Yet another war of words has erupted between the Centre and the Assam government over minority welfare. After a three-day visit to the State, Union minority affairs minister jma Heptulla said that the State’s performance is not up to the mark. Taking the Tarun Gogoi government to task, Heptulla alleged that the Centre has released thousands of crores for minority development to the State, but it has very little to show where the money was spent. With the State government failing to submit expenditure audit reports and fund utilisation certificates, fresh funds under this heading could not be provided last year. It was only after the government submitted utilisation certificates against a few schemes that the Centre released Rs 128 crore for minority welfare to Assam recently, said the Union minister. Overall, the Assam government has been tardy in sending proposals for such schemes, and also about how to develop Wakf property in the State for the benefit of minorities, according to Heptulla. The Chief Minister hit back promptly, but seemed to be beating about the bush in his characteristic fashion. If the Centre is so concerned about the development of minorities, why did it not release special funds for flood and erosion magement, which affected ‘minority people living in char areas’ the most — Gogoi asked. He then rubbished the Union minister’s concern as politically motivated and ‘shedding crocodile tears’ for minorities because ‘intolerance’ is on the rise after the NDA dispensation took over at the Centre. In this shrill exchange of allegations and counter-allegations, it will be instructive to hear what indigenous Muslims in Assam feel about minority welfare.
As many as eight indigenous Muslim organizations gave vent to their feelings recently that in the political culture of the State, the term ‘minority’ seems to have been reduced to ‘a section of Muslims minus the indigenous ones’. Because indigenous Muslims in the State identify themselves as Assamese first, their voice has been sadly lost in the raucous, partisan political discourse holding the State to ransom. Since indigenous Muslims do not figure in the radar of most political parties in Assam, their lack of political representation means that the funds pouring into the State for minority welfare simply do not reach them. These funds have instead enriched a section of politicians who have positioned themselves as minority leaders. As for the development councils to improve the lot of indigenous Muslims, the less said the better. Most such councils are languishing for lack of funds; whatever funds they receive are misappropriated with targeted beneficiaries left in the dark. The Goriya development council announced by the Chief Minister on August 15 last is yet to get off the ground. There is much talk whether Assam will witness Hindu-Muslim polarisation in the forthcoming assembly elections, with different political parties playing up the issue for their own advantage. After AIUDF supremo Badaruddin Ajmal raised the bogey of ‘Hindus uniting after Modi’s visit’, indigenous Muslim organisations castigated him roundly for such commul utterances. At the same time, these organisations have vowed to agitate on a common platform against the neglect of indigenous Muslims. Political parties need to hear the voices of indigenous minorities like Muslim sons of the soil, who must not be made to pay a heavy price both politically and socio-economically, for having assimilated into the greater Assamese society.