In a move which could have far-reaching ramification, the Indian Government has ended the haj subsidy. The move is seen as a part of their policy to 'empower minorities without appeasement.' Now the funds will be used for the spread of education and improving the condition of the fairer sex among minorities.

Union Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on January 16, 2018, confirmed the end of Haj subsidy since muslims do not benefit from it. He added that a host of measures are in the offing and the end of Haj subsidy is just a part of the whole process of empowering minorities with dignity but not appeasement as was the way in the bygone era.

Naqvi also said they have initiated other measures, such as job opportunities to around 8.5 lakh minority youth and Govt scholarships to 1.84 crore students.

Political parties rush to derive political advantage

Opposition party Congress is treading a very delicate path since it was in its regime in 2012; the Supreme Court had decreed that the Haj subsidy is done away with.

It was the Congress Government under Rajiv Gandhi which had opened the Pandora’s Box by opening the gates of Ram Janm Bhumi, and the principal opposition party once again finds itself in an unenviable position.

The Govt will save Rs 700 crore by this move, and it could be used for the welfare of the minority community. In spite of the cut in subsidy the number of pilgrims visiting the Holy Shrines has swelled and this year 1.75 lakh Muslims will go on Haj, the highest ever number.

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board expressed its displeasure with the government's decision to abandon the Haj subsidy. "The decision is undemocratic, discriminatory and unfair towards the minority community," said AIMPLB spokesperson Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani, according to TOI.

Muslim pilgrims not benefited

Haj pilgrimage is an annual event, and a visit to Makkah, Mina, Arafat, Muzadalifa and Madinah in Saudi Arabia is one of the most important deeds in the Islamic way of life.

The Indian government in the past had subsidized Haj Travel which made the cost of an air ticket to Saudi Arabia, Rs 35000, well within reach of an average citizen of India. However, it was seen that the heavily subsidized fares were still higher when compared to other competing airlines. Despite protests by Muslims, the govt kept increasing the subsidy which swelled from Rs 10.51 crore in 1994 to Rs 685 crores in 2011.

Firebrand lawyer Asaduddin Owaisi had earlier argued that the subsidy was not for Haj but for Air India and if the premier carrier had done its homework better, the prices would have been much lower. In other words, the subsidy was being used for keeping the nation’s carrier afloat.

The Times of India quoted him as saying, " I want to ask the BJP and RSS that the Yogi government (in UP) gave Rs. 800 crore for a pilgrimage to Kashi, Ayodhya, and Mathura in the name of Pilgrimage, Rejuvenation and Spirituality Augmentation Drive. Is this not appeasement?”

He even said that the Khattar government in Haryana gave Rs.1 crore to the Dera Sacha Sauda organization.

Haj subsidy was reduced every year since 2012

The subsidy amount has gone down since the Supreme Court's 2012 directive to the Government to end Haj subsidy by 2022 progressively.

The subsidy that was given previously was: Rs 782 crore (2012), Rs 575 crore (2013), Rs 477 crore (2014), Rs 401 crore (2015), Rs 284 crore (2016) and Rs 200 crore (2017).

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has agreed in principle to allow the Haj pilgrimage from India by ship. The modalities of the arrangement are being finalized, and it will open a cheaper mode of transport to conclude the annual pilgrimage.