Home arrow Archives arrow Open Forum arrow Open Forum 2006 arrow Minority Affairs: WHY A SEPARATE MINISTRY?, T.D. Jagadesan, 16 March 2006
News and Features
INFA Digest
Parliament Spotlight
Journalism Awards
Minority Affairs: WHY A SEPARATE MINISTRY?, T.D. Jagadesan, 16 March 2006 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 16 March 2006

Minority Affairs


By T.D. Jagadesan

The Common Minimum Programme of the UPA indicates that the measures it is committed to introduce include promotion of social harmony and welfare of minorities.  The President’s address to Parliament on February 16 too contains an account of what has been done and is proposed to be done by the Government to achieve this objective.  One of the steps taken by the Government which it considered important enough to be included in the President’s address is the creation of a separate Ministry of Minority Affairs in order to “focus concentrated attention on the problems of all minorities.”

However, taking into account the structure of the Government at the Centre and the division of powers between the Centre and the States, a legitimate question that arises is whether such a post in the Union Cabinet is likely to help in achieving the objectives expected of it, or on the contrary, whether it will make the task more difficult. 

The Constitution of India has been very liberal in providing safeguards and guarantees for protecting the interests of minorities.  Article 25 which guarantees freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion is a right for all citizens.

Similarly, Article 26 which guarantees the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes and to manage religious affairs is also a right for all religious denominations. However, these rights are important for minorities because they ensure equal rights for all without any scope for discrimination against minorities.

The Constitutional provisions of importance to the minorities are Articles 29 and 30.  Article 29 states that any section of citizens resident in the territory of India having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same. Article 30 guarantees the right of minorities, whether based on religion or language to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.

The fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution, including the special safeguards and guarantees given to the minorities taken together assure them that they will have equal rights, as all other citizens of the country have and also the freedom to manage their own affairs in matters of their religion and educational institutions.  No minority group in any other country can claim to those provided under the Constitution.

However, while being satisfied with constitutional rights, certain sections among the minority communities feel that there has been denial of opportunities for their social and economic development and that special measures of support from the Government are necessary to enable them to catch up with the other advanced communities in the race for progress.

The main areas of concern for these sections are security, access to education and to employment.  It is obvious that on these issues the situation would vary widely from one minority to another and even in the case of the same minority group, from one State to another.  Therefore, there can be no uniform approach in handling the problems of minorities from one focal point in the Government.

A new development about communal violence in recent years has been violence against Christian priests and places of worship in certain parts of the country.  Fortunately, these have been isolated incidents so far, limited to two or three States.

Whatever may be the scale or frequency of communal violence, the authority which can handle such situations instantly is the State Government which has the primary responsibility to maintain peace.  In serious situations of communal violence, the Central Government can help the State Government by deploying Central police forces, but the responsibility for this lies squarely with the Union Home Ministry.

The Centre has been aware of the need for a more pro-active role for dealing with grave incidents of communal violence and for providing relief and rehabilitation assistance to the victims of violence, and has already initiated legislation for investing the Centre with additional powers for direct action.

One wonders what a Central Ministry for Minority Affairs can do in handling such sensitive and complex problems. At best it can act as a “pressure point” for making the Home Ministry and the State Government to act, but such a role is neither necessary nor helpful for quick and effective action to deal with the problem.

Similar is the position regarding access to education.  The position of the minority communities regarding educational progress and opportunities is different with different minorities and States. For example, for the Christian community the question of educational backwardness does not generally arise except in the case of converts to Christianity from the socially and economically backward castes.

Poor education may be a problem for the Muslim community in several States, but in a State like Kerala the Muslims who constitute 24 per cent of the population, as per recent official statistical data, do not suffer from any such problem because of the efforts of the enlightened leaders of the community in Kerala to spread the message about the need for education among the members of the community.

If any initiative from the Centre is found necessary to help the minorities regarding their educational problems, or to supplement the efforts of the State governments, it is clearly the responsibility of the Ministry of Human Resource Development, according to political pundits.  But this Ministry also would not need any “pressure” from another Ministry at the Centre.

There is already an organisation at the Central level, namely, the Minorities Commission, functioning as a focal point of attention for the problems of minorities, though its contribution to the welfare of minorities has not been much during the last three decades of its existence. The Government has now initiated action to give the Minorities Commission a constitutional status with more powers and it is expected to play a more important role in future.

There will be little that a separate Ministry for Minority Affairs can do in addition to what the new Minorities Commission can do with its enhanced status and power. Traditionally, the Prime Ministers have always been taking on direct responsibility for minority affairs and providing the required direction to the concerned Ministries in this matter.

The Prime Minister alone has the authority under our scheme of administration to undertake such a role. A separate Ministry for Minority Affairs may prove to be a disappointment to both the Ministry and the minorities because of the obvious fact that it will be a Ministry with responsibility, but not the power. ---INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)







< Previous   Next >
  Mambo powered by Best-IT