The line separating secularism and appeasement inthe heart of democracy is very thin. In today’s politics it is very difficultto understand as it is mostly driven with the situational flavour of electionsand strategies. The Haj subsidy that had so far been provided by the Centre wasneither secular nor an effective tool for appeasement given that theparties that seems to have beenbenefitted from it was the national carrier Air India and Saudi Arabia. The present arrangement of sponsoring a part oftheir travel through Air India began after the oil shock of 1970s when theIndian government abolishes sea travel as a means of making trip to Mecca.
For years, the money that the government providedwas only being pumped into the treasures of Air India, with no benefit to thegovernment. The subsidy has outlived its purpose and the decision to do awaywith 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.
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8 billion in 2012 to Rs.2 billionin 2017, the withdrawl of the subsidy willnot have much of an effect on the ground. It is sceptical whether this money will beused for the educational empowerment of girls and women of the minoritycommunity as proposed by the Ministry of minority affairs. . The subsidy was to be phased outafter a Supreme Court order recommended the same to the government in 2012, with2022 as the outer limit. Union Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar AbbasNaqvi confirmed that the phase out would be as early as 2018, with the subsidyreduced 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 KailashMansarovar. In Uttarakhand, the Congress government started the Mere BuzurgMere Teerth scheme in 2014, which the subsequent BJP government expanded.Gujarat has subsidised Kailash Mansarovar pilgrims since 2001, and (along withseveral other states) has also been subsidising the Sindhu Yatra (to see theIndus river in Ladakh). Both Congress and BJP governments have introducedpilgrim subsidies in Karnataka, Assam and Rajasthan. Though one may claim that in keeping in the spiritof equality , the Centre should now stop financing all religious events likethe Kailash-Mansarovar, Amarnath and Chaar Dham yatras, Vrindavan, Mathura,Velankanni Church, Ajmer Sharif, etc.
Although these expenditures including theHaj subsidy, are not unconstitutional as they do not absorb major proportion ofstate budget, a secular nation should not make exceptions when investing in religiousevents. As India is a secular country and large gathering ofthe faithful are inevitable, it is the duty of the state to ensure the securityand comfort of its people. Any expenditure made by the state though, should benon-discriminatory and based on equity. So, abolishing Haj subsidy wasjustified as it only catered to the airlines. But if this abolishing iscontrasted with other domestic subsidies then their will be conflict asreligion plays a great vote-bank for political parties and these pilgrimagesforms a very significant role in a great proportion of India’s population,especially minorities including senior citizens.