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India decision to lift Hajj subsidy under spotlight

Muslims pray at the Grand mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca in this file photo. (Reuters)
NEW DELHI: The Muslim community in India has welcomed the Indian government’s decision to end the three-decade-old Hajj subsidy but says the Modi regime is indulging in anti-minority politics by politicizing the decision.
Last week Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi announced the end of the Hajj subsidy. “The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government has ended appeasement and vote bank politics, which have been going on for the last several years,” he said. “Our policy is empowerment without appeasement and development with dignity for all sections of the society.”
Muslim bodies called it “the fulfillment of the long-standing demand.”
“The government is indulging in half-truth. The Hajj subsidy would have lapsed anyway by 2022, according to a Supreme Court ruling in 2012, but the government is taking a high moral ground, which is in a bad taste,” said Navaid Hamid, president of All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, a federation of Muslims organization.
“The Hajj subsidy has never been beneficial for Muslims; it was meant to save the ailing national carrier Air India,” he said.
He urged the Indian government to “allow open bidding for travel to Saudi Arabia for Muslims who want to go there for Hajj. Why should 175,000 Muslims every year be condemned to choose only Air India? It’s an undeclared tax on the Muslim community.” Nevertheless the move showed “BJP’s sectarian mindset and blatant majoritarian politics,” he said.
New-Delhi based academic at the Indian Society of International Law, Anwar Sadat, said: “The political cost of the Hajj subsidy was really huge. The BJP and the Hindu right-wing parties always exploited it to serve their majoritarian political agenda.”
Sixty-eight-year-old Nabizan Ahmad, who went for Hajj three years ago, argues that if the government wants to display genuine “inclusive practice” then it should “stop facilitating and funding a free ride to Hindu pilgrims to different places of worship.”
In India many state governments (both BJP and non-BJP ruled states) give subsidies to Hindu pilgrims. Last year, Yogi Adityanath, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state, announced a reward of 100,000 rupees ($1,600) for Hindu pilgrims who wanted to go to Kailash Mansarovar, a popular Hindu pilgrimage site on the Tibetan plateau.
“If it is appeasement to subsidize pilgrims to Makkah, is it empowerment to subsidize pilgrims to Mansarovar, Ayodhya, and other such places considered holy to Hindus?” asked Brinda Karat, a senior leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI-M.
Karat wrote in an article that “the central government has terminated the subsidy for Hajj completely within five years, which is a violation of the Supreme Court directions, even as state governments headed by the BJP-RSS are increasing subsidies for Hindu pilgrims.”
But BJP spokesperson Sudhanshu Mittal denies “any kind of targeting of Muslims by ending Hajj subsidy.”
He told Arab News: “We followed the Supreme Court’s order and the desire of the Muslim community.”
However, he refused to call the money spent on Hindu pilgrims a subsidy, describing it as “expenses for logistics,” and said those who were questioning it were “communalizing the whole atmosphere.”
Aateka Khan, an academic at Delhi University, said: “If you look at the sequence of events from (the abolishment) of triple talaq (instant divorce) onwards, you will see a systematic targeting of the Muslim minority by the Modi government.”
“The PM speaks of tolerance and peaceful existence but he is actually consolidating Hindu votes by targeting Muslims and depicting them in a wrong way,” Khan told Arab News.