On Tuesday, it was reported that the Hajj subsidy provided by the government will be ‘fully withdrawn’, effective from the current year. This withdrawal was fallout of a 2012 order by the Supreme Court of India that had asked the government to fully withdraw the subsidy in the next 10 years i.e. by the year 2022. The target has been achieved 4 years earlier than the deadline set by the apex court.
As soon as the news was ‘broken’ (though it was something expected to happen since 2012), there were various reactions, mostly welcoming the decision. It was seen as a truly secular step where the government is keeping its hands off religious business. BJP government muddled the water further by claiming that it was an extension of their policy of ‘appeasement to none’ but empowerment of Muslims at the same time.
A wily Owaisi used this spin bowling by BJP to play a reverse sweep and asked that if Hajj subsidy was being fully withdrawn, why should the government provide assistance to Hindu pilgrims (some state governments do) or spend big on Hindu events and festivals like Kumbh Mela?
Since an Islamist invariably finds an ally in a so-called left-liberal in modern times, this line of argument was soon picked up by some ‘liberals’, and they also asked why should the government not stop aiding Hindu pilgrims or pilgrimages. Outlook magazine immediately published an article titled ‘After Haj Subsidy Scrapped, Spotlight On State-Funded Hindu Pilgrimages, Including Rs 2,500 Crore By UP Govt For Ardh Kumbh’.
Yes, they are already imagining a “spotlight”. This spotlight is essentially the focus of the narrative they want to build. And that narrative is – Let’s now target Kumbh and other Hindu events, and force the government to stop aiding and supporting Hindu religious events and festivals (courts have already mauled many Hindu festivals). The narrative will argue that after Hajj subsidy is withdrawn, it is only fair that Hindu festivals too should not get government support.
Overtly, this line of argument might appear fair to you. For sake of equality, why should government not also withdraw benefits given to Hindu pilgrims if benefits given to Hajj travelers were withdrawn?
The answer lies in your question; “for sake of equality”.
The government may withdraw assistance to Hindu pilgrims and pilgrimages, but only after there is real equality between the way government treats Hinduism and other religions, especially the non-Indic religions. And for your information, the government does not treat them equally. That’s why this demand is unfair, dishonest, immoral, and in fact, evil.
Government is not fully out of organizing Hajj
Let’s first see what exactly is the truth of Hajj subsidy withdrawal. If you think that this means that the Government of India is not going to spend a penny on facilitating Hajj – a mandated religious travel for Muslims to Mecca in Saudi Arabia – after this year, you are wrong.
What is being withdrawn is only the subsidy that was granted on air fare. In fact, the Supreme Court order of 2012 followed some petitions that were filed by tour operators who were not happy with some rules of the Hajj policy (such as them requiring to have a bigger office, etc.) and some aspects of them were related to air fares.
The court in 2012 was not debating whether Hajj subsidy was against ‘secularism’ or whether it violated the Article 27 of the Constitution. A petition arguing that it violated constitution was already dismissed by the Supreme Court in 2011. OpIndia had filed a report about the same, which you can read here.
Hajj subsidy, rather the subsidy granted on air fare, was asked to be withdrawn by the court because they found that it didn’t make any great economic sense, and more importantly, the Holy Quran asks someone to undertake Hajj only if they can afford it themselves. Thus the court observed that such a subsidy was against Quran and hence should be done away with.
Yep. The withdrawal of subsidy was due to a Quranic verse, not due to any article of constitution. In fact, the 2012 order clearly says (referring to another order by the Supreme Court a year earlier):
“We also take note of the fact that the grant of subsidy has been found to be constitutionally valid by this Court.”
Yet, the aforementioned Outlook article says “It (court) said that this subsidy is not only unconstitutional but inconsistent with the teachings of Quran.”
This is where the argument is dishonest. Look how the Outlook journalist has imagined that the court found Hajj subsidy unconstitutional – even though the court explicitly said it was constitutionally valid – just to build an argument against Hindu events like Kumbh.
Nothing ‘secular’ about it
Now let’s come back to the issue of government spending money on Hajj. Yes, they will no longer be spending money on air fare, but this does not mean that the Hajj Committee of India will be abolished and the various Hajj Houses in various states of India will be closed and instead used for ‘secular’ purposes. Special ‘Hajj terminals’ have been built at many airports in India (   for example) and they are not going to disappear just because subsidy on air fare is being withdrawn.
Government will continue running them and the taxpayers will continue funding these institutions and entities, which are exclusively meant to facilitate a religious travel.
So on what basis are you really asking the government to stop helping organize Hindu religious events when the government has not really exited organizing the Hajj business? Get the idea of equal treatment now?
Secondly, the court had ordered that the subsidy money should rather be spent on welfare activities exclusively meant for Muslims, especially Muslim women, and the BJP government has said the same. Therefore, the money is still being used for ‘communal’ purposes, so please keep your secular spirits in check.
Now for the sake of argument, let’s say the government completely exits the Hajj business and closes down the Hajj Committee of India and Hajj Houses, then should Hindu pilgrims and pilgrimages stop getting any kind of government support?
No. Such a demand will still be unfair and immoral.
Government must exit all religious business for true secularism
It will continue to be unfair and immoral till the government controls Hindu temples and uses their money and assets for ‘secular’ purposes. We have already seen how a recent decision by the Maharashtra government virtually empowers the state to take over temple land and use it for public purposes.
There are various other issues related to government control of Hindu temples and this detailed talk by Sai Deepak – who is associated with a civil liberties group Indic Collective that is leading a campaign to free temples from government control (among many other initiatives they have undertaken) – can help you understand those:
In short, the government can’t treat Hindu temple money and assets as public property and Hindu religious events as private matter at the same time. This is immoral. The government is obliged to help with Hindu events, or for that matter, most public events. Any deployment of police to control crowd and public order is a basic government duty, and that can’t really be seen as “subsidy”. If it is subsidy, governments are subsidizing every Jumme Ki Namaz when in almost every city and town of India, Muslims offer prayers on roads or in public space on Fridays and there is invariably police deployment for the event.
Yes, there are some subsidies given by some state governments to Hindu pilgrims, but this is again a moral responsibility of the government that is often controlling those destinations and temples and earning from them. One may again try to dishonestly argue that Waqf board (which is a quasi-government body) ‘controls’ Mosques or other assets such as land, and thus government control over Hindu temples is not something exclusive to Hindus. This will be a dishonest argument but entirely expected from some quarters.
There is virtually no government control over the waqf assets, as they are supposed to be assets of ‘Allah’ and the government can’t use them for public purposes. It is mandated that the any revenue generated from waqf property is to be used only for welfare of Muslims, just what the court also said about the withdrawn Hajj subsidy money. On the other hand, remember, how it was argued that the gold in Padmanabhaswamy temple belongs to every Indian?
To sum it up, unless these inherent inequalities and discriminatory policies towards Hindus are changed, it is pure evil to demand that the government should stop aiding Hindu pilgrims and pilgrimages.
(the article was updated at 11:15 AM on 18th January 2018 to make a couple of points more elaborate by putting in some examples)