Religious Quotas are Secularism’s Antithesis
In his New York Times blog post (“Modi and the Muslims’ Malaise”), Hartosh Singh Bal laments the high rates of Muslim poverty in India at large and specifically in urban Gujarat. Mr. Bal approvingly quotes one solution--a 15% allocation of development funds for Muslims--and castigates Gujarati Chief Minister Narendra Modi for rejecting this solution. On the merits, however, Mr. Modi is correct on this issue, and Mr. Bal is wrong.
A secular republic is one that neither privileges nor penalizes any group--religious or otherwise--with voluntary membership. If it happens that Muslims are disproportionately among the poor of Gujarat, they should receive development funds accordingly, without reference to their religion. And if these funds are withheld for religious reasons--or if Mr. Modi is guilty in court of specifically failing to improve infrastructure in Muslim neighborhoods, as Mr. Bal accuses--such misconduct should be punished under the same rubric of non-discrimination. Deliberately carving out a subsidy on the basis of religion is the very opposite of secularism, and sets a bad precedent, for differential treatment on the basis of religion can easily devolve into discriminatory treatment on the basis of religion.