The line separating secularism and appeasement in
the heart of democracy is very thin. In today’s politics it is very difficult
to understand as it is mostly driven with the situational flavour of elections
and strategies. The Haj subsidy that had so far been provided by the Centre was
neither secular nor an effective tool for appeasement given that the
parties that seems to have been
benefitted from it was the national carrier Air India and Saudi Arabia.
The present arrangement of sponsoring a part of
their travel through Air India began after the oil shock of 1970s when the
Indian government abolishes sea travel as a means of making trip to Mecca.
For years, the money that the government provided
was only being pumped into the treasures of Air India, with no benefit to the
government. The subsidy has outlived its purpose and the decision to do away
with it, in accordance with an order by the Supreme Court in 2012, is welcome.
Moreover with the grant for the purpose having come down from Rs.7.8 billion in 2012 to Rs.2 billion
in 2017, the withdrawl of the subsidy will
not have much of an effect on the ground. It is sceptical whether this money will be
used for the educational empowerment of girls and women of the minority
community as proposed by the Ministry of minority affairs. .
The subsidy was to be phased out
after a Supreme Court order recommended the same to the government in 2012, with
2022 as the outer limit. Union Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas
Naqvi confirmed that the phase out would be as early as 2018, with the subsidy
reduced to “almost nil” from the Rs.450 crore being spent this year.
News reports say UP gives no less than Rs 1 lakh per pilgrim for Kailash
Mansarovar. In Uttarakhand, the Congress government started the Mere Buzurg
Mere Teerth scheme in 2014, which the subsequent BJP government expanded.
Gujarat has subsidised Kailash Mansarovar pilgrims since 2001, and (along with
several other states) has also been subsidising the Sindhu Yatra (to see the
Indus river in Ladakh). Both Congress and BJP governments have introduced
pilgrim subsidies in Karnataka, Assam and Rajasthan.
Though one may claim that in keeping in the spirit
of equality , the Centre should now stop financing all religious events like
the Kailash-Mansarovar, Amarnath and Chaar Dham yatras, Vrindavan, Mathura,
Velankanni Church, Ajmer Sharif, etc. Although these expenditures including the
Haj subsidy, are not unconstitutional as they do not absorb major proportion of
state budget, a secular nation should not make exceptions when investing in religious
As India is a secular country and large gathering of
the faithful are inevitable, it is the duty of the state to ensure the security
and comfort of its people. Any expenditure made by the state though, should be
non-discriminatory and based on equity. So, abolishing Haj subsidy was
justified as it only catered to the airlines. But if this abolishing is
contrasted with other domestic subsidies then their will be conflict as
religion plays a great vote-bank for political parties and these pilgrimages
forms a very significant role in a great proportion of India’s population,
especially minorities including senior citizens.