Friday, 17 November 2006

Whose Security?

So little Anant Gupta is back with his family, after a three-day ordeal with kidnappers. All’s well that ends well and all that, but in the shock over the abduction and joy over the return, there’s something that’s getting overlooked.
Just a day before Anant was kidnapped, the government decided to provide Z category security to the grandchildren of the Prime Minister, Sonia Gandhi and Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Apparently there were reports of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (the Pakistan based militant group) planning to abduct the relatives of these VIPs and demand the release of some militants. The suspicion, however, refuses to go away that this is just a charade to extend security to Sonia’s grandchildren.
But even if that suspicion were not there, there’s still something disturbing. Sure, these people are important national leaders and, by that token, their relatives are in peril and deserve protection from the state. But what of Anant Gupta and countless others who are kidnapped across the country, especially in the badlands of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh? There’s a thriving kidnapping industry in the country that just can’t be controlled.
The children of each one of us is vulnerable. And taxpayers’ money is used to protect the children of a handful of VVIPs? It just doesn’t seem right.
People are supposed to pay taxes because the state provides certain services. Is it too much for tax payers to demand basic security and maintenance of law and order, which is the primary responsibility of the state? Why should that basic right be restricted to the children of just a few?
Forget the children of these three VVIPs, what about the crores that are spent on providing security to all kinds of people, many of them venal politicians under whose benign protection the kidnapping industry flourishes?
The inadequate police force across the country is stretched to its limits but never at the cost of security to all kinds of so-called VIPs. It is the ordinary people who have to pay the price.
This has to end.

Rejecting mindless pacifiers

There were two news items today on the Haj subsidy – one heartening and one depressing.
First, the depressing one. The government has decided to increase the subsidy cover for Haj pilgrims which will, in effect, allow 10,000 more Muslims to be covered. This is clearly a ploy ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections.
The heartening news. The Indian Express has reported that several Muslim religious scholars and leaders have criticized the subsidy and asked for the money (Rs 180 crore at last count) to be used for schools, healthcare and other basic infrastructure for the community’s welfare. They’ve termed the subsidy un-Islamic because according to the Quran, only those Muslims who can afford to go on Haj should do so.
Now there can be issues whether the state should spend money on the uplift of certain communities (religious or caste-based), but clearly there is a realization among Muslims that this subsidy is ridiculous and does not help the community in any way. That it is nothing but votebank politics and is only creating resentment against them. Maybe that realization was already there but what is positive is that they are now coming out openly criticising it.
What is significant is that this criticism is not coming from the sophisticated liberal Muslims – the Mushirul Hasans, Shabana Azmis, Javed Akhtars and their like – but from people like Maulana Mehmood Madani, general secretary of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind, S Q R Ilyas, convenor of the Babri Masjid Committee and a senior member of the All India Personal Law Board, Mohammad Owais, CEO of the Haj Committee and Mufti Nazeer-ud-din, who runs the Darul Aloom Rehimiya, which is supposed to be Kashmir’s biggest seminary. These people probably have more clout with the community than the seminar circuit Muslims. Come to think of it, one has never heard these Muslims ever raising this point?
It is time now for other Muslims to take up this line of argument and generate awareness in the community that Haj subsidies, holidays for Friday prayers and bans on books is not what will help uplift it. Those will only continue to keep it in physical and social ghettos. Rs 180 crore is a lot of money. It shouldn’t be wasted on mindless sops.