Minority scholarships: Modi government should lend an ear to the ‘outraged’ Hindus

Narendra Modi is an enigma, and both his haters and supporters appear not to understand the complex phenomenon that the man is – this is something I had written in my earlier article. However, it has not – and should have not – stopped people from attempting to demystify him. But perhaps a better approach would be, that instead of trying to understand Modi, one should try to understand the supporters and their concerns first. This is also broadly what my aforesaid article had tried to suggest.

One set of supporters currently active on social media are the one who are berating Modi for already betraying Hindus in his second term, because in past few days Union Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi has given statements where he said that 5 crore minority students will be provided with scholarships in the second term of Prime Minister Modi.

How is this not an appeasement, these set of supporters ask?

It is easy to reject these people as paranoid myopic people who don’t understand wider issues of governance and constitutional morality, and some unfortunately are doing that. However, a better approach – for both the sides – will be to first understand why this outrage was triggered.

Primarily the reason is – perception. Among many decisions the Modi government 2.0 took, this one got ‘viral’ and gave an impression as if this was the only big decision the new government took after assuming power. The fact that Narendra Modi had called for attaining ‘sabka vishwas’ aided in building the perception that minorities, especially Muslims, are now the priority of the new Modi government.

It’s not based on facts though. People can recall that none of the decisions taken in the first cabinet meeting were sectarian in nature. Those decisions were also welfare oriented – raising brows of the economic right – and all of them targeted rural areas with no special treatment to any religious minority group.

In fact, scholarships found a mention in the very first decision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The rate of individual scholarships of Prime Minister’s Scholarship Scheme was raised and wards of the state police officials who were martyred during terror/naxal attacks were added as beneficiaries. Nothing about minorities there. If the Modi government really wanted to signal that minorities were a priority area, there would have been something. Modi doesn’t miss such symbolisms.

A disproportionate focus was put on some statements by Naqvi and the outrage has not stopped since then. Further, there doesn’t appear to be a one-stop user-friendly navigation-friendly website where one can track the major decisions being taken by the government. Such a resource can easily disprove that there is no disproportionate focus on any one ethnic group.

Remember that such schemes were present during the previous regime of Narendra Modi as well and couldn’t attract this kind of outrage in the virtual world – though some sections have always voiced their opposition – so the current outrage primarily is triggered due to perception and media focus. But that doesn’t mean that the outrage itself is invalid. The charge that BJP too is indulging in appeasement needs to be analysed.

Appeasement is when someone is given a special treatment, extracted assertively by the recipient, at the cost of other equally deserving candidates. As I currently write this, there is not enough data available to deduce something categorically, though I’ve to admit, that ‘minority only’ scholarships do appear like appeasement and the “outragers” are not too off the mark.

Those defending the decision are citing examples that there are many more scholarship schemes by the government, where beneficiaries are mostly Hindus. However, there is not complete data yet on how that compares to 5 crores beneficiaries reserved for minorities. Based on various educated conjectures, people are currently trying to establish this relationship. This Twitter thread for example is a good exercise, which in a way argues that minorities are not getting any disproportionate benefit.

However, even if we get the data that shows that scholarships, where mostly Hindus benefit, are much bigger in quantum than the ‘minority only’ scholarships, the issue remains that it’s discriminatory in nature. Minorities can apply and qualify for various other scholarship schemes, and at the same time, they get a special scheme dedicated to them. This is essentially religious reservation, which has been contested legally many times, including by the BJP. Perhaps this one continues uncontested because it is for “Minorities” and not “Muslims” as such, and thus can’t be termed unconstitutional.

It might not be appeasement (if data proves that there are no disproportionate benefits to minorities when cumulative data is analysed), but it is unfair. So those outraging have a point.

A few days back a video of former union minister (in Rajiv Gandhi government) Arif Mohammad Khan had gone viral where he vehemently disagreed as being identified as ‘minority’. The current outrage can be seen in that context. If a Muslim like Arif Mohammad Khan can see the problem, why can’t a “Hindu party” BJP see it? – this sentiment can’t be ignored.

And this sentiment has been simmering for long, what is known as “core” in the virtual world. There is a feeling that the BJP and the Modi government is not too aggressive on cultural issues, such as but not limited to, freeing the Hindu temples from the government control, correction in history textbooks, ‘creating an ecosystem’, plain-speaking on Muslim aggression and Christian evangelism, and of course, the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya.

I am not going into merits of each of these issues as they are beyond scope of this article, but it can be safely said that a set of supporters are unhappy, almost angry, and they need to be heard.

Perhaps what the angry Hindu needs is a cultural equivalent of ‘demonetisation’ i.e. a step that is disruptive and visible in face, so that it assures him of the cultural agenda of the BJP and the Narendra Modi government. Just one step, which is disruptive like ‘liberals’ losing their marbles and visible like Modi meditating in Kedarnath.

How about deminoritisation?

Just do away with Ministry of Minority Affairs. It was created in 2006 by the UPA government remote controlled by Sonia Gandhi, virtually as a communal reward. The first ever minister was A R Antulay, who had raised the issue of ‘Who killed Karkare’ shortly after the Mumbai Terror Attacks in 2008. What Sonia Gandhi and her advisors attempted to achieve by creating this ministry is not tough to guess.

There is no reason really why there should be special ministry or even schemes for minorities when they can qualify as OBCs or STs or as EWS (economically weaker section) for various welfare schemes under various ministries, especially under Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. For any other concerns, National Commission for Minorities can continue to be there.

Further the issue of “minorities” being defined though a notification of union government is another one that needs to be deminoritised. If a Baniya can be an OBC in Bihar but forward-caste in Delhi, why should a Hindu not be majority in Gujarat but minority in Nagaland, which literally he is? It’s so absurd that this farce is allowed to continue.

I am not exactly a “core” guy, but I do believe that some signalling by the party and the government has to happen on this front. Just one disruptive and visible signalling, whether deminoritisation or something else.

I’ll wait and watch. It’s not even 2 weeks as of now, we’ve 258 remaining.