10. Dec, 2006.
Minorities must have ‘first claim’ on resources
NEW DELHI: Plans for minorities, particularly Muslims, must have the “first claim” on resources so that benefits of development reach them equitably, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said here today.

“We will have to devise innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably the fruits of development. These must have the first claim on resources,” Dr Singh said in his NDC address here.
It was supposed to be a meeting between the Centre and the states to step up growth rate during the next five-year plan. Instead, it turned into a slugfest with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s call for innovative planning for minorities, particularly Muslims, triggering angry reactions from BJP and RSS. 

In his address to the National Development Council, the PM chose to take up the issue of devising "innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority are empowered to share equitably in the fruits of development". The PM’s remarks addressed all minority groups as he said, "These must have first claim on resources." BJP used references to Muslims to attack PM’s speech. 

Though the PM also spoke about agriculture, health, education, infrastructure as well as upliftment of diverse categories of SC/STs, OBCs and women and children, BJP took strong exception to his stress on "particularly the Muslim minority". The main opposition party, already exercised over UPA ministers pitching for a Muslim quota, also read PM’s assertion, "These must have a first claim on resources" in the light of his concern for the minority community. 

Muslim empowerment has become a hot-button issue in the national discourse following the Sachar Committee’s report recommending special measures for the largely impoverished community. 

Though the PM’s media managers insisted that the speech should be read in its entirety and not be linked to the coming UP polls, BJP chief ministers decided to take on Singh’s assertion at the NDC venue itself, terming it a ploy to woo the Muslim vote. 

Gujarat CM Narendra Modi argued that the government should not favour one caste or community. Taking issue with the PM, Modi retorted that every citizen had equal rights over the country’s resources. "Such a statement does not behove a senior leader like the PM. It is unfortunate," he said. 

Modi’s colleagues — Chattisgarh CM Raman Singh and Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan — reacted in the same vein. While Chauhan termed the statement as "dangerous", Singh wanted economic backwardness to be the sole criteria. 

By the end of the day the statement had turned into a full scale row. Congress stood by the PM, justifying the need for a special dispensation for Muslims, saying the majority of them were poor. “Such programmes must involve a significant state contribution to total costs. This would enhance a sense of ownership and efficiency in implementation.”

On its part, the Centre should give flexibility to the states in designing and implementation of Centrally-sponsored schemes, he said pointing out that the resource position of states made it possible to mark credible efforts in this direction.



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