Union minister of state for minority affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi calls for a ‘positive debate’ on Uniform Civil Code, cites ‘party analysis’ to claim that Muslims voted for the BJP in UP, denies gap between PM and BJP-backed outfits on gau rakshaks and says Ram Mandir row must be resolved through dialogue or by courts.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: How easy or difficult has it been to work in the ministry of minority affairs?
Before us (the NDA government), the minority affairs ministry was like a parttime job, that’s how things were back in the Congress era. The challenge for us has been to ensure socio-economic and educational empowerment of minorities at the ground level.
One of the first things that we did was to ensure that schools and hostels were built and scholarships were given to members of the minority communities. We held ‘progress panchayats’ in Uttarakhand, Telangana, Haryana, Rajasthan, Guwahati, etc. We held communication and coordination meetings with state governments. These steps helped with two things: people got to know about the work of the ministry, and we found out whether what we do reaches the grassroots level or not.
There is lack of education in the minority communities. School dropout rate is also the highest among minorities. We are giving out scholarships to crores of people, doing so much for educational empowerment, but problems continue to persist. There needs to be more awareness so that members of these communities send their children to school on their own. We have also urged state governments to find ways to bring children to schools. We have a three ‘T’ formula—teacher, tiffin and toilet. We are helping out schools that don’t have teachers. We are arranging meals for institutions such as madrasas. We are also planning to build 28,000-29,000 new toilets, and have identified spots for them.
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ABANTIKA GHOSH: When you were interacting with people on the ground level, did you hear any criticism about the government’s schemes—what was working, what wasn’t?
Yes, I hear criticism as well. Whenever we meet members of the minority communities, there is a lot of communication, and a range of subjects are discussed. They share their concerns with us. For instance, they feel that while there is development, they also need a safe environment. That is why it is important to know what is happening on the ground while formulating policies in our rooms. A lot of important issues come up during these interactions, which we try and address, and when we feel the need to discuss certain issues with other ministries or departments, or even with the Prime Minister, we do so.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: You mentioned the need for a ‘safe environment’. Do the minorities feel otherwise, have you received such a feedback?
No, no, we have not received any feedback about the present atmosphere not being safe, but issues differ from area to area, place to place; people discuss these issues with us. We try and help them with these issues. This country is very big, every place has its own culture and its own challenges. The feedback that we get from people helps us overcome our shortcomings.
SHUBHAJIT ROY: Following the UP elections, incidents linked to gau rakshaks and organisations such as the Hindu Yuva Vahini have led to a perception of insecurity in the minority communities. How do you plan to address this?
A sense of insecurity in any section of the society is not good for the country. When the Prime Minister says repeatedly that any destructive agenda should never dominate over the development agenda, it is to ensure that all sections of society develop a feeling of trust.
The incidents that happened in Uttar Pradesh are unfortunate and cannot be justified in any way. But you cannot question all the work and effort put in by a government simply on the basis of these incidents. The government has been handling law and order problems very effectively. FIRs have been registered, people have been arrested, and if the need arises, we will be even more strict. It has been little over a month since the new government was formed in Uttar Pradesh, and all their work shouldn’t be judged by these incidents. There are some people with vested interests who are responsible (for these incidents) and the government will investigate these cases as per the legal process.
VANDITA MISHRA: As the MoS for minority affairs, do you not feel the need to say something about the vigilantism being carried out in the name of cow protection, to send a message to the people from the government?
This is the first time in 40-42 years that the Prime Minister’s post has some credibility. So if the Prime Minister sends out a message, it means that I have sent out a message. The Prime Minister took a strong stand against the violence perpetuated by gau rakshaks, and that is the sentiment of the entire government.
I have met Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and he has a very clean and clear vision. He wants an environment of complete trust and harmony in UP, and proper investigation against such elements, and his government is doing that.
JYOTI MALHOTRA: The Modi government is set to complete three years. Why is it that even now Muslims seem to lack faith in your government?
I would not say that there is no faith. If there was no faith, Muslims would not have voted for the BJP in UP in such large numbers. It is true that our political opponents have run a very strong campaign against us for several years—there could be political reasons for this—which has left an impression, and some people may think that certain things are true. That is why we are now trying to coordinate and communicate with the community. They have, in fact, now started believing that this government works without discrimination and stands with them in the path of development.
In the past three years we have worked to ensure that along with development, people also have trust in the government. If there are some shortcomings we are willing to address that.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: What are some of the names being considered by the NDA government for the next President?
The candidate chosen by the NDA government will become the President. We are in a position to make our candidate the President. But I can’t tell you who it will be because I do not know the name myself.
SHUBHAJIT ROY: You said that Muslims have voted for the BJP in large numbers in UP. What is the basis of this claim?
Not just in UP, they have voted for the BJP in other states as well. After every election we analyse the results, and the process was followed this time (after UP elections) as well. For instance, in one polling booth where votes were only cast by members of the Muslim community, the BJP got 200 votes. That is evidence enough that Muslims have voted (for the BJP).
ABANTIKA GHOSH: What about the claims that Muslim women voted for the BJP because of the government’s position on triple talaq?
Our analysis has shown this as well. Apart from this, several intellectuals and educated members of society have also voted for the BJP.
