Monday, June 23, 2008

How Jain minority status war was won

Nitin Mahajan
Indian Express
New Delhi, June 21

The Delhi council of minister’s decision, on June 10, to accord minority status to the Jain community in the Capital was not an easy one. Newsline has learnt that it came after a fair amount of lobbying by Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and Congress’s Lok Sabha MP from Chandni Chowk Kapil Sibal.

The decision was a difficult one, considering that a similar proposal had been shot down at least four times by Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil. Congress sources said senior party leaders from the city, including Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee president J P Agarwal, had to bat for the community’s “cause”.

And this, after the Chandni Chowk MP had sent several letters to Home minister Patil, making it clear that the community — of primarily traders and businessmen — had already been accorded such a status in several states: Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, and Uttar Pradesh.

After Patil’s refusal to act on the proposals, Sibal, who has a sizeable Jain population in his constituency, sent another letter to Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, stating that the “power to recognise the Jain community as a minority vests exclusively with the state government”.
The letter says, “Jainism is a religion with the beliefs and faiths quite distinct from those of the Hindu religion.”

Before sending the letter containing various court rulings and judgments to buttress the Delhi government’s case, Sibal also discussed the issue with Dikshit over telephone and reminded her of the need for Jains to be accorded the minority status, insiders said.

The Union minister, sources said, also told Dikshit that she did not need the Home ministry’s approval since the state government was empowered to take such a decision. Sources said Dikshit called a meeting of her council of ministers the very next day and accorded minority status to the Jain community.

With Assembly polls barely months away, the move by the Congress government in Delhi is seen as a ploy to appease the community, otherwise is known to favour the BJP. Party sources said the Congress does not want to take any chances after the sealing controversy led to its defeat in the municipal elections last year.

The community has an estimated population of between 4 lakh and 5 lakh in the Capital — about 0.45 per cent of Delhi’s population — and is now at par with other minority communities such as Buddhists, Christians, Sikhs, Muslims and Parsis, listed as notified minority groups under the Delhi Minorities Commission Act, 1999.

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