Politicians and journalists are about one third of every delegation
A common person performs hajj on an expenditure of about 1 to 1.5 lakhs, but the government spends 8 to 17 lakhs on an average on each person of the goodwill delegation
Afroz Alam Sahil and Tarique Anwar, BeyondHeadlines
New Delhi: A spiritual journey of hajj has been turned into a political one. Most of the attendees of the Hajj Goodwill Delegation are political appointees, who owe allegiance to different political camps. Apparently, there is no clear cut criteria guiding the constitution of the delegation.
Former Minister of State for Railways E. Ahmed, who is also president of the Indian Union Muslim League, visited Saudi Arabia three times in this goodwill delegation in 2000, 2004 and 2006 on government expenses. In the same way, Justice Nisar Ahmad Kakru was part of the delegation in 2006, 2009 and 2010.
Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Syed Shahnawaz Hussain was part of this delegation twice (2000 and 2003 when his party BJP was in power), and he is not alone.
Other two-time official hajis include Deputy Chairman Rajya Sabha (upper house) K. Rahman Khan (2002 and 2006), Rajya Sabha (upper house) MP Ahmed Sayeed Malihabadi (2001 and 2007), Lok Sabha (lower house) MP Shafiqur Rahman Barq (2005 and 2007), Congress party Rajya Sabha MP Prof. Saifuddian Soz (2006 and 2009), PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti (2007 and 2009), Retired IAS Lutfur Rahman Lashkar (2000 and 2007), Peer Khwaja Ahmad Nizami Syed Bukhari (2006 and 2009), Advocate Paltu Khan (2005 and 2009) and many others.
Most interestingly, the above mentioned names are at least famous. The recent list of the members of the delegation who were sent in 2010 includes many names whose credentials are little known. Like Prof. SK Jabeen, Advocate Muzaffar Paray, Shahid Meer Khan, Maulana Syed Muhammad Hussaini, Dr Shahid A Marchant, Maulana Mahmoodul Hasan Qasmi, Mushtaque Ataullah Antulay, Nilam Antulay, HH Shukkarno, leather exporter and fleet operator, Mohabbat Ali and many more….
BeyondHeadlines (BH) is revealing this fact on the basis of the information provided by the Ministry of External Affairs when the BH, through Right to Information Act (RTI), asked the ministry to give the list of members of last 10 delegations, criteria of selection and details of expenditure on each delegation every year.
According to the data, a total of 51 high-profile politicians and bureaucrats, including others, were sent on official hajj in 2006. From 2000 to 2005 and in 2007 to 2010, this number stood at 20 or 30.
Interestingly, politicians and journalists are about one third of every delegation. The 2010 list include 30 members, in which seven are politicians. A total of 26 people were sent in the delegation, which had 10 politicians. In 2008, of 34 members of the hajj goodwill delegation, 11 are active or former politicians and one journalist. Similarly, in 2007, of 29 members, 9 are politicians and 4 journalists.
Another group of professionals, considered more sacred than the other two, also gets good space in the delegation. Social workers, leather exporter, fleet operator, clerics, imams, muftis and sajjada Nasheens also make the ‘official’ holy trip.
If there were 11 politicians and one journalist in the 2008 delegation, there were at least five religious heads, including Imam of Parliament Street Masjid, Jaimat Ulema Nagpur president and Sajjadah Nasheen of Dargah Hazrat Saleem Chishti, Fatehpur Sikri.
Also in 2007, of 29 total members, five were clerics and leaders of religious organizations, including then president of Jamiat Ulema-I-Hind and Imam, Makkah Masjid, Hyderabad.
Details of Expenditure on Haj Goodwill Delegation
|Year||Expenditure||Total No. of Members||Avg. Expenditure /Member|
A common person performs hajj on an expenditure of about 1 to 1.5 lakhs, but the government has to spend 8 to 17 lakhs on an average on each person of the goodwill delegation, the data says. This delegation causes a burden on the government of about eight to 15 times more burden than that of common pilgrims.
In fact, the tradition of Hajj Goodwill Delegation started in 1970s with an aim that this delegation will let the Saudi Government know about the situation of India. In the beginning, three or four persons were sent in this delegation but later, a huge chunk of high-profile people and those who have strong political affiliations charted performing hajj every on government funds.
No other department except the Ministry of External Affairs bears expenditure on Haj Goodwill Delegation. Arrangement for accommodation is made by the Government of India.
Talking to BeyondHeadlines on this issue, Dr Qasim Rasul Ilyas, member of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and convener of All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said: “The Hajj Goodwill Delegation has failed to serve its purpose of visit to Saudi Arabia every year. It is sent with two purposes. First, to improve the relation between the two countries; and second, to find out the problems faced by the pilgrims and to report the problems to the Hajj Committee of India so that it can be improved. Ironically, those people are sent in the delegation who are not at all representative of the community. They go only to serve the purpose of the ruling political party.”
Lambasting the delegation, Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan, editor, The Milli Gazette, said: “Those who go in the delegation do not serve any purpose. Instead, they put the staff of Indian Embassy in Riyadh or consulate in Jeddah in difficulty. They demand accommodation in five star hotels, cars and support staff.”
Citing lack of knowledge of Arabic language or geography of the region, Dr Khan also argued that these delegates only meet the hajj minster and then “start shopping”. He too supports the idea that sending such delegation should be “abolished”.
Prof. Akhtarul Wasey, vice chairman, Delhi Urdu Academy, and Professor of Islamic Studies in Jamia Millia Islamia, who was also a part of the delegation in 2007, added: “I don’t have any objection on the goodwill delegation, and nobody should have any objection because this is a goodwill delegation, which should be sent every year.”
He, however, wanted the number of members in this delegation to be “fixed and its role…defined.”
Speaking to the BH, senior Congress party leader and MP Mohsina Kidwai, chairperson of the Hajj Committee of India, said: “I cannot make any personal comment on what purpose the delegation serves in real sense. The Hajj Committee of India has nothing to do with this delegation. It is sent by the Ministry of External Affairs.”