In the USA, responding to a question of the journalist, pertaining to the government’s treatment of minorities, the PM waxed eloquent and claimed to be not discriminating against minorities. The PM was not being specific. He, therefore, appeared less convincing to many. The successive reductions in the budgetary allocations for various schemes meant for minorities, tell an entirely different story.
This is sadly not consistent with what the PM spoke there. Our government needs to rethink its decisions of successive reduction of the budget. Educational and economic uplift of the marginalised and vulnerable segments, as well as security of the lives and properties of the minorities, is a prerequisite for a healthier democracy. We need to live up to that not only in words but also in deeds.
According to the All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) report, overall enrolment in higher education increased by 7.5 percent in 2020–21 compared to 2019–20. The report also revealed that there was a noticeable increase in the enrollment of students from Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST), and Other Backward Classes (OBC) in higher education institutions. Whereas, in the case of Muslims, the study showed that the number of students from the community decreased to 19.21 lakh (4.6 percent) in 2020–21 from 21 lakh (5.5 percent) in 2019–20.
Actually, as against the mounting, violent threats to the lives of Muslims, Christians, and other minorities in India, it is easy to lose sight of other, more workaday threats to minorities in the Modi regime. But death by a thousand cuts is still death — and the government’s recent announcement of a $225 million budget cut in the Ministry of Minority Affairs could spell the end for an institution that has helped millions of Indian minorities obtain education and job training they would have never otherwise been able to afford.
This latest cut, amounting to a whopping 38% of last year’s budget, is the severest blow by the current dispensation to starve the affirmative action programmes. The consequences are predictable: as revealed in the Indian government’s newly released All India Survey on Higher Education. Muslim educational attainment has continued to decline sharply in the nine years of the BJP-led government in India. Indian critics and scholars fear this latest budget cut will mean the end of the Ministry, which was founded in 2006 in response to a government report (named after Justice Sachar) that found Muslims had the lowest educational attainment and among the lowest economic attainment of any demographic groups in India.
The Ministry sought to reverse these imbalances by underwriting tens of millions of scholarships for Muslim students, who, as India’s largest minority population, are also by far its largest scholarship beneficiaries, as well as other religious minorities, including Christians, Jains, Parsis, Buddhists, and Sikhs.
Hindu extremist groups who have openly called for the mass killing of Muslims, including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), have for years demanded the wholesale elimination of the Ministry of Minority Affairs. Coming shortly after Modi’s political party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), implemented a Hijab ban in Karnataka state, a policy that has already caused thousands of girls to drop out of school, the cut has been widely denounced by critics as another Islamophobic, anti-minority education policy.
Among the largest cuts is a 93% reduction in funding for madrasas, theological schools run by Muslims, and also affected are other minority schools. The cuts also entirely eliminate the ‘Nai Udaan’ (lit. new flight) scholarship, which supported minority students in preparing for civil services recruitment examinations; the “pre-matric”, or Grades 1–8, scholarships; and MANF, which provides five years of full funding for minority students pursuing masters and Ph.D. programs.
Under Modi’s leadership in his former role as Chief Minister of Gujarat, the government of Gujarat challenged the constitutionality of scholarships for Muslim students, despite India’s constitutionally enshrined right to affirmative action. As Prime Minister, Modi also cut the Maulana Azad Medical Aid Scheme, which provided two fully-funded medical check-ups per year to minority students, and has consistently failed to utilize the full funds with which Ministry programmes had been provided.
Although India has a longer history of enforcing quotas for minorities in hiring and education than the United States, critics say the Modi and BJP-led Indian government are more interested in anti-Minority measures than pursuing programs that benefit the whole country.
As Prime Minister, also oversaw consistent underfunding of affirmative action programs, with numerous [agencies] failing to allocate the full funding they had been provided. The ‘Nai Udaan’ scheme was started in 2012. The Modi government has not given any money for this scheme in the current budget. While a budget of Rs 8 crore was kept in the last financial year 2022-23, only Rs 1.68 crore was released. In the last financial year 2022-23, despite fixing a budget of Rs 79 crore for this ‘Free Coaching and allied schemes for Minorities’, also known as the ‘Naya Savera’ scheme, only Rs 29.97 crore was sanctioned. In the year 2023-24, the budget of the scheme has been kept at Rs 30 crore only.
The ‘Naya Savera’ scheme, launched with the aim of bringing a ‘new dawn’ in the lives of the country’s minority youth, seems to be turning itself into ‘dark nights’ once again. Statistics show that as long as the slogan of the Modi government was ‘Sabka Saath – Sabka Vikas‘ (Together with all-development for all), the central government’s intention to expand the scheme was visible, but as soon as the word ‘Sabka Vishwas‘ (Trust for all) was included in the slogan, since then the government seems to be ‘stabbing trust’ with the scheme.
