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Indian Prime Minister In A Tight Spot

August 23, 2007 by  


By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

NEW DELHI- Ironically, the very week in which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh talked highly of his government’s resolve to push the country forward towards greater heights proved politically expensive for him. While addressing the nation from ramparts of Red Fort on August 15, 2007, the 60th anniversary of India’s independence, Singh said: “Today, when I look back, I can say with some satisfaction that we are undoubtedly moving forward in the right direction. We have been slow in taking some steps; we have dithered at times, and stumbled some times. We have had success on some fronts, and setbacks on some others. But, there is no doubt that we have been steadfast in our resolve, firm in our convictions and resolute in our commitment to the welfare of the common man.”

Without elaborating on India’s foreign policy, including India-US nuclear deal and Indo-Pak relations, Singh only referred to India’s desire for peace with its neighbors. “India wants to live in neighborhood of peace and prosperity. I assure all our neighbors that we in India want peace and best of relations with all of them,” he said.

Referring specifically to his government’s concern for socially and economically deprived classes, Singh said: “We are committed to economic, social, political and educational empowerment of SCs (scheduled castes), STs (scheduled tribes), OBCs (other backward classes) and minorities.” In addition to his government having announced scholarships and development programs for these classes, he said: “I am happy to say that we have been able to persuade private sector to some extent to take affirmative action to ensure that these sections of society get a fair share of employment in industry and trade.” “The Prime Minister’s 15-Point Program is designed to ensure that minorities are not left out of development programs and that they have necessary resources to transform their lives,” he asserted.

Yet, there remains little doubt that Singh must give serious attention to two crucial issues, one he evaded in his address and the other that he referred to, respectively the Indo-US nuclear deal and his government’s approach towards minorities. Taking the latter point first, of late, several Muslim organizations have raised voice against the government having ignored their community.

The Joint Committee of Muslim Organizations for Empowerment (JCMOE) held a “sit-in” (dharna) demonstration at Jantar Mantar on August 14 demanding implementation of recommendations made by Sachar Committee and Mishra Commission. While Sachar Committee has pointed that even 60 years after independence, Indian Muslim community is extremely backward, the Mishra Commission has suggested reservation for Muslims.

During his address on the occasion, President of All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (AIMMM), former legislator Syed Shahabuddin said that this demonstration was a “knock” on doors of democracy. “This is the first knock and not the last. We will keep knock on this door again and again and if need be, break it,” he said.

Legislator Shahid Siddiqui (Samajwadi Party) questioned government’s silence on the two reports, with Sachar report only having been “technically” introduced in the Parliament, while the Mishra has not even reached this stage. “The government is not serious about pursuing the two reports,” he said.

Addressing a national convention on “Feeling of insecurity among Muslims: Its probable implications and solutions” organized by All India Milli Council (August 18), former Prime Minister V.P. Singh referred to “atrocities” committed on Muslims following demolition of Babri Masjid, during Mumbai riots and Gujarat carnage. “The Gujarat carnage shook our faith and the whole country rests on faith in the country’s judicial system,” he said. “It is a pity that Muslims who have been part of the freedom struggle and chose to stay behind after Partition are being asked to prove their nationalism,” Singh said while referring to government having failed to take any action on Sachar report and Srikrishna Commission report.

With the government well aware of Indian Muslims’ political significance as a crucial vote-bank, it can definitely not ignore their demand for constructive moves. However, even before the government has had time to deliberate on this, it has been shaken by Left bloc’s stand against the India-US nuclear deal. During an hour-long meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the Left leaders Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury (Communist Party of India-Marxist), said that the government should not “operationalize” the deal. The others who attended this meeting (August 18) included United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson and Congress president Sonia Gandhi and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

The following day (August 19), Mukherjee, along with Defense Minister A.K. Antony and senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel discussed the issue again with Yechury. After the meeting, ruling out any compromise on the deal, Yechury said: “There is no compromise formula. Let them set up a mechanism that will evaluate impact of the Hyde Act on sovereignty of India and other related issues.”

By Sunday evening as the Congress leaders were engaged in finding a way out of this crisis, the other parties began deliberating on possibility of snap polls in case the government does not yield to Left’s stand, prompting the latter to withdraw support. “If elections are held, we may or may not lose some seats, but the Congress will lose heavily,” a CPI(M) leader said. “They (UPA) will have to pay a big political price if they are not ready to reconcile with us on the nuclear issue,” A.B. Bardhan (Communist Party of India) said. Calling on his party members to be ready for snap polls, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader M. Venkaiah Naidu said: “You must be ready for any eventuality as anything may happen at any time.”

Not in favor of midterm polls, the UPA allies advised the Congress to work out a formula for settling differences with the Left over the nuclear deal, sources said. It is certainly a taxing time for the Prime Minister!

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