Indian democracy’s hidden flaws

Published: March 11, 2012
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 The writer is a syndicated columnist and a former member of India’s Rajya Sabha

The writer is a syndicated columnist and a former member of India’s Rajya Sabha

As the dust settles, I wonder if elections in five states — UP, Punjab, Uttrakhand, Goa and Manipur — have further nurtured democracy, the system which we have faithfully followed since the first election in. When I see that most countries from Europe to Asia pay only a lip service to the democratic election, I feel proud that India stands practically alone with a civil authority at the top.

Yet, what dismays me is that caste, religion and the money play crucial roles at the polls. Each constituency has hundreds of hands employed by political parties in the name of bandobast. But then they are driven by the mania of power.

What has stood in good stead is the model conduct code, agreed upon by all political parties some 20 years ago. The ruling Congress is the only party to join issue with the Commission on this point and has threatened to make the code statutory so that the allegation of malpractice is dragged to law courts instead of the Election Commission where the action is immediate and the complaint is attended to forthwith.

I am not surprised when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) uses the issue of building a temple at the site where the Babri masjid once stood. But I am disappointed when the Congress communalizes elections. The party introduced the proposal of a sub-quota for Muslims from the quota for Other Backward Classes (OBC). First, it is wrong to take away part of reservations from the OBC. Secondly, reservations on the basis of religion are not allowed by the constitution.

Law Minister Salman Khurshid who promoted the idea should know that this is how the theory of two nations, Hindus and Muslims, came to be propounded before partition. We should in fact be discussing why secularism has not been taking roots in our country when the constitution guarantees equality before law and when secularism is the basic structure of the constitution. Why can’t a Muslim get a house in certain localities in big cities like Delhi and Mumbai and why is the caste system still oppressively prevailing among Hindus, including those who are liberals?

I wish the BJP would change in its outlook. It should be clear to the party that an average Indian is not communal and is happy to coexist with members of other communities. The party especially inducted Uma Bharti who was seen jumping with joy into the lap of BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi after the demolition of the Babri masjid.

I have failed to understand the strategy of the Congress regarding Rahul Gandhi. The argument makes little sense when Rahul himself says that he can be the prime minister tomorrow if he wants the office. Therefore, it was amusing to see the Congress leaders sheltering him from the blame of the fiasco in UP till he took the responsibility for the debacle. That the structure of the Congress organization in UP has to be blamed, not Rahul Gandhi, has been the endless and irritating defence. Who is at fault? The blame for the weakness of the organsiation also lies on Rahul’s shoulders because he is the party’s secretary-general who has shown interest in UP since day one.

I have no doubt that Rahul Gandhi worked very hard in UP. Indeed, the Congress leaders could say on the basis of his work that the party could improve its position. Still, its tally is a mere 37 in the house of 403. The Congress should seriously ponder over the appeal of Rahul Gandhi because he did not sell in Bihar and has not done well in UP now.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 12th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (37)

  • unbeliever
    Mar 11, 2012 - 11:44PM

    Why can’t a Muslim get a house in certain localities in big cities like Delhi and Mumbai and why is the caste system still oppressively prevailing among Hindus, including those who are liberals?

    let me try to answer this: because most of those who have progressed in india are upper castes(mostly vegetarian) and they don’t wont stench of meat or fish in their neighbourhood.

    but can i ask another question, why most hindus don’t even wont to own an house in the muslim neighbourhood? does the previous answer hold again? well lets see what other readers of the article have to say?

    it’s been around twenty years, since babri demolition, check how many temples have been demolished across that side of border without any uproar.

    caste system is still prevelent, but is one the wane thanks to affirmative policies of the govt.

    and to add a hilarious aspect to it, jatts in haryana are hellbent on becoming a lower caste, and have created nothing short of mayhem these days in and around delhi.Recommend

  • John B
    Mar 12, 2012 - 12:38AM

    reservations on the basis of religion are not allowed by the constitution.
    The Raja Shaba member forgot that Indian constitution expressly strips the reservation accorded to the poor based on religion; a Dalit or other backward caste Hindu who converts to Christianity automatically looses his /her reservation, whereas if the same conversion takes place to other religion, Islam, Jainism, Sikhism etc., the reservation privileges are maintained.

