The National Commission of Minorities (NCM) has stirred up a hornet’s nest by coming up with a report which indicates an excessively skewed focus on the condition of Muslims in the recent Assam riots. A team representing NCM visited the riot-hit areas in Assam to prepare a report on the condition of minorities. As NitiCentral reported yesterday, the NCM has effectively reduced the Assam riots to Bodos vs Muslims where Muslims are seen as the minorities and Bodos the majority.
Asian Centre for Human Rights has criticized the NCM’s report alleging that (a) the NCM’s identification of “minorities” for the purpose of this report is flawed (even though my view is that the NCM Act is to be blamed for such infirmities); (b) NCM did not ensure parity during its field visit in that while it visited six Muslim relief camps, it visited only one Bodo camp, thus revealing a pre-determined exercise which undermined the fact that even Bodos are as affected as the Muslims; and (c) the ill-timed release of this report at a time when restraint and responsibility was paramount has added fuel to the fire.
This is not the first time the NCM has revealed its intention to go to any lengths to secure what it considers right without any regard to the sanctity of our nation’s institutional framework. A private complaint brought before it by a Muslim woman in Gujarat who was unable to return to her village after a mob destroyed their homes and looted belongings was also the subject matter in a pending case before the Gujarat High Court as well as a part of a petition filed in the Supreme Court by the National Human Rights Commission.
Yet, instead of dismissing the complaint as per its own rules (of not taking up matters which are subjudice), the NCM had agreed to conduct a “fuller examination” by summoning Kuldeep Sharma, Rahul Sharma and RB Sreekumar – all three IPS officers known for their anti-Modi stand. It even encouraged IPS officer Sanjeev Bhatt to sophistically expand the scope of this otherwise narrow complaint to the larger conspiracy behind the initiation of the 2002 riots by involving Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
The NCM did not dismiss the complaint because the same subject matter was pending before the Indian courts or that the “larger conspiracy” involving Narendra Modi was being investigated by the SIT and dealt with by Indian courts. In fact, the NCM left it to its own “discretion” and “propriety” on whether it should take up such matters which are being dealt with by Indian courts.
Rather, it dismissed the complaint on the frivolous ground that it does not have the powers to “investigate” further into the matter when, under Section 9 of the NCM Act, it has some powers to inquire. Hypothetically, therefore, even if a Muslim from Assam has filed a petition in Indian courts, the NCM can still take up his matter if, in its “discretion”, it deems fit.
Such overzealousness on the part of the NCM indicates a serious lack of objectivity in its dealings. When NCM initiates a parallel inquiry into an area where the Supreme Court and the SIT is already involved, it effectively signals to the nation’s Muslims that it does not have trust in these bodies.
And, with this alarming lack of objectivity, some of its actions can end up having a similar impact to that on Azamgarh Muslims who have been reminded by Congress leaders like Digvijay Singh of how the Home Minister’s conclusions on the Batla House encounter are untrustworthy. While Digvijay Singh is widely known to be a loose cannon, the NCM has been envisaged as a responsible institution holding a mandate under a law passed by our Parliament.
It was never envisaged that this “effective institutional arrangement”, as the Ministry of Home Affairs Resolution dated January 12, 1978 indicates, would have the authority to overrule other institutions in the quest for championing minority rights. May be, the NCM often finds itself irrelevant in the presence of courts, parliamentary committees, inquiry commissions and human rights bodies.
And, perhaps, it might well be. The right to implement “safeguards for minorities”, however, does not mean entrenching a sense of victimhood among India’s Muslims. Being a part of India’s institutional framework, it must perform the role of integrating Indian Muslims into the mainstream. The NCM is getting perilously close to achieving the former.