While belying whatever scanty hopes nurtured by people of minorities about the Modi government, the Union Budget of India 2014 was unfolded by the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday as an unsurprising shock.
During the election campaign, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised the country that he will not pursue the policy of ‘appeasement’ and the Budget 2014 has truly fulfilled his words. It seems that his government is not going to ‘appease’ the 20% population of the country even by tokenism. The minorities should be thankful to the NDA government that it has assured to continue pro-minority schemes of the previous government but they should not expect anything more from the present ruling alliance. It is difficult to expect earnest support of the government in practice even for these ‘continued’ schemes in the wake of the minority minister’s assumption that the largest chunk of Indian minorities, the Muslims, is not a minority at all.
It will be hard for many commentators on the budget to spawn a feeling that the NDA budget can be considered as a fair dealing with all sections of the country. For instance, the sub plans for SCs/STs have been allocated an increased amount as compared to the previous budget whereas there is no increase in the outlays for minorities. In the presented budget, the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has made a provision of Rs 82,935 crore for the welfare of SCs and STs combined, who together constitute around 25% of India’s population. However, he announced reallocation of the nominal sum of Rs 3,734 crore for minorities which constitute more than 20% of the population. This will surely be taken as an example of a blatant budgetary discrimination and an instrument of increasing disparity among different sections of the country, particularly when seen in the contrast of wide gap between allocations to some demographically and socially equal sections.
It appears that minorities, particularly Muslims, are destined to give up hopes of any affirmative action on the part of the government for alleviating their conditions and fulfilling their due rights. The previous government has remained blameworthy for the policy of ‘appeasement’ by showing non-serious sympathy for the development of minorities but the catchy phrase ‘inclusive development’ was at least there in talks and discussions and also in the government documents. For the incumbent government, even the need for that thin curtain of benevolent language and the curtsy of sustaining a political delusion has no value. This is nothing but a reversion of democracy in letter and spirit and dishonoring the constitutional ideals of justice and equality. This is also tantamount to breach of the solemn oath taken by the government not to discriminate among people of India.
The big question before Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Jains of the country is how to deal with the attitude of the ruling class. It is only the concerning leaderships which can jointly respond to the hammering question.
Among these six communities, only Muslims and Buddhists are comparatively more backward and they are lagging behind even the Schedules Castes in terms of social, educational and economic development. Of these two, the latter community enjoys reservation in jobs. So, only the Muslims are left to wonder where to go and what to do. The sympathetic environment generated by the findings of Sachar Committee has been ignored even during the phase of ‘appeasement’ and now the Congress is itself lamenting on the said policy towards minorities as its leader A.K. Antony, who himself is a minority person, has recently criticized; then what can be expected from the just began phase of ‘retrenchment’.
Muslims, being the largest minority of the country, have only two clear options before them. Either they can go on hopping between ‘appeasement’ and ‘retrenchment’ or they can better reflect and act on some serious roadmap of regeneration through their internal strengths and resources. There are a few points here to ponder on.
Muslims claim stake on huge Waqf lands which according to Sachar Committee Report can produce a whooping sum of Rs 12,000 crore a year. The community can build pressure for proper management and further development of Waqf properties to avail this great opportunity for its own progress.
Zakat remains an underutilized instrument of welfare and development. The estimates of Zakat distribution in India is in the order of Rs 4,500 crore a year which is generally distributed without any proper planning for its best use. Presently, this huge amount is being utilized mainly to sustain madrasa education. It is on record that less than 4% Muslim children attain religious education and their vast majority opts for modern education. It is strange that both the government, which has earmarked Rs 100 crore for madrasa ‘modernization’ in the budget, and the wealthier section of the community are giving singular importance to this one-sided need of the community while ignoring other priorities. There can be no denial that the productive use of Zakat for poverty alleviation and also for general welfare could provide a needed impetus for the regeneration of the community.
The third great source available to the community is in the form of bank deposits by its members. The credit loss of Muslim deposits in banks is estimated to be of Rs 60,000 crore and this surplus of the community could be utilized for microfinance and income generation initiatives to help poor and needy families of the community in a big way. This can be realized by establishing cooperative banks and credit and thrift societies in sufficient numbers.
Another big source of Muslim strength can be visualized in the form of unproductive and undesired use of more than Rs 2,000 crore on ‘repeat’ Umrah visits by rich Muslims almost every year, particularly during Ramadan. This distinct segment can be mobilized and persuaded to invest whatever amount it can spare from a non-priority head to welfare schemes of the community.
It can be estimated that Muslims spill over something like Rs 7,500 crore a year on marriage ceremonies. This spectacular lavishness on the part of a backward community can hardly be deemed as a wise and justifiable practice. By moderately solemnizing marriage function, this staggering pilferage could be set aright.
In a democratic system, the citizens should go on pressing their due rights. So, Muslims should also go on interacting with the government and its machinery for the creation of a just society. But, they should also firmly resolve to put to some better use the immense internal resources available to the community for its own development.
There is no need for any central action plan. Things can be implemented in a de-centralized way. However, the central leadership can initiate campaigns for awareness, training and orientation of the younger activists in different parts of the country for the desired regeneration. What is required is that some groups of honest, determined and sincere Muslims should organize themselves at district levels and start regeneration schemes by recycling the above-mentioned whooping sums and other resources available at the disposal of the community. It will also help the nation in having additional funds in the process of development. By acting in the desired manner, Muslims will not only alleviate their own conditions to a substantial extent but they will also contribute in the nation building in a significant way.
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