    The initial argument that accorded this unconstitutional stance to Christianity based on the charge of proselytization is outdated to Indian constitutional principle; it essentially says that one has no intellectual freedom to move from one religious belief, and is a slave of his parents belief system, whatever that may be. As long as this constitutional discrimination exists, India is not secular.

    That said, Indian regional politics have all been about regional issues, and the emergence of regional politics is a better democratic system than two party systems on national scale. It brings about an inclusive democracy to find a common goal in national politics.

    As in Pakistan, Indian voters continually reject religious politics, whereas they always switched their party allegiance based on regional issues. There is something called common sense in every voters mind and political parties often forget that. (The ultra conservative Michelle Bachman was squarely rejected by the so called conservative right wing republican voters, is an example, and very time BJP tried religious issues, they failed.

    UP had congress once, Dalit voted government recently, so now it is others turn to try.
    Very simple.

    The day India becomes a two party system,BJP Vs Congress, her democracy is heading in a wrong a direction. Two party system is not good for India. The voices of the many poor and untouched populace who live in that vast land and make up many strata of the society have to be heard and regional parties provide that voice.

    Both Congress and BJP have to focus on the regional issues of each state if ever they want to claim their national roles in regional politics, and the regional parties provide an excellent buffer.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Mar 12, 2012 - 1:09AM

    @Unbeliever
    You are unbelievable man then what is the meaning of Democracy if u still wanna hold the centuries old failed system of caste wow even america elected its black president allready
    they were slaves not too long ago and treated worst than animals and reason behind famouse civil war of america was black slavery too and they abolished it and oppurtunity is discovry
    if u dont allow some one to go to school then how your society will succeed and one more
    thing food is not the reason for living seprate its a discrimination of reliegen to consider other lower or lesser than you and then why Hindus of india even Gujrathis the more aggresive Hindus in faith lived in meat eaters west and study and merry them its make me
    lough and Jamhooriat hai ik Nizam aisa : jiss me ginnah jata hai tolah nahi. Recommend

  • Sajida
    Mar 12, 2012 - 1:19AM

    It seems to me communalisation is an example of what is termed issues politics in US, which masks the actual actions taken by the parties that benefit the elites.
    In the end it comes down to the people. Why do they get distracted by the “issues” when they are losing out in real terms?

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  • T
    Mar 12, 2012 - 6:51AM

    @Unbeliever

    Seriously…. meat and fish stench…. dude u need to get out of your home more and its a home not a slaughter house….. God u cudn’t have possibly come up anything lamer than that!!!

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  • Rajeev Nidumolu
    Mar 12, 2012 - 7:00AM

    Mr Kuldip Nayar
    Democracy is reflection of society good and bad, Indian voter has multiple overlapping sub identities other than Pan Indian identity. Sub identities include Linguistic , Regional. Religious and Caste. Each sub identity plays its part in different electoral time. You cannot expect that Pan Indian identity to override these undercurrents in a pluralistic society.All the national parties have played this game one time or other
    As the Indian democracy matures and the electorate become increasingly literate hopefully the dynastic dominance in politics will recede
    Congress party failure is because Nehru -Gandhi family never nurtured any competent politico in Congress Party. They saw any talented person as a threat to dynastic dominance. How long do you think that the indian electorate are going to vote for college dropouts like Rahul Gandhi and Rajeev Gandhi and vote on Nehru’s legacy?

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  • unbeliever
    Mar 12, 2012 - 8:41AM

    @John B:

    a Dalit or other backward caste Hindu who converts to Christianity automatically looses his /her reservation, whereas if the same conversion takes place to other religion, Islam, Jainism, Sikhism etc., the reservation privileges are maintained.

    maybe you are a bit wrong, here. if a dalit converts to islam he no longer remains a dalit, and gets transferred to obc, because dalits in indian constitution are allowed in hinduism, buddhism and sikhism only.

    http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-03-21/india/291709991law-ministry-sc-ruling-dalit-muslims

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  • Yuri Kondratyuk
    Mar 12, 2012 - 10:28AM

    @Ali Tanoli:

    @Unbeliever You are unbelievable man
    then what is the meaning of Democracy
    if u still wanna hold the centuries
    old failed system of caste

    The irony is that the failed system produced more Nobel laureates and paragons of human conduct than the super successful system that you are part of.

