Sareshwala opposes transfer of Indian Haj affairs from MEA to MMA

MAKING A POINT: Zafar Sareshwala, the head of India’s Haj goodwill delegation, addresses a press conference in Jeddah on Thursday. Also seen are Gujarat Haj Committee Chairman Mohammed Ali Qadri, left, Indian Ambassador Ahmad Javed, 2nd left, Consul General Noor Rahman Sheikh, 2nd right, and Deputy Consul General and Haj Consul Mohammed Shahid Alam, right. (AN photo)
Updated 16 September 2016
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Sareshwala opposes transfer of Indian Haj affairs from MEA to MMA

JEDDAH: The leader of India’s Haj goodwill delegation is strongly opposed to his government’s decision to transfer the management of Haj affairs from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to the Ministry of Minority Affairs (MMA).

Responding to a question from Arab News at a press conference in Jeddah on Thursday, Zafar Sareshwala said: “Haj affairs should remain with the Ministry of External Affairs. The ministry has competent diplomats and capable officers, plus it has the benefit of institutional wisdom acquired over many decades of successfully managing Indian Haj affairs.”

Sareshwala said he did not see any reason for the decision. “Initially, even I was of the view that since Haj was primarily a minority affair, it should come under the Ministry of Minority Affairs. On hindsight and after having seen with my own eyes the excellent management of the annual pilgrimage by the Ministry of External Affairs, I feel the (transfer) decision is not wise. It ought to remain the way it is now.”

The decision to transfer Haj affairs was taken by the previous Manmohan Singh government. The present Narendra Modi-led government went along with the decision and effected the change earlier this year. Haj 2017 will therefore be managed by the Ministry of Minority Affairs.

In response to a question from a member of Parliament in April this year, Minister of State for External Affairs Gen. V.K. Singh said: “It has been decided to transfer the work related to management of the Haj pilgrimage, including administration of the Haj Committee Act (1959) and rules made thereunder, from the Ministry of External Affairs to the Ministry of Minority Affairs.”

Najma Heptulla, who was until recently the minister of minority affairs in the Modi government, confirmed in February this year that Haj would be transferred to the Ministry of Minority Affairs. “I have received a communication in this regard,” she said.

“Haj is being transferred to us but not because of mismanagement,” she said. “The prime minister has transferred it to us perhaps from the administrative point of view since Haj deals with a minority community.”

Heptulla was replaced recently by Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi as the minority affairs minister. A longtime member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Naqvi is widely distrusted by the Muslim community in India.

The opposition to the move by Sareshwala, who is said to enjoy good rapport with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is considered significant.

“I will submit a report to the honorable prime minister on all the good work that I have seen here and I will recommend that Haj not be transferred to the Ministry of Minority Affairs,” he said. “This is my view. Ultimately, of course, it is up to the government to decide.”

Sareshwala said he was never in favor of a ministry “that was created out of the blue by the previous government to accommodate out-of-work politicians and throw a few crumbs to them.”

The issue is set to become a talking point in India with the emergence of details about exactly what the transfer entails. At the moment, the community seems to be confused and divided.


Saudi Crown prince’s India visit will help expand ties beyond energy

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to India will boost robust interactions that New Delhi has established with Saudi Arabia over the last few years. (Supplied)
Updated 20 February 2019
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Saudi Crown prince’s India visit will help expand ties beyond energy

  • New Delhi’s participation in Kingdom’s mega projects a major aspect of renewed ties: Talmiz Ahmad

NEW DELHI: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s first visit to India is a landmark development in bilateral ties between India and Saudi Arabia, according to Talmiz Ahmad, a former ambassador to Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia is India’s largest supplier of crude oil, but since taking office in 2014 Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to use India’s growing economy to attract more investment from Saudi Arabia beyond energy, and foster cooperation on trade, infrastructure and defense.

Ahmad, author of several books on the Arab world and twice India’s Ambassador to Riyadh, said that while the backbone of New Delhi’s relationship with the Kingdom is energy, the two sides had been discussing “how to give greater substance and longevity to the relationship on the basis of concrete projects.”

Reuters reported this week that India is expecting Prince Salman to announce an initial investment in its National Investment and Infrastructure Fund, a quasi-sovereign wealth fund, to help accelerate the building of ports and highways. Saudi Arabia has also suggested investing in India’s farming industry, with an eye on food imports to the Kingdom. 

Ahmad said Saudi Arabia’s NEOM project, a $500 billion smart city in Tabuk province on the Egyptian and Jordanian borders, would also provide great opportunities for Indian companies. 

He added that Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, the crown prince’s blueprint to fundamentally transform Kingdom’s economy, presents another opportunity for Indian businesses to prosper from the relationship.

“India is extremely well placed,” said Ahmad. “We are world leaders in small and medium enterprises and in the services sector. Saudi Arabia also has proposals to develop its tourism and leisure sectors, and I believe India is also well placed in those areas too.”

He also discussed how the strategic partnership had been initiated by former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who visited Riyadh in 2010, but that Modi, who visited in 2016, had added “considerable substance” to the relationship.

He stressed, though, that Riyadh’s ties with India are independent of its relationship with Pakistan. He added India and Saudi Arabia were also working together to improve the security situation in Afghanistan, to resolve the 17-year conflict between government forces and the Afghan Taliban, as well as in the wider West Asia region. 

“India has excellent relations with all the countries in West Asia, and New Delhi is well placed to address some of the concerns that all the countries have with each other,” he said.