The Sachar Committee Report has dispelled the myth of minority appeasement and revealed the utter state of backwardness of the Muslim community in all spheres of life due to systematic negligence and deliberate discrimination by those controlling the levers of power. Sachar has also given a wake-up call to the Muslim leadership and has forced them to strive for uplifting their marginalised community by attempting to implement the Committee’s recommendations.
Some noble endeavours like the Joint Committee of Muslim Organisations for Empowerment (JCMOE) have been undertaken. In July this year the JCMOE has formulated a Charter of Demands for Muslims’ welfare in the light of the UPA Manifesto, Prime Minister’s assurances to the minorities, the New 15-Point Programme for Minority Welfare and the Recommendations of the Sachar Committee and of the Mishra Commission. It has also requested various associated organisations to act as Conveners of State Organising Committees for urgent mobilisation to press both Central and State Governments to meet their demands. All this sounds very encouraging but is the JCMOE still active or just one of the many momentary efforts we Muslims undertake and then just relax and forget about the whole thing. The harsh realty is that if we Muslims cannot proactively demand and extract what is rightfully theirs and which has now been officially sanctioned by the government, then we have no reason to complain and blame others for our ills. Yes, the road ahead is fraught with dangers and difficulties, but are we moving towards the target or just sleeping by the side?
Roberston D in The Penguin Dictionary of Politics says that accountability implies both a normative expectation that “those who exercise power...are in a sense stewards and must be able to show that they have exercised their powers and discharged their duties properly and a procedural one, which emphasises ‘the arrangements made for securing conformity between the values of a delegating body and the person or persons to whom powers and responsibilities are delegated.” Another definition of accountability is a more formalised set of expectations and responsibilities on which the performance of public officials can be judged. Accountability can thus be defined as a relationship between public officials and citizens, in which the latter possess a means of challenging or counterbalancing the arbitrary use of power. Having understood Accountability or what we Muslims know as Muhasiba, let us now aim to understand the benefit of setting mechanism for the same.
WHAT IS MECHANISM?
Mechanism is a process, technique, or system for achieving a result. The advantage of designing a mechanism for any activity is that it enables us to run that activity in a planned manner with a fixed set of rules, and also helps achieve correction through regular monitoring. Key Performance Indices (targeted pre-defined range of values for performance evaluation) for the mechanism can be set to enable the users to calculate the efficiency at which it is running and also pinpoint the exact trouble spots for the mechanism.
The State Department of the Government of the United States of America in its online portal says that Government accountability can be achieved through three main kinds of mechanism: political, legal and administrative.
The primary political accountability mechanism is free and fair elections. Fixed-terms of office and elections force elected officials to account for their performance. If voters are not satisfied with the performance of an official, they may vote them out of office when their terms expire. (This mechanism works in the long term and sometimes Muslims have to vote for non-performing secular parties to keep the communal forces at bay.)
Legal accountability mechanisms include citizens exercising certain basic constitutional rights and using other legal instruments against those in power whose performance is considered unsatisfactory. Legal accountability mechanisms include:
Sunshine laws: (like the Right to Information Act), providing access for the press and the public to government records and meetings;
Citizen participation requirements: dictating that certain government decisions must include input from the public;
Judicial review: providing courts with the power to review the decisions and actions of public officials and agencies.
An independent judiciary is an essential requirement for the success of legal accountability, serving as a venue where citizens bring claims against the government.
Administrative accountability mechanisms include offices within agencies or ministries and practices within administrative processes designed to ensure that the decisions and actions of public officials account for the interest of the citizens.
Administrative accountability mechanisms include:
Agency ombudsmen: responsible for hearing and addressing citizen complaints;
Independent auditors: who scrutinise the use of public funds for signs of misuse;
Administrative courts: that hear citizens’ complaints about agency decisions;
Ethics rules: protecting so-called whistleblowers, those within government who speak out about corruption or abuse of official authority from reprisals.
Applying Accountability Mechanism to Sachar
Let us, for the sake of Case Study, borrow a scheme from a press statement by Mr A.R. Antulay, Minister of Minority Affairs in both the Houses of Parliament on August 31, 2007 on the “Follow-up Action on the Recommendations of the Sachar Committee”. The Minister says that “three scholarship schemes are proposed exclusively for the minorities. A merit-cum-means scholarship scheme for 20,000 students from the minority communities for pursuing technical and professional courses has been approved already.”
Let us now sit down and design the accountability mechanism for this proposal:
A) Find out the detailed information on how this scholarship scheme will be implemented, what is the budget allocation, which agencies will be responsible, etc.;
B) Set a time frame for its implementation; and
C) Decide the mechanisms to follow in case of non-compliance. In this case administrative accountability mechanism is quite suitable and Muslims should exert pressure on the Government to appoint paid Independent Auditors to check if the scheme is being implemented as planned. These Auditors will be Tier 1 and there must be a high level committee to audit the Auditors.
This may sound too simplistic, but the purpose of the above is merely to demonstrate the viability of this approach. A detailed document is required for setting mechanisms for every single Sachar recommendation which can be taken up by some Muslim think tanks.
The concept of “Accountability” is intrinsic in the Islamic ethos. Muslims believe that there will be a final Judgement Day when every person will be rewarded or punished according to the deeds that he did in his or her life on earth. Muslims also believe that the powers and resources bestowed to the rulers is a sacred Amanah or trust which they must discharge justly to the best of their ability. Unless this concept is ingrained in the consciousness of our leadership, there will always be deviation from the fulfilment of duty and responsibility by the ruling class leading to injustice and disharmony in society. Hence it is the bounden duty of the Muslim community to stand up for justice and remind the ruling elite of its responsibilities towards its citizenry and fight for their legitimate rights. Allah says in the Qur’an (13:11):“Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves”. Setting up accountability mechanisms is a small step in that direction.