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  • John B
    Mar 12, 2012 - 10:38AM

    @Rajeev Nidumolu:
    Rahul Gandhi is not a college drop out. Check the facts. He was enrolled in Harvard, and after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, due to security concerns, he transferred to Florida school to complete his studies and graduated with honors.

    Besides, education does not come from college degree, and certainly is not a prerequisite in politics. By your analogy, you are disenfranchising the non college graduates of over half of the India population from participating in political process except for their votes. Bad line of thinking.

    PAK is already making this mistake.

    You should be fair in your criticisms. Whether people of India like it or not Nehru family will be politics and so is Mulayam Yadav family, so is Abdhulla family, and so on. Until grass root political changes occur and the middle class participate in party tickets, the dynastic lineage of politicians will continue, in one form or the other.

    Frankly I like regional parties in a federal democracy.

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  • John B
    Mar 12, 2012 - 11:07AM

    @unbeliever:
    Thank you. Having read the brief press report, I think the Indian government is making an effort to correct it and I am not sure how far it will go given the hindu religious right wing politics. But it is a blemish on Indian constitutional principle. Since, it is buried in the constitution only the parliament should act.

    The strength of Indian democracy and its secular principle lies in this sticky issue. In a republic all are equal, and every effort should be made in principle towards it. In time, people will join in.

    The idea of Dalit quota is based on the principle and facts, that the poor hindu Dalit of the subcontinent are socially under privileged and the quota was given as an edge in life for them. However, due to the social fabric of the society, these under privileged remain in bottom regardless of religious belief.

    It is time the India parliament take up this issue with serious thought. Discrimination based on ones religious view is primitive, and has no justification in any human philosophy, and discrimination in any form is pure evil, and if the state does it is barbaric.

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  • Abhi
    Mar 12, 2012 - 12:01PM

    @john b
    The concept is very clear. Islam and Christianity claim to be egaliterian religions where everybody is treated same. In that case how can you distinguish a dalit christian from upper cast christians? Also if you argue to provide reservation to anybody who is christian, it will be against the very requirement of affirmative actions, as many christians are from affluent section of society and they have their own educational institutes which are considered as elite institutes in India. Giving reservation to st. xavier and st. stephens graduate will be laughable.

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  • Iceman
    Mar 12, 2012 - 12:03PM

    Why can’t a Muslim get a house in certain localities….

    The reality is most muslims in India want to live with other muslims in a community which is why every city in India has a “muslim area”. They might feel safe in numbers, but are doing a disservice by not mingling with other crowd. The christians in India are far less in number. But there are hardly any ghettoes by them.

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  • unbeliever
    Mar 12, 2012 - 12:06PM

    @T:

    it’s lame for you because you haven’t seen the situation here. i know what i am speaking.
    if you are really interested, go dig for the reasons and you will find hundred more reasons for that.

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  • Mar 12, 2012 - 3:08PM

    There are no Christian Ghettos nor Sikh ones nor Buddhist ones nor Jain ones, but only Muslim ones.

    So, clearly partition is to blame for this. The founders of Pakistan didn’t think twice about the Muslims in India before making their demand. They pushed half of the Muslim population of the sub-continent into darkness and turned them into the ready hands of the Islamic extremists, the other half is suffering but atleast has not managed to ruin the name of Islam on the World stage.

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  • K B Kale
    Mar 12, 2012 - 5:16PM

    The article meanders and ends up without any embellishment for the readers. As usual, if I may add!

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  • G. Din
    Mar 12, 2012 - 5:48PM

    @John B:
    “@Rajeev Nidumolu:
    Rahul Gandhi is not a college drop out. Check the facts. He was enrolled in Harvard, and after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, due to security concerns, he transferred to Florida school to complete his studies and graduated with honors.”