VISHNU VARMA: The BJP is now trying to make inroads into states such as
Kerala and West Bengal and win more seats there. But both these states have a large minority population and elections cannot be won, say in Kerala, without their support?
The BJP is not untouchable for minorities. If they take two steps towards us, we will take four towards them. We do not analyse votes based on caste and religion, but we definitely do not believe that the country’s inclusive growth agenda can be fulfilled keeping the minority communities at bay. In Bengal, a large section of minorities is with the BJP because they have seen both the rule of the Left and Mamata Banerjee. Both of them abandoned the basic issues of development, education and employment, and we intend to focus on them.
VANDITA MISHRA: In UP, the BJP did not give Muslims a single ticket. Do you think that was a mistake?
I don’t think it was a mistake. When the government was formed, we had two minority ministers, one Sikh and one Muslim.
ANAND MISHRA: Cow vigilantism was criticised by PM Modi, yet there are organisations in BJP-ruled states that do such things. Is there a gap between what these party-backed organisations believe in and what the PM said?
There is no gap. The message is very strong and clear. A few such incidents that happen, we believe that they must not happen and should be taken care of by law. But the problem is that any and every crime is being looked at as a case of cow vigilantism. We need to be cautious about it. We need to see whether the perpetrator is a criminal or a cow vigilante.
SHYAMLAL YADAV: There are many NGOs formed in the name of Ambedkar which come to the fore only on his birth and death anniversary. Similarly, many NGOs which have nothing to do with minorities are getting funds from your ministry. Has this come to your notice and has the government’s crackdown on NGOs affected your ministry?
What you have said is true. This mismanagement of affairs persists, but now the Prime Minister and the government are strongly focusing on the matter. We are scrutinising such instances of mismanagement. For the first time we have placed an inspecting authority of 200 officers to check on, for instance, someone running a skill development centre or some such enterprise. These inspectors are people from different fields of education and officers with strong credentials. These officers are present on the ground and they submit their reports to us.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: What is the status of the committee that you set up to phase out the Haj subsidy?
Look, in 2012 the Supreme Court asked the government to look at ways to phase out the Haj subsidy in 10 years, and there are many reasons for it. This was at the time of the Congress government.
For the poor beneficiaries of the subsidy, we can arrange for the cheapest option of travel. I looked at the sea route from Mumbai and also spoke to shipping corporation officers. I met shipping minister Nitin Gadkari, who was very positive. So we are introducing the option of travel by sea, besides air travel. The journey will take three or four days. The shipping corporation officers have said that 11,000-12,000 people can travel at a time by ship. There will be a new policy regarding this in 2018. This new Haj policy will include people’s suggestions.
SHUBHAJIT ROY: By raising issues such as triple talaq, it seems the BJP is trying to push for the Uniform Civil Code.
The triple talaq issue did not come about suddenly. The Law Commission sent questionnaires to all stakeholders, religious organisations, politicians, and a very positive, vibrant discussion and debate was initiated. We feel that a similar positive national debate should be conducted on the subject of the Uniform Civil Code. I am not saying that it (Uniform Civil Code) will happen or will be implemented suddenly, but I do feel there is need for a national debate and those who are either against it or in its favour must give their opinion.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: There is another perception that in this government, ministers don’t have a free hand and everything is controlled by the PM. Is there any truth to this?
Look at my ministry. It is so active now and there is so much ground work. If there was no free hand, this would have been impossible.
VANDITA MISHRA: In the past three years, what has been your biggest achievement, and what is likely to be your biggest challenge in the next two years?
We are most satisfied with our work in the field. There are many craftsmen in the minority communities—especially among Muslims, Christians and Buddhists. But unfortunately it is only the older generation that is taking this art forward; the young have no interest in the work. We introduced the ‘Garib Nawaz Skill Development’ scheme for craftsmen. We also started the ‘Hunar Haat’ to showcase the traditional crafts of the minority communities, and it gave them a lot of encouragement. Now we have decided to take some of these (craftsmen) to different parts of the country, and honour those who are good with awards.
In the future, we will launch the Tehreek-e-Taleem campaign, so that children from all minority communities can have access to education. It will be a big campaign, and we intend to highlight it as a major achievement by 2019.
SHYAMLAL YADAV: In UP, 18-19% of the population is Muslim. When you meet Yogi Adityanath and Amit Shah, don’t you tell them this 18-19% of the population needs more representation?
There will be no lack of representation, and there will be inclusive development work. Right now we are trying to ensure that Sadbhavana Mandaps are set up in all districts. Yogi saab asked me to conduct meetings in minority districts, and I did that. People told me that such a meeting was happening after 10 years. We realised that all the money that we sent in the past three years has not been utilised. In fact, in many places it was misused.
Some good educational institutions, hostels and primary health centres have been set up. They are almost ready
and will open in a few months. There will also be development centres where vocational as well as skill-based training will be provided.
ANAND MISHRA: The Ram Mandir issue has come to the fore again. Some say that the court should decide on the issue, while others want the Muslim community to come forward and take a call. Your views.
I think the solution lies in dialogue or one should just agree to the decision that the court takes. This is not a new issue, it’s been going on for a long time.