservations, Najma’s answer was: “If we are talking of entire communities, you cannot give reservation to the whole Muslim community. Then, whom to choose, whom to leave out is a tricky issue because there are poor people in every section. Poverty has to be tackled holistically and not sectionally.”

She rejected the thesis that in India, even Muslims recognised and upheld socio-economic distinctions based on identity groupings that placed the Sheikhs, Syeds and Pathans on the top of the hierarchy and the Qureishis and the Ansaris at the bottom.

She claimed poverty was the context of a statement she had made early on in her ministerial tenure when she was quoted as saying that Muslims were so large in number that they need not be designated as minorities.

“Yes, I said Muslims are in large number and Parsis (are) in very small numbers. When I speak of the minorities, I have to speak of all six (minority) communities. So, if a Sikh is poor and his child deserves a scholarship, why should my ministry not help him? My jurisdiction is to look after the poor and the backward and not just the Muslims.”

Among Najma’s priorities is perusing a community’s endowments, sifting the legal from the illegal and putting the properties to “good use” for the people.

“Take the Wakf properties, six lakh acres of land is owned by the Wakf board. A very large portion is under illegal occupation. Just one law needs to be enacted to free the illegally owned land. Right now, it’s easier to get government land vacated. Once the illegal land is freed, the land can be judiciously developed and resources worth thousands of crores can be generated. The money can be used for a community’s education, welfare, health, women’s empowerment, so many things. Resources of this kind will also lessen the burden on the government to sanction funds and grants,” Najma said.

Najma, who joined the BJP in 2004 after spending the better part of her political career in the Congress, largely as Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson, said her primary interest earlier was in women’s issues and not the minorities.

“Earlier, when I used terms like empowerment and inclusiveness, it was in the context of women,” she said, recalling that in the political class, she was among the first to welcome and support the late Phoolan Devi’s entry into politics.