    So, what you are saying is Harvard was a much more dangerous place for the “Jan-Nishin” of the Nehru-Ghandy Dynasty (Crown Prince) than Florida? Do you see where you missed a step? And, pray, which university in Florida graduated him – and with Honors, too?

    After Akhilesh Yadav completes his term as CM of the most populous state in India – Uttar Pradesh- he would be considered qualified to run for the PM, having garnered an experience of running a state. Hell, even now Omar Abdullah has better qualification to be the PM, having run a strategic state like J&K. What has he got to recommend him? Nothing! A BIG FAT ZERO!
    Incidentally, spell his name correctly. It is Ghandy, not Gandhi. Leave the poor Mahatma out of this sordid affair!Recommend

  • Max
    Mar 12, 2012 - 6:00PM

    Let us not forget that we all are parochial in one form or the other and our parochialism originates from ancient scriptures, be these Hindu, Islamic or of other faiths. We love to live in the twenty-first century by values that are older than known human history. There is something wrong with all of us.
    Scramble for quotas? I am not sure what is the right solution. I very strongly believe in merit but also feel the pain of those left behind.

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  • harkol
    Mar 12, 2012 - 7:24PM

    Why can’t a Muslim get a house in certain localities in big cities like Delhi and Mumbai

    I can’t get a house in a housing society in heart of Bangalore, because it is reserved for Jains, because I am a Hindu.

    What is the point author trying to make? That there is a division in Indian society? It is well known. Class and caste divisions are too prevalent. However, it is not done by the state and law making is more or less secular (or as secular as it can get in a multi-religious society with large number of minorities).

    In Bangalore, where I stay, there are gated communities that won’t permit folks to buy, unless invited. A way of guarding ‘class division’. There are communities where non-vegetarians are not permitted. There are areas where lower-caste are looked down upon.

    Why highlight just the “muslims” not being able to find housing. It is true of so many other class of people.

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  • Rakib
    Mar 12, 2012 - 8:47PM

    @Abhi:

    The reality rather than the ideal that needs to be considered. The consideration in these matters should not be the doctrinaire view of egotistical clerics or of jurists based on outdated constitutional provisions. I would rather it be a humane one with kindness for the less fortunate. Effort should be to determine whether the “Dalits” among the Christians & Muslims as victims of marginalisation,as their forebears have been, need support.

    No way a Telugu-Pentecostal Dalit Christian sweeper of Chennai or an Arzal Muslim Mehtrani cleaning toilets of a girl school in Azamgarh is better off then their “Hindu” counterparts merely because some claim their religions to be egalitarian..Even as equality before law & God was a concept that arguably came to India with Islam & Christianity, today some of the followers of those very religions are subjected to inequities by their own coreligionists among others. Even the gentle Parsis are not beyond treating their “Khandiyas”-the attendants at Parsi Tower of Silence-with contempt & disgust..

    If at all, let the lawmakers err on the side of excessive generosity to the Dalits irrespective of god they worship & unmindful of niggardliness of their detractors. Indian Constitution is not set in rock & can be amended, laws suitably changed and Sachar committee report on Muslims and reality of Dalit Christians & their subaltern culture kept in mind while extending Reservations to non-Hindus.

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  • Mirza
    Mar 12, 2012 - 9:30PM

    Democracy is the worst form of govt except all the others. Democracy is the reflection of the majority of people in the country. It took almost 200 years for the US to give equal rights to blacks. It is not the fault of democracy but the prejudices and mentality of people. It would take a century or two for India to evolve.

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  • John B
    Mar 12, 2012 - 10:34PM

    @Abhi:
    “The concept is very clear. Islam and Christianity claim to be egaliterian religions where everybody is treated same. In that case how can you distinguish a dalit christian from upper cast christians?”

    Please take a deep breath and think about what you have said

    If your statement is correct, what is Hinudism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and others. -Non egalitarian, repressive, draconian, discriminatory?

    You give the Dalit Christian the privilege the same way you give the privilege to the other religious Dalits- with no bias on religious affinity.

