On 16th January 2018, we were informed of some ‘breaking news’ – that the Hajj Subsidy or the aid offered to Indian Muslims for travel for their Islamic pilgrimage is to be discontinued from this year. Much was made of the claim that this was a move to reinforce the self-reliance of the community to end 'appeasement’. The framing of this headline is not only misleading, it is downright inaccurate. However, this is a step in the right direction; of removing the burden of paying for religious pilgrimages on the exchequer.
Several mainstream media publications announced that the Hajj subsidy – aid offered for Indian Muslims travelling to Mecca-Medina for Hajj – would be withdrawn by the government this year.
It was announced by the Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi that the money that would have gone into the subsidy will now be used for ‘empowering’ the Muslim community via education; more particularly educating children who are girls.
Naqvi was reported as saying that this move was a bid to ‘empower minorities with dignity and without appeasement’. This conforms to the BJP’s long-held official line that the Hajj subsidy is a part of the politics of minority appeasement.
Those hailing the move as a 'bold step' by the present government are misguided, however. A report published in May 2012 spoke about a Supreme Court directive to phase out the hajj subsidy and to use the money for uplifting education and other social development indices of the community. The planned 2018 phase out was also reported last year.
While the announcement was almost universally welcomed; the step is being seen as unnecessary or useless; many commentators pointed out that this was neither news nor was it something that the current government could take credit for. Many also shared the view that this was a move to further the divisive majority victimhood narrative.
One unconfirmed report put out seems to suggest that the Hajj subsidy had already ended in 2016. The tweeted Monthly Cashflow Chart of Air India shows no cash inflows towards the subsidy for all the months of years 2016-17.
Some reports contend that the so-called subsidy never existed. The budgetary allocation for Hajj was not paid to individuals to defray expenses; rather it was paid to government managed Hajj committees and then to other agencies. It is contended that Air India which has a de facto monopoly on the Hajj circuit, inflates ticket prices during the Hajj season and then receives money to reduce fares. According to this view, the subsidy essentially is just sleight of hand, where the government takes money from one pocket and puts it into another; with citizens deriving little or no benefit.
Whether this is new or stale news; the end of the Hajj subsidy has been welcomed universally. Many Muslim organisations have opined that the subsidy was un-Islamic; that Muslims are enjoined to embark upon the holy pilgrimage only if they have the funds to self-finance the journey. Others have welcomed it on the basis of the unconstitutionality of such religious doles; article 27 bars such religious spending by the state.
Now after the discontinuation of the Hajj subsidy, the focus is on other religious spendings by the government such as the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra, the Kumbh at the four locations, spending for the Amarnath Yatra and so on. Commentators have asked for a check on government funding for all religious activities now.
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