Wednesday, April 20, 2011

West Bengal Development & Equity Controversy

There is a raging controversy with respect to a review of West Bengal development and equity which was undertaken by me. The following links and news reports will put this controversy in perspective. There is a rejoinder filed for publiction with the Hindu daily news paper.

The Hindu |14th April 2011: tp://
The India Today | April 11, 2011:
The Hindu| March 23, 2011 :
Times of India| Mar 23, 2011:

THE HINDU : Published: March 23, 2011 12:01 IST | Updated: March 23, 2011 12:01 IST New Delhi, March 23, 2011
Muslims and the OBC tangle in West Bengal ahead of the elections
The Left's prospects in the forthcoming elections will hinge in large measure on the Muslim vote. Post-Nandigram and post-Singur, a big chunk of Muslims moved to the Trinamool Congress and the Congress, making the Left Front vulnerable.
The West Bengal government’s promise to set aside 10 per cent of government jobs for Muslims, by including a majority among them in the Other Backward Castes list last year, and increasing the OBC quota in the state from 7 per cent to 17 per cent has sparked off a controversy ahead of next month’s assembly elections.
Dr. Abusaleh Shariff, Chief Economist at the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) - who was also Member, Secretary of the Sachar Committee, which had mapped the socio-economic conditions of Muslims in the country - has challenged the authenticity of this assurance.
Senior CPI-M leader and former MP Mohammed Salim, explaining the new scheme, said the state government’s new OBC list had ensured that about 85 per cent of Muslims in the state would now be categorised as OBC, and that with the old 7 per cent OBC quota, increasing to 17 per cent, and then divided into backward and most backward categories, OBCs, who are Muslim, would soon be entitled to 10 per cent of state government jobs.
Dr. Shariff told The Hindu that this promise was typical of the Left Front’s lack of “transparency when it comes to numbers and issues”. He disputed the Left Front government’s claim that 85 per cent of Muslims in West Bengal had been categorised as OBC: “Where is the population count?” He also wanted to know how in a state, “where Hindus are 75 per cent of the population, and Muslims 25 per cent, any government can possibly give 10 out of 17 per cent to Muslims?” Dr. Shariff added that if it did so, it would be “totally disastrous for integrating Muslims into the mainstream”.
Interestingly, before the West Bengal government increased the OBC quota and the number of Muslim communities in the OBC list, 8.4 per cent of Hindus in the state and 2.4 per cent of Muslims were categorised as OBCs, figures that Dr. Shariff also disputes: he believes that these numbers were deliberately kept low by the state government for political reasons. He points out that Muslims in other states were able to make advances using the OBC quotas.
In West Bengal, the condition of Muslims has always been abysmal, whether one looks at their educational levels or at the sort of loans they get from public sector banks or, in the implementation of the minority concentration district scheme, or as Dr. Shariff pointed out, their representation in the state government: while Muslims account for a quarter of the state’s population, they currently only hold 2.1 per cent of state government jobs. It is a figure, he says, that compares unfavourably with virtually all others states in the country: in Kerala, for instance, 10.4 per cent of state government jobs are held by Muslims who account for 24.7 per cent of the population.
Indeed, the Left Front’s prospects in the forthcoming West Bengal elections will hinge in large measure on the Muslim vote. Traditionally, till the assembly polls of 2006, the Left Front could depend on securing about 18 out of the 25 per cent Muslim vote in the state. Post-Nandigram and post-Singur, the situation changed radically, with a big chunk of Muslims - who dominate Nandigram and Singur - moving to the Trinamool Congress and the Congress, making the Left Front vulnerable. This has been observed in the elections since 2006, whether they were local polls or the Lok Sabha elections in 2009.
The Left Front is, therefore, leaving no stone unturned: not only has it promised state government jobs, it has fielded 57 Muslim candidates, up from 44 in the last election. Muslim voters are disenchanted with the Left Front government not merely because of the land acquisition drive to set up industries, but also because the Sachar Committee report had revealed the pathetic state of Muslims in the state. Finally, there was the mysterious death of Rizwanur Rahman, a computer graphics teacher, in Kolkata, and the alleged complicity of the police in the matter.

The Times of India : Mar 23, 2011
Bengal worse than Gujarat for Muslims?
Abantika Ghosh, TNN |, 03.39am IST

West Bengal government|Left Front|Bengal worse than Gujarat for Muslims|Abu Saleh Sheriff
Of the 25.2% Muslim population, only 2.1% have government jobs and 50% children are out of school at the primary level.

NEW DELHI: These are figures the Left Front should be wary of as it prepares to defend its citadel of 34 years in West Bengal.

An analysis of data on the Muslim community released by the chief economist of the National Council of Applied Economic Research, Abu Saleh Sheriff, reveals that the state's minority has benefited little from development measures. In terms of human development indices, the Muslims have fared very poorly.

Of the 25.2% Muslim population, only 2.1% have government jobs and 50% children are out of school at the primary level. Only 12% go on to complete matriculation. These numbers are all the more astonishing given the fact that Left swears by its secular credentials and positions itself as a protector of minority rights.

Alarm bells have already started ringing, especially after a postmortem of the Left's poor showing in the civic elections last year. An important factor which could have resulted in the dismal performance was Muslim disenchantment. In what may be viewed as the party's efforts to make amends, there is a steep 33% hike in the number of Muslim candidates fielded by Left Front. It has gone up from 42 in 2006 to 56 this time in the 292-member Assembly.

Throughout his lecture, Sheriff — who has also been the member secretary of the Sachar panel — spoke of Gujarat and West Bengal in the same breath. In fact, he used the data to project the Left-ruled state in a far worse light than the state ruled by Narendra Modi, not regarded by many as a benefactor of the minorities. And this comparison appeared all the more relevant because the West Bengal government had gone out of its way to provide shelter to Qutubuddin Ansari, the man who became the face of the post-Godhra riots with his folded hands and tearful eyes.

"If a substantial fraction of the state's 25% Muslim population have traditionally voted for the alliance it could be because of the projected gains of the land reforms even though if you look at the figures, it shows that these reforms do not seem to have made any significant difference to the living standards of the community. With the elections coming, it is time this reality is brought to the knowledge of the public," Sheriff said. He was addressing a seminar on "Relative development of West Bengal and Socio-Religious Differentials" organized by the Institute of Objective Studies at the India Islamic Cultural Cultural Centre.

Shariff's figures on education, sourced, according to him from the census database and the Planning Commission, show 50% Muslim children attend school at the primary level, 26% remain in middle school and only 12% complete matriculation against 54%, 30% and 13% respectively for SC/STs and 80%, 58% and 38% for others.

Of the 90 minority-concentrated districts in the country, West Bengal has 12. "The worst are the state government employment figures where even Gujarat with its 9.1% Muslim population and with a 5.4% share in jobs is way ahead of West Bengal which is by far the worst in the country. We had to try very hard to get these figures out from the state government because, for obvious reasons, they are very secretive about this," Shariff said.

A look at OBC statistics in Bengal shows only 2.4% of its Muslims belong to that category. This, Sheriff says, is not the real picture and simply exposes the state government's reluctance to undertake the enumeration exercise.

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