In the last financial year 2022-23, despite fixing a budget of Rs 79 crore for this ‘Free Coaching and allied schemes for Minorities’, also known as the ‘Naya Savera’ scheme, only Rs 29.97 crore was sanctioned. In the year 2023-24, the budget of the scheme has been kept at Rs 30 crore only. Now it will be interesting to see how much money is released for this scheme.
In order to support the candidates having qualified for the Preliminary Test for civil services, conducted by the Union Public Service Commissions or State Public Service Commission, etc., the ‘Nai Udaan’ scheme was started in 2012. The Modi government has not given any money for this scheme in the current budget. While a budget of Rs 8 crore was allocated in the last financial year 2022-23, out of this, only Rs 1.68 crore was released.
The Modi government’s ‘Nai Manzil‘ (New Destination) – the Integrated Educational and Livelihood Initiative scheme launched with World Bank financial support seems to be derailing. Rs. 46 crore was budgeted for this scheme in the last financial year 2022-23, but only 20 crores was released. Not surprisingly, only Rs 0.10 crore has been allocated for this crucial scheme in this budget.
The anti-minority stance of the Modi government can be gauged from the fact that many schemes related to minorities were closed as soon as he came to power. An important scheme among these schemes is the ‘Maulana Azad Medical Aid Scheme’ i.e. ‘Sehat’ (Health). The scheme was launched by the UPA government on 4 March 2014, and the allotment of a fund of Rs 100 crore was also announced. But as soon as the government at the center changed, and Modi came to power, the budget of the scheme was initially reduced, and the scheme was completely discontinued the following year.
Similarly, the Modi government has also announced the closure of important schemes such as MANF and Interest Subsidy on Educational loans for Overseas Studies, ‘Padho Pardesh‘ (Study Abroad) scheme. However, the interesting thing is that in this latest budget, a budget of Rs. 96 crores has been kept for MANF. A budget of Rs. 21 crores for the Padho Pardesh scheme can also be seen in the current budget.
Dishonesty of the Govt.
The amount that the central government announces for the Ministry of Minority Affairs gets revised and most of the times, it is reduced. It is usually less than what the Ministry demands as per its needs and eventually in terms of expenditure also, it has been noted that the amount granted is not utilized properly.
For instance, in the financial year 2022-2023, the government decided the budget for the Ministry of Minority Affairs to be 5020.50 crores but after revising the budget, it was reduced to 2612.66 crores. It would be interesting to see when the government has announced the annual budget for 2023-24 only 3097.60 crores, then how much would it decrease when it gets revised.
|2012-13||3154.70 Crores||2218.26 Crores||2174.29 Crores|
|2013-14||3530.98 Crores||3130.84 Crores||3026.70 Cores|
|2014-15||3734.01 Crores||3165.00 Crores||3088.57 Crores|
|2015-16||3738.11 Crores||3735.98 Crores||3654.86 Crores|
|2016-17||3827.25 Crores||3827.25 Crores||2832.46 Crores|
|2017-18||4195.48 Crores||4195.48 Crores||4057.18 Crores|
|2018-19||4700.00 Crores||4700.00 Crores||3564.17 Crores|
|2019-20||4700.00 Crores||4700.00 Cores||4431.65 Crores|
|2020-21||5029.00 Crores||4005.00 Crores||3920.29 Crores|
|2021-22||4810.77 Crores||4346.45 Crores||4323.63 Crores|
|2022-23||5020.50 Crores||2612.66 Crores||712.39 Crores (until 15 March, 2023)|
The thing to ponder is that most of the money spent falls victim to scams. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, former Minister of Minority Affairs, accepted in the Lok Sabha that there have been reports of scams in the scholarship scheme, requesting the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) and the states concerned to look into such allegations. In this regard, the Congress (opposition party) member also asked a question in the Rajya Sabha on 15 March 2021.
There, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment, in its report, which it presented in the Lok Sabha on February 12, 2021, expressed its opinion about all the schemes being run in the country for minorities, and questions were raised on working methods of the Ministry of Minority Affairs.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee in its report, specifically stated that the funds were going to fake students from these scholarship schemes meant for the children belonging to minorities in six states and the alleged misappropriation of the scheme. The Committee stated that the reported cases of misuse which are under investigation, are “quite troubling.”
In this apparently pathetic condition of the cuts in the funds for helping the education of minorities, further cuts in the funds and the closure of many such schemes will be detrimental to the minorities in India. This would harshly affect the participation and enrollment of students belonging to the minority community, particularly women, who are already facing manifold issues in society at large. Overall, it will lead to further marginalization of minorities, who are already on the verge of existential threat.