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Time for new beginnings
The Government has followed through on the apex court’s order to abolish Haj subsidy
Late last week, a Ministry of Minority Affairs committee recommended reducing the embarkation points for the Haj pilgrimage, cutting the quota of pilgrims making the journey through the Haj committee of India, and making the bidding process for airlines more competitive among other measures to both save money and enhance safety. The committee's recommendations, submitted to the Union Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on Saturday, formed part of the draft policy for the Haj pilgrimage for 2018-2022 at the end of which period the Haj subsidy is to cease as mandated by the Supreme Court in a 2012 order. It is a significant and welcome sign of how dramatically the times have changed that the process of dismantling what was clearly a sop aimed at upping what an erstwhile Congress heavyweight used to term the “emotional quotient” of the Indian state's (and by implication its erstwhile dominant political party's) relationship with the country's largest minority religious community, that there was not even a murmur of protest from the usual suspects.
The moderate voices in the Indian Muslim community must be commended for resolutely supporting the end of an anachronism despite the efforts by a handful of rabble rousers to kindle controversy. In fact, the more moderates in the Muslim community move away from this sort of exclusivist, religious identity-centric mobilisation and join the mainstream as equal citizens of a robustly secular-democratic state located in an Indic civilisational heritage, the easier it will be for them to escape the clutches of the politician-clergy cabal that has negotiated, purportedly on their behalf, with the Indian state since independence.
Praise is also due to the Union Government in the form of Naqvi and his team who have consulted stakeholders, taken on board all views, and generally behaved in a mature, sober manner in setting up the processes for the gradual end of the Haj subsidy. This is no routine commendation, though. For, the Haj subsidy was a raging electoral issue and formed an edgy part of the public discourse for nearly two decades till the 2012 order as questions of “trans-national loyalties”, the “Indianness” or otherwise of Abrahamic religions with their spiritual centres outside the geographical boundaries of the greater Indian sub-continent, and the import of an avowedly secular state subsidising a pilgrimage were routinely raised and acrimoniously debated. Perhaps a broader and more nuanced discussion is needed, unrelated to the Haj issue which is a matter of personal religious belief for Muslims and must be respected as such, on whether it is time to for the minority affairs ministry to promote Ajmer Sharif as theyatra of choice for Indian Muslims albeit without a subsidy.
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