Ever since the Central Government decided to withdraw the Haj subsidy given to Muslims who travelled to Mecca, the reactions have been mind-boggling The first and obvious reaction was mostly by Hindus who were already seething from the slew of anti-Hindu judgements recently. It was welcomed by them. Many Muslims too cautiously welcomed the move, since as per their religion, one had to go on a pilgrimage only with one’s own earnings. Many Muslims still opted for the subsidy because of two reasons:
- It was available.
- The fare by Air India, the only carrier which carted pilgrims to & fro from Mecca, was charging more than a single fare to cover up the cost of the flights going/returning empty.
A fact which has to be noted here is that the Central Government merely acted upon the 2012 judgement of the Supreme Court, which advocated the abolishment of the subsidy by 2022.
A brief history of the Haj subsidy
The Haj subsidy was started by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to encourage Muslim pilgrims to travel by air, instead of journeying by sea route (remember the film ‘Coolie’?). In 1995, the option of a ship journey was dropped altogether because it was felt that it was riskier and more time-consuming than air travel. At that time the difference between the travel by ship and by plane was roughly about Rs 10,000. Thus a provision for compensation of Rs 10,000 per pilgrim was made then. Currently, an amount of approximately Rs 45,000 per pilgrim was being made.
Why was it necessary to abolish this subsidy?
If one were to read the newspaper reports after the announcement, one will realize that the subsidy shown varies from Rs 400 crore to Rs 700 crore per annum. There is no fixed figure and the subsidy has fallen drastically since BJP came into power. Why? While many may cast an aspersion that BJP does not like Muslims and that is why the subsidy had reduced, the truth is something else.
As per Muzzafer Syed Husain, a Haj Officer in 1997, “There was a syndicated embezzlement, in the huge amounts of Haj subsidy, which brought the booty to mischievous players, on one hand and deprived the genuine receivers of their share, on the other. This game was played, with a nexus between Central Haj Committee functionaries and private tour operators. For the dubious exercise, they had invented a unique method. It was not commonly known that many of the pilgrims, going for the holy pilgrimage, who preferred to go through private operators, were provided seats in Air India planes and the amount of the subsidy was also claimed, against their tickets. Eventually, this money was usurped by racketeers, never to reach the deserving passengers.” (see – https://sabrangindia.in/article/myth-haj-subsidy)
So, essentially Haj subsidy was another route to corruption and wrongful utilisation of Central funds, all in the name of appeasement.
What are the views of eminent Muslim scholars/people?
Before the subsidy was abolished, most Muslim scholars/ politicians and others felt that the Government should abolish this subsidy, since it was not allowed in Islam and that this was one dole which they did not really want. But now that it has been abolished, suddenly most of them have vociferously attacked the BJP Government. They now say that BJP is anti-Muslims and is pro-Hindus, since many subsidies are granted to Hindus for pilgrimages and Kumbh Mela. Seeing a window for fanning hatred, they are now inciting Muslims to protest the abolishment.
Other state governments and politicians like the Tamil Nadu Government and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party’s working president M K Stalin have also said that they will not accept the Central Govternment’s stand.
Why can we not compare the Haj subsidy with the ‘subsidy’ given to Hindus?
Many opposition parties and media have quoted that Hindu pilgrims get subsidies for their pilgrimages like the Kailash Manasarovar Yatra. They have also stated that Government spends huge money during the Kumbh Melas. Thus in a spirit of secularism, Muslims should receive Haj subsidy. There are serious flaws in the above statements:
- The subsidy received by Hindu pilgrims for the Char Dham Yatra or Kailash Manasarovar Yatra is given by the respective state governments and not by the Central Government (Haj subsidy was given by the Centre). Also, all states do not give this subsidy. For example Karnataka Government gives a subsidy for Manasarovar Yatra, but Maharashtra Government does not give any subsidy for the same.
- The amount of subsidies for these Yatras given by the state governments is very minimal totalling to about Rs 100 crores approximately.
- Regarding the Kumbh Mela, who is supposed to spend on the administrative and infrastructural costs of the Mela? The Government! When the Muslims from all over the world go to Mecca, who spends on the administrative costs of that place? The government there! But obvious! How is this, a subsidy then? Our Kumbh Melas and our places of pilgrimage are our national pride reflective of our ancient heritage, dharma and culture. It is our national identity – just like Mecca is Saudi Arabia’s and Vatican (in Rome). How can this be called an expenditure which is appeasement of Hindus? If India does not spend for Hindus, which country should? Can we expect Saudi Arabia or the European countries to spend for Hindus?
- One very important fact that should be brought to the notice of all citizens of India is that – Only temple funds are (mis)appropriated by state governments. Less than 30 percent (in many cases, less than 10 percent) of the temple funds are utilized for the welfare of the temples or the Hindus. The remaining money from the income of the temples is used for serving the non-Hindu shrines and communities. Why? Remember that our donations total to 1000s of crores of rupees every year. Out of that, we get back only a trickle.
If Hindus were allowed to utilize their temple funds totally for themselves, we would not need any government to fund our pilgrimages, goushalas, Ved-paathshalas, scriptures, heritages, temple maintenance or modern education. We are perfectly capable of managing our funds for our religious purposes properly. We do not need government interference nor are we beggars!
In conclusion, let us welcome this step of the Central Government to reduce corruption and work for true welfare of the Muslim citizens, by schemes for educating the girls. Let us not fall prey to the vicious tirades of the likes of Owaisi who spreads misinformation in the hope that people will fall for his theatrics.