, by DR. SYED AHMED
In an attempt to appease the disenchanted minority communities of Assam and to consolidate the party’s minority base ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, to be held next year, the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre has announced a Rs. 703.05 crore project to improve their socio-economic condition. The central government, in consultation with experts from the state, has identified the areas which need special attention and charted out this project for the all-round development of the community. The project will be executed in the 13 minority-concentration districts of Assam, including Dhubri, Goalpara, Nagapm, Bongaigaon, Marigaon, Karimganj, Hailakandi, Cachar, Barpeta, DarrangandKamrup.
State Minister for Minority Development, Nazrul Islam said the financial package was worked out on the basis of an intensive study carried out by the Omeo Kumar Das Institute for Social Change in 13 districts, where the concentration of minority population is more than 25% of the total population. He added that the project would be undertaken before the next parliamentary elections initially in the districts of Barpeta, Darrang and Kamrup. The Union Minority Affairs ministry recently held a meeting with officials of the state minority development department and deputy commissioners of the three districts for the implementation of the project.
However, the minority community in the state feels that the label of “Congress vote bank” tagged on them for years has come at the cost of their development. Minority leaders claim that, more often than not, funds allocated for the development of minorities are augmented before elections, but the amounts dwindle after polls. The leaders also accuse the Tarun Gogoi government of not being sincere enough to make use of the funds set aside for the minorities. They claim that without the funds, several schemes, including scholarships for meritorious students from the community are not being implemented.
United Democratic Front (UDF) leader HRA Choudhury expressed that the budgetary allocation for the minorities is so paltry that there’s just 75 paisa for every person from the community and the state government has not utilised the funds that it had allocated in the budget. Choudhury said, “The minority community is remembered only during elections and a whole lot of promises are made to them for their development. But, this is only before polls. They have promised so many things like mobile hospitals, safe drinking water. But in reality there has been no development. There is lack of sincerity from the state government to develop the minority community.”
It may be recalled that over the last few months Tarun Gogoi government has also initiated some schemes for the minorities, of course, with an eye for coming Lok Sabha elections.Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) has recently decided to establish Minority Development Boards in each district of Assam for “better monitoring” of welfare programmes taken up by the government. Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has also given his consent and direction to constitute the boards. The APCC Minority Cell President Misbahul Islam Laskar said that the need for the district level board was felt as the government has decided to allocate huge funds for the development and welfare of the minority areas. The board, according to Laskar, will be on the lines of SCs, STs and OBCs development boards in the districts, and it would be both monitoring and implementing agency for the minority-based schemes.
The Minority Cell has also decided to devise further strategies to create awareness among the minority communities about the various welfare schemes undertaken by the centre and the state government. The Minority Cell of the APCC had also initiated a project for assessing the social, economic and educational status of Muslims in Assam on the line of Sachar Committee’s report using indicators like literacy rate, per-capita income, employment opportunities and availability of the basic infrastructures (roads, drinking water, primary health care and educational facilities) in minority dominated areas. The work of collection of data was entrusted to the district wings of APCC. The assessment was done in 20 of the state’s 27 districts, which have a significant Muslim population. The report is yet to come.
In April last year Tarun Gogoi Government prepared a Rs. 595 crore project for the welfare and development of the minorities in Assam. Minority Affairs Minister Nazrul Islam described the project as an “all encompassing project” to enhance the social infrastructure and economic activities of the minorities in the state. The proposed project prepared by the Minority Development Department had schemes for mechanisation of farming, installing water plants, establishing schools and computer training centres, providing low-cost sanitation, construction of markets, grants for poultry and dairy farming for the minorities in the state. Sadly, the project was turned down by the Planning Commission, which felt it was not “comprehensive” enough.
The project was one of the most significant measures the State Congress had initiated to win back the confidence of the minority communities, especially the Muslims, and halt growth of the Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF), the principal challenger to its monopoly over the minority vote-bank. The AUDF, it may be recalled, was floated by Badruddin Ajmal in the wake of the Congress failing to prevent the Supreme Court from scrapping the controversial IMDT Act in July 2005.
Ajmal is a millionaire businessman and a philanthropist from Hojai in Kamrup district of Assam, whose Mumbai-based business of traditional perfumes has a flourishing market across the Islamic world. He is also president of Assam unit of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind. In the last Assembly election, AUDF got 10 seats; only six Muslim candidates were elected on Congress ticket. Assam has 14 MPs and 126 Assembly seats.
Muslims, the largest minority community in the state, are a majority in at least 20 assembly constituencies, while they are a deciding factor in another 20. The state has a Muslim population of 82.41 lakh (31%), the second highest after J&K. Goalpara, Dhubri, Barpeta, Nagaon, Karimganj and Hailakandi are some of the Muslim-dominated districts in Assam.
Religious Distribution of the State:
Source: 2001 Census
Besides being the largest minority community, Muslims also happen to be the most backward community in the state. The majority of the Muslims, some 77.15 lakh, are confined to the most backward areas, which lack basic amenities like potable water, basic health-care facilities and access to the primary education. The Muslims have also very low representation in government jobs.
As per the 2001 census 93.6% of the Muslims in Assam are concentrated in the rural areas, while only 6.3% are in the urban areas. The literacy and work-participation rate of the community is 48.7% (male 56%, female 40.2%) and 29.1% (male 47.2%, female 9.7%) respectively, much below the state’s average. The average literacy and work-participation rate of the state is 63.3% (male 71.3%, female 54.6%) and 35.8% (male 49.9%, female 20.7%) respectively. Agriculture is the main source of income for the Muslims in the state. Out of the total Muslim workforce 39% are cultivators while 21.3% are agricultural labourers. Just 3.3% of the Muslims are engaged in house-hold activities, while 36.5% are engaged in other sectors. As per Justice Sachar Report, the representation of Muslims in state government employment is only 11.2%. Muslims account 10.55% of the total state police force.