Modi government slashes funds of the Ministry of Minority Affairs by 38 percent for the next fiscal
An office goer watches a digital display showing India's Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presenting the union budget in the Parliament, at Bombay Stock Exchange in Mumbai on Feb. 1. (Photo: AFP)
It is an open secret. There is no love lost between India’s religious minorities and the federal government led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
When Muslims, the largest minority that makes up 14.2 percent of the nation’s 1.4 billion people, needed a healing touch they got a budgetary shock in the form of a major cut to funds meant for their welfare.
The presentation of this week’s national budget was greeted with disappointment and cynicism by the nation’s 170 million Muslims, accentuating the existing trust deficit between them and the ruling dispensation.
Christians, the second largest minority group comprising 23 million people, along with the others had expected increased budgetary allocations to continue the ongoing welfare schemes, notably the merit-cum-means scholarship for professional and technical courses meant for students.
Instead, they got the proverbial rude jolt in the form of a slash in the allocations for different welfare schemes, which they were least expecting.
After all, for years now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been chanting his pet credo, Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas – meaning 'together, for everyone's growth, with everyone's trust’ – assuring the minorities that they will not face any discrimination.
Clearly, the budget has turned out to be exactly the opposite. It only helps to reaffirm the minorities’ perception that the BJP is biased and discriminates against them, treating them as second-class citizens.
Consider these figures to see why minorities are angry and disappointed.
The budget allocation for the federal ministry of minority affairs has been reduced by 38 percent from 50.205 billion rupees (US$610 million) last year to 30.970 billion rupees (US$376 million) now.
Funds allotted for Muslim madrasas (schools of learning) and minority educational institutions have been reduced from 1.6 billion rupees in the financial year 2022-2023 to Rs 100 million in 2023-24, which amounts to a savage 93 percent cut.
The funds for student scholarships for minorities have been slashed by some 70 percent.
Zubair Gopalani, a Gujarat-based minority leader and educational entrepreneur, says the resulting fund crunch will lead to more dropouts among Muslims.
He does not rule out a “larger conspiracy to keep Muslims uneducated.”
He has a point. There is a reduction of funds for educational empowerment and skills development of minority communities. Even the ‘Ustad (master) Scheme' meant for supporting traditional artisans has been slashed.
This is when the prime minister has been telling the BJP national executive to focus on an outreach program for Pasmanda (backward) Muslims, the majority of whom are artisans.
Gopalani wonders why “the Modi government would deliberately deprive the poor minority students and artisans?”
Danish Qureshi, a Muslim activist, concurs. The cut in funding for minority schemes is intentional and the minorities have been denied their rightful share in proportion to their population.
He said the huge cuts can only be defended if the government could prove that minorities have made phenomenal progress since Modi came to power in 2014. Hence, they don’t require welfare funds anymore.
“But that is certainly not the case,” says Hamid Bhatti, a minority leader.
Indian Muslims have been the main targets of the BJP’s nationalist politics that dehumanize and demonize them and encourage mob violence against the community members.
Muslims are being targeted by right-wing fundamentalists since 2014, when Modi came to power, raising issues like identity, food, way of dressing and so-called ‘Love Jehad,’ Bhatti believes.
The crackdown on hijab or face scarfs worn by Muslim girl students was meant to keep them away from education.
According to Bhatti, the BJP appears to be determined to isolate minorities further and create divisions between them and the rest of the Indians.
The budget announcements were, in other words, the BJP clearly stating that Muslims don’t matter in the ruling party’s scheme of things – after all, it is professedly a pro-Hindu party.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
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