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Minorities don't need lectures from Arun Jaitley

Shehzad Poonawalla

I don't know much about Arun Jaitley's skills as a lawyer but in the art of spin doctoring he has no parallels. A lawyer, by definition is one who cites hard facts and evidences not ideological fiction to bolster his case. A spin doctor on the other hand, is one who masterfully peddles half-truths to create the illusion of an argument that really doesn't exist. What Jaitley has said recently about the Parsis seemed to be aimed more at taking a dig at other minorities especially Muslims. This isn't surprising given Jaitley's rich Sangh Parivar ideological heritage.

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Speaking at an event organised by the ministries of Minority Affairs and Culture, the Finance Minister lauded the "liberal and large-hearted" Parsis for their contribution in diverse fields. Nothing wrong with that. Atomic scientist Homi Bhabha, business houses like Tatas, the Wadias, Godrej, my name sake the Poonawallas, India's first Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw, cricketers Farokh Engineer and Polly Umrigar, actor Boman Irani and many others have proverbially "sweetened the milk" of the cosmopolitan, plural culture of India, which the RSS has tried very hard to poison with their brand of Hindutva politics.

But in an obvious attack on the largest minority of India - Muslims - Jaitley said in his usual "know it all style, "I think what stands out is the fact that the smallest minority in India has really never felt that it is a minority. It has never regarded itself as a minority. It is this mindset that has enabled it to be, in many standards, the role model for the rest of the country".

By praising Parsis for not having a minority complex, Jaitley seemed to criticise other communities

Given Jaitley is neither a Parsi and nor a minority, I wonder how he could confidently make such a generalised statement on minorities, who form 20% of India's population. It almost like saying that women need not feel pain during child birth because some women have the "mindset of being able to bear labour pains".

I know it is a shocking comparison. But these kind of statements coming from a person with a Sangh Parivar background are ridiculous, especially given what minorities suffer because of the Sangh and its affiliates.

Tests for minorities

Take for instance the latest "patriotism test" his party seems to have invented. Muslims had a choice to go to Pakistan in 1947 but my father's side stayed back in India and yet I am forced to take a BJP patriotism test everyday. Do I have to shout Bharat Mata Ki Jai to prove I love India? Shouldn't the ideological children of Nathuram Godse be the ones proving their loyalty to the Gandhian Idea of India?

Even Muslim icons like Shahrukh Khan and Aamir Khan seemed to have failed to clear this test recently. Senior BJP leaders like Kailash Vijayvargiya said the worst kind of things about these national icons. Did he ever say anything about any Parsi icons? Nope. As they are few in number, making a target out of them won't help them mobilise the Hindutva vote bank by playing on irrational fears, stereotypes and insecurities.

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The "Beef Test" is another test which Muslims must take under BJP or else face deportation to Pakistan. Recently, cow vigilantes groups that have the support of the Sangh Parivar, allegedly murdered 2 Muslim cattle traders in Jharkhand. Mohammad Akhlaq was killed in Dadri and the son of a BJP leader was arrested in connection with the murder. I am glad no such tests have been imposed on the Parsis yet by this ideological parivar.

Frankly, the only reason why Muslims feel like a minority and not part of the "mainstream" is the divisive Hindutva agenda which Jaitley's party advocates. It is the constant majoritarian identity politics that his party directs exclusively against Muslims, for political gains, that pushes them to seek security in a minority identity. Did Jaitley's party go in a Rath to destroy an Agyari or Fire temple? No they demolished the Babri Masjid as part of their Ram Mandir movement. Imagine a scenario: the BJP makes a villain out of Parsis, singles them out and gets some fanatical Parsi politician to have a Tu Tu Main Main with BJP hardliners. Clearly, this isn't going to win them an election. But doing it with Muslims, a sizeable minority, can give the BJP political dividends.

You can't compare Parsis and Muslims

I come from a mixed lineage and heritage, where all kinds of folks- Parsis, Hindus, Muslims and Christians have been part of my family, much like a mini-India of sorts. So let me tell Jaitley about Muslims, Parsis and minorities in general. He said that Parsis "exhibited the ability to reach the top whether it be industry, armed forces, legal profession, architecture or the civil services." Firstly, he should know that countless Indian Muslims have made their mark in these fields - former President APJ Abdul Kalam, entrepreneur Azim Premji, legal eagles and jurists like MC Chagla, actors Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan, musicians like A R Rahman, Ustad Bismillah Khan,sports persons like Sania Mirza and Zaheer Khan, architect Hafeez Contractor, civil servants like SY Qureshi, Wajahat Habibulah and Nasim Zaidi and many others.

The only reason Muslims feel like a minority in India is the Sangh Parivar's hate politics

Secondly, Jaitley does know that the socio-economic and educational circumstances of Parsis is far different from that of Muslims and other minorities? For instance the average monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) of a Muslim household is the lowest and it is the highest for a Sikh household at Rs 1659 in 2009-10. Now by Jaitley's skewed logic that all minorities except Parsis suffer from the "minority syndrome" as he only singled out Parsis for rising above this. Can he then explain why Sikhs ,also a minority who feel no qualms in regarding themselves as a minority, do well on this important index and even better than Hindus, who don't suffer from any complexes?

Jaitley would also know that Parsis fare much better than Muslims when it comes to education, opportunities to employment, discriminatory tendencies in seeking jobs and accommodation and several other indicators - where the gaps are even more glaring. On some parameters Muslims fare even worse than SCs and STs. For every 1000 Muslim boys only 10 enter post graduation and for every 100 Muslims only 4 make it through graduation. Muslims have the highest drop out rates. Hindus, Parsis and all other communities do much better than Muslims.

By comparing communities that differ in size, aging patterns, health indicators and socio-political circumstances is exhibiting the very attitude that upper caste, Manusmriti loving folks from the RSS exhibit when they completely gloss over the excesses of the caste system perpetrated on Dalits for thousands of years and talk about ending reservations for lower castes. It's an attitude steeped in denial, ignorance and arrogance. But most importantly it's typical of the BJP hypocrisy.

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I think our constitution makers including Dr Ambedkar had more foresight in allowing diversity to exist and be celebrated in India. Being a linguistic or religious minority is celebrated by the Constitution vide Article 25,29 and 30 . I sincerely hope Jaitley the lawyer doesn't think the Constitution is wrong.

If Jaitley genuinely believe that minorities ought not to have a mindset of looking at themselves through the prism of identity-please do end your party's alliance with the Akali Dal which only predicates itself on the minority religious identity of Sikhs. And he should tell us what complexes his parent outfit RSS and its affiliates like VHP suffer from when they unabashedly flash their majoritarian identity and agenda. I think after he has addressed these glaring hypocrisies he would be in a far more authoritative position to lecture the rest of us.

Edited by Aditya Menon

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Shehzad Poonawalla