    Spin as you may, no one in India with any sense of dignity of thought can justify the blemish. The article on the constitution was meant to be exclusionary not inclusionary in principle and no article with anything exclusionary should be in any constitution.

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  • Deb;India
    Mar 13, 2012 - 1:18AM

    Atleast we have a democracy in India with all it’s faults.We can, given time, only improve upon it and we will.

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  • imam shamil.
    Mar 13, 2012 - 4:56AM

    @Yori K,
    History of india doesnot say that man please could u name one.Recommend

  • Mar 13, 2012 - 5:02PM

    @unbeliever: I am truly convinced that not only you are ill informed but also biased. You are totally wrong when you say that most of Hindus or upper castes are vegetarians. Much more then 50% Hindus are non vegetarians. And most of upper castes, except very limited numbers, are also non vegetarians.Non availability of houses to Muslims in some areas is a crying shame to our democratic and secular country. Instead defending such wrongs let us face it and try to over come by ensuring that it does not happen.

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  • G. Din
    Mar 14, 2012 - 1:10AM

    @VINOD:
    “Instead defending such wrongs let us face it and try to over come by ensuring that it does not happen. “
    There is nothing wrong in this and nothing to overcome. Non-Muslims must get out of the mold of defensiveness about everything that pertains to Muslims. No other minority faces such problems in any non-Muslim country which includes India. Muslims are the ones that have earned the place where they find themselves in every such country. World will never consent to be fashioned to suit them. Therefore the onus is squarely on the Muslims. They have to make attempts to be acceptable to others to be allowed into more intimate inner circles of others.
    You would not allow any one in your personal space, would you? Demanding to live amongst a set of people with certain specific common lifestyle is like invading their common space and is something to be earned and not a matter of entitlement.

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  • Rakib
    Mar 14, 2012 - 8:16AM

    @G. Din:
    @VINOD:

    Suffice it would be for Indians to first begin with better treatment to Hindus. Let Hindus of India learn to share space with Hindus; others are a far cry. Centuries old ingrained habits & rules of ritual pollution have made it such that it is extremely important for an Indian Hindu to have some other Hindu to look down to, somebody else to keep out of the pale. It is almost as if having some caste a rung lower is the only way to realise one’s self-worth.. First let such Hindus learn to accept another Hindu of a different or lower caste to be a Fellow-Hindu & an equal worthy of sharing space with. Let not any consideration for non-Hindu citizens ever detract them from that pursuit.

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  • Mar 14, 2012 - 12:15PM

    @G. Din: what ever you say I do not agree that it is any way fault of Muslims. It is our society that has to understand and live by the constitution of our country. There are ample places like Kerala where all communities are living with peace.

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  • G. Din
    Mar 14, 2012 - 5:52PM

    @VINOD:
    @G. Din: what ever you say I do not agree that it is any way fault of Muslims.”
    I never said that it was the fault of Muslims. Not all Muslims want to live amongst non-Muslims. That is why we have ghettos in European cities, even in Indian ones. But, those Muslims who do want to live amongst non-Muslims have to earn that right. That is why there is nothing for the non-Muslims to be apologetic about. Onus is on the one who seeks, not the one who grants.

    “It is our society that has to understand and live by the constitution of our country.”
    Constitution cannot force any one or any group to act in violation of freedom of association. It is as sacred a right as individual freedom except that your individual freedom stops at the boundary of your personal space and freedom of association extends beyond that. That is why clubs and societies based on common interests or attributes (Seniors, vegetarians, Punjabis, Gujratis, students, various professionals, etc.) can never be outlawed!

    “There are ample places like Kerala where all communities are living with peace.”
    Precisely! They are living in peace because there is acceptance. It is not because entitlements are brandished. So, back to my original argument: Earn the privilege and it is yours. Handing out privileges to those who either don’t seek them or deserve them cheapens that privilege as Europeans have found visa-vis immigrant Muslims, to their dismay and which they are now trying to reverse by imposing conditions they must fulfill.

