The Supreme Court on May 2012 directed the then central government to phase out the Haj subsidy within 10 years. Now, the Modi led central government went through on that order and cancelled the subsidy. Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi announced that from this year there will be no subsidy for Haj. At the time of the order from the apex court in 2102, the centre spent over Rs. 600 crores a year on the pilgrimage, most of which went to Air India.Some have welcomed the decision. Congress communication in charge referred to the order passed in 2012 citing the order which states in part, “utilization of money for education and upliftment of minorities”.
Government ends Haj subsidy. The subsidy amount will now be used for educating Muslim girls. Huge step towards women empowerment!— Priti Gandhi (@MrsGandhi) January 16, 2018
Welcome the phasing out of Haj Subsidy. Similar subsidies for pilgrimage for all religions and other religious activities must also be phased out.— Yogendra Yadav (@_YogendraYadav) January 16, 2018
In 2017, the government spent Rs 250 crores on airfare subsidies for Haj pilgrims. The move is seen as an end to the politics of appeasement in favor of empowering the Muslim community. The move is not drastic in the sense that the centre is merely obeying an order from the Supreme Court ahead of the 10 year deadline proposed. The DNA editorial welcomed the decision – “The allegation of Congress appeasing Muslims would have carried more weight had it not been for the botched-up manner in which the UPA regime went about implementing the subsidy”. “All along, it has conveniently sidestepped the fact that the subsidy was against the Quran — a fact that the Supreme Court recognized in 2012 in its order directing the Centre to stop the subsidy within a span of 10 years”. The move has also come under criticism. In Tamil Nadu, DMK working President MK Stalin condemned the move saying in part, “The effort by the BJP to pull our nation’s trajectory away from its secular ideals is insidious”. There was bi-partisan consensus on this issue as Chief Minister EK Palaniswami said he would ask the centre to reconsider the decision. Other prominent Tamil Nadu politicians such as Vaiko, PMK founder S. Ramadoss and DMDK president Vijayakanth among others criticized the centre’s decision. To Stalin’s point of the BJP and its effort by this move to move away from secular ideals is a correct and necessary point to bring up. The natural and valid question arises as to whether subsidies are still in place for Hindu festivals and pilgrimages. The DNA editorial provides some answers – “Even the BJP has been practicing appeasement. In 2015, the Akhilesh Yadav-led government doubled the Mansarovar subsidy yatra to Rs 50,000, followed by the Yogi Adityanath which doubled it in 2017 to a lakh”. A recent report on Outlook, outlined some of the pilgrimages that get government funding. States such as Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh provide money to residents going to the Manasarovar yatra to cover a part of the expenses. This however, contradicts Article 27 of the constitution which essentially states that taxes from individuals will not go towards “payment of expenses for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion or religion’s denomination”. column states that comparing the Haj subsidy to spending on Hindu festivals and pilgrimages is not entirely valid, stating that though the country cannot discriminate against minorities; in a religious sense, the larger religious majority should be given a better helping hand – “Whataboutery is fine when the purpose is to talk about issues that are often avoided by design or ignorance by those controlling the mainstream discourse. It does not behove those controlling the media discourse to indulge in it”. “There is the larger question of whether governments should favor any religion, including Hinduism and other Indic faiths like Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism and a multitude of tribal and smaller cultural and belief systems”. The fundamental question posed in the column if some religions need special treatment, which should those be? According to Jagannathan, it should be Hinduism and other Indic and tribal faiths. “This may sound unreasonable to those who believe that the state should be completely free from such biases, but we don’t live in an ideal world. India is the only place where Hindus can feel safe and secure”. The government spends crores as subsidies on various religious shrines and pilgrimages. The Kumbh is the top receiver. There is an argument that if the government stops spending on Haj, it should stop similar subsidies and spending on all religions. Faizan Mustafa, vice-chancellor, NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, in a column for The Wire argues for this very point – “The Narendra Modi government’s justification for scrapping the Haj subsidy because of the apex court order is also strange. In a number of matters, governments not only ignored the apex court’s orders but passed laws to overturn them”. “It is imperative to revive Nehruvian secularism and free the Indian state from the influence of religion. Secularism is based on the concept that religion and worldly affairs are different. Let the government stay out of religious activities and events”. The argument stands as to the government scrapping the Haj subsidies, but continues to spend on other religions, mainly Hindu festivals and pilgrimages. The order in 2012 from the Supreme Court stated that the subsidy goes against the teachings of the Quran. There are two issues now at play. The government funds meant for Haj subsidy should be used for education and other measures which especially help minorities. Second, in a secular country can or should the government favor the majority religious population? An op-ed by Zaika Soman, a women's rights activist and one of the founding members of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan points to this idea of a secular country having subsidies for religious means- “Government subsidies for religious purposes must be avoided in a secular country. This is a Constitutional imperative. The public money should be spent on health, education, roads and other needs of the people and not on Kailash Mansarovar yatra or Haj or any other religious pilgrimage”. “It is for the citizens to work out their private religious matters and the government should have no role in this regard”.
More columns by Varun Sukumar