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  • G. Din
    Mar 14, 2012 - 5:58PM

    @Rakib:
    Please stick to the context at hand. The grouse was about Muslims not being “allowed” to live wherever they damn well pleased. So, it was a Muslims-vs- non-Muslims context. Bringing in Hindus-vs-Hindus context by you makes no sense. However, my argument applies equally well in this context as well. You have to earn your place at the table before you can be allowed to sit at it. That acceptance is not automatic and is subject to highly subjective conditions, whether you like it or not!

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  • Mar 14, 2012 - 6:23PM

    @G. Din: I appreciate your comment and logic. sounds convincing. Regards. VINOD

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  • Rakib
    Mar 14, 2012 - 7:44PM

    @G. Din:

    I well know the context and it is discrimination. Couched in any language or idiom and fancy self-made arbitrary rules for “earning” the place & so on it only means one thing from the extreme Right Hindu point of view: how to keep who out. Hindus are generally intolerant of their own & there is rampant discrimination within. Indian Hindus therefore will do well to start with themselves first by breaking down barriers between Hindus of lower-upper castes so that you learn to live in an integrated society in a civilised manner. Muslims & Christians ought not to even enter into such a consideration for any condescending clap-trap..

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  • Vinayak
    Mar 15, 2012 - 1:57PM

    @Rakib:
    Tell me do more Hindus kill Hindus in India, or more Muslims kill Muslims in Pakistan.

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  • Rakib
    Mar 15, 2012 - 7:07PM

    @Vinayak:

    What is the connection? If I say “Less” or “More” will it bring the dead (H or M) back to life? May be your question is a rhetorical one just to make some vague point & you do not need an answer. Anyway, violent death of a single Hindu should be one far too many for a Hindu & a human being, IMO. And Muslim dead at the hand of Muslim of Pakistan is no recompense for that & may interest none other than a ghoul.. Besides, I do not specialise in keeping census-macabre.

    All I know is even favourable statistics, showing the “other” in worse light, do not satisfy the bereaved, ever. As for me: How can it ever be that the innocent Hindu dead in “Khalistan” movement, albeit fewer in number, are less important than the larger numbers of innocent Sikh dead of Delhi-84? How can the Muslim dead of Gujarat-02 mean a greater sorrow than the Hindus killed in the same riot or how Indo-Pak dead of Samjhauta are more tragic than Sabarmati ?? I leave such comparative statistical analyses to you; it is not my bailiwick.

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  • Hollywood&Vine
    Mar 16, 2012 - 7:04AM

    @ G Din

    I was not aware that the correct spelling for Gandhi is actually Gandhy. Thanks for the 411.

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  • Vinayak
    Mar 20, 2012 - 11:05PM

    @Rakib:
    Yes the question was a rhetorical one. Because, you said in your comments that “Hindus are generally intolerant of their own”, “Hindus should learn to accept Hindus of other/ lower castes”, “Let Hindus of India learn to share space with Hindus”, “it is extremely important for an Indian Hindu to have some other Hindu to look down to, somebody else to keep out of the pale.”.

    How much do you hear of Hindus killing Hindus in India. Now compare it with Muslims killing Muslims in Pakistan. I think Muslims in Pakistan need your advice more.

    You see that the reservations do not benefit poor Christians and Muslims. But you conveniently ignore that it does not benefit poor Hindu upper-castes as well.

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  • Deb
    Mar 21, 2012 - 11:52PM

    @Rakib

    Having gone through all your comments on this board I have to commend your line of arguement and more so the humane touch you brought with it.But I have an issue with this business of reservation on the basis of caste,religion or any other that the most cynical of politicians peddle to secure their vote banks.
    Why not a reservation policy based on economic status regardless of which god one worships or which caste he/she belongs to.
    There are people from higher castes who are very very poor too.Is it a crime to be born in a high caste family?Unless it is argued that they have to pay a price for the sin committed by their ancestors.

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  • Vinayak
    Mar 22, 2012 - 9:41AM

    @Deb:
    It is a lot easier to fake economic status, than to fake the caste/ community you belong to. By linking reservations to economic status, you are actually giving incentive to people to show their income lower. Then you will have funny things like people staying deliberately poor, so as to qualify for government jobs.

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