August 28, 2000


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E-Mail this column to a friend Varsha Bhosle

The Jaziya that Hindus yet pay

For the first time, I'm heeding my hate mail, to come up with another moniker for our supreme leader. To call Pujyaniya Shri Atalji "Mahatma" is perhaps an insult to Gandhiji. True, Gandhiji's warped interpretation of ahimsa has harmed India irreversibly, but I believe that he followed his ideology because he realised that the alternative would not work with the gutless Hindu psyche. The man who took on the might of the British Empire was himself no coward.

Even so, I'm no devotee of Gandhiji. For his life is littered with too many irrational decisions, the most incomprehensible one being his hitching the Swarajya agitation to the pan-Islamist movement: When there was unrest among Indian Muslims over the fate of the Ottomans -- after Kemal Ataturk, Turkey's ruler post-World War I, abolished the Islamic caliphate and declared a secular, democratic state -- a wise leader would have seized the opportunity to explain that the age of pan-Islamic empires was over and that Indian Muslims should join the mainstream in its tussle for independence and social modernisation. Instead, Gandhiji subordinated the national struggle to the Khilafat nostalgia of the most retrograde section of the Muslim community and thereby kindled the feeling that Indian Muslims belonged primarily to the Ummah, the Islamic world community, rather than to the Indian nation. The two-nation theory was a logical next step.

After Partition, the Congress added fuel to the fire by doubling its efforts towards the appeasement of Muslims. At no stage did any government set a limit on Muslim demands, and, on their part, Muslims felt that India owed them special treatment simply because they had "stayed back." Augmenting that were the erase-Hinduism-and-rule-India tactics of the Marxists who persuaded Muslims that they were a tortured lot. Since Independence, every placatory concession has strengthened the Muslim conviction that they are a separate nation and that Hindus would eventually concede whatever they could wrest. Just a few days ago, the Milli Gazette reported on the Qaideen-e-Ummat Conference held in Aligarh; it praised its organiser, "the uninimitable (sic) Dr Rashid Shaz, who is waging a relentless war against the marginalization of Muslim political leadership in India. He is trying to convince the Muslims of the country that this way Muslims can never get what they deserve. He is trying to convince them that only a global system of Khilafat can give Muslims a respite from their present woes. He propagated earlier that Muslims should not vote for any existing Indian political party, a line of thought he consistently holds and propagates."

Yeah right... these are just the "fringe" lunatics. So is the Deendar Anjuman; but the havoc it wrecked, is it "fringe"...? Do we see even 5% of the Muslim population denouncing Khilafat and agreeing to even consider the uniform civil code? Muslims genuinely believe that they have always been given less and deserve more: The rod was spared and the child was spoiled. Like Kashmir.

One simply knew that with the demise of that front of united crooks and the coma inflicting the Kaangress Parti, equality among communities would finally be established by Hindutvawadis. Therefore, I am happy to announce that the Cabinet of PM Vajpayee has approved the draft of the Haj Bill which will be introduced in the next session of Parliament. The government feels that "the successful performance of the Haj by its nationals has been accepted as a serious responsibility by successive governments of India." Ajit Panja said, "We see this as a concrete manifestation of our adherence to the principles of secularism enshrined in our Constitution."

Point to note: India is the only country that provides subsidy for the Haj. Pakistan, which used to subsidise the Haj, was forced to stop the practice in 1997 after a high court ruled that giving a subsidy for Haj was against the Shariat.

Let's talk about the legitimacy of the subsidy demanded as a right by the Central Haj Committee. Sajid Bhombal writes about the equity inherent in Islam; Dilip D'Souza, who piggybacks on the corpses of 104 Hindu yatris to push his anti-Hindu argument, writes reams on the tortured minorities. I'd like to ask them:

1. Isn't it true that Haj is an Islamic obligation for only those who can afford the costs involved in its performance?

2. Should the government's undertaking to organise the pilgrimage be an excuse to demand the subsidy?

3. Is it morally correct for Muslims to demand subsidies for Haj even under an Islamic governance?

4. Isn't the Haj Committee illegitimately bleeding the government to subsidise air travel for Hajis in a country where the subsidies for even rationed food from the Public Distribution System were withdrawn under the Structural Adjustment Programme?

5. Taking advantage of these sops, don't rich Muslims repeat pilgrimages year after year -- a feature that's undesirable in Islam?

6. Should a "secular" dispensation continue with this blatantly partisan largesse?

7. Should an idol-worshipper's sweat subsidise a Muslim's trip to Mecca...?

In 1993, following the Babri demolition, the Congress government decided that thenceforth Hajis would pay only Rs 12,000 for an air ticket to Saudi Arabia -- regardless of the actual price. At that time, a senior Muslim bureaucrat said, "The Muslim community hasn't asked for it. It is purely a gesture of appeasement." In 1994, the civil aviation ministry paid out Rs 9 crore. In 1998, it forked out Rs 115 crore.

Take a look at the costs that are covered directly through the Indian taxpayer's money for the Haj subsidy:

Year No. of pilgrims Rs per pilgrim Total Subsidy
1994 25,685 9,700 25 Crore
1995 30,503 10,200 33 Crore
1996 50,346 8,340 42 Crore
1997 53,286 20,400 111 Crore
1998 63,000 18,777 123 Crore
1999 66,000 19,640 129 Crore

From 1994 to 1999, the Haj subsidies have cost the Indian taxpayer Rs 463 crore, the increase in the subsidized amount being 500%. Last year, Orissa received less as rehabilitation money after the cyclone killed over 30,000 people. The Haj operations have also burnt holes in Air-India's kitty -- between 1993 and 1997, the airline lost Rs 67 crore.

As for the new millennium, Indian taxpayers subsidised the travel and lodging expenses of a record number of 110,000 Hajis. The BJP-led government increased the quota of pilgrims from 95,000 to 120,000. It sent 72,000 through the Central Haj Committee -- which entailed government-subsidised air tickets, amounting to Rs 1.2 billion -- while 38,000 went through private tour operators. The fare charged from the pilgrims was kept at Rs 12,000 -- as in 1994. Sharad Yadav announced that Haj flights would take off directly from all state capitals. And the national carrier, Air-India, is about to cede 26% equity to foreign ownership because it cannot sustain losses...

How much did this tamasha cost the individual taxpayer? Let's say India spends Rs 100 crore on Haj subsidies. Let there be a 10% population that pays taxes, i e, 10 crore people (it's 6 to 7% actually). So each person is levied a tax of Rs 10. Meaning, the middle class Hindu, who pays the bulk of taxes, pays Rs 10 to Rs 50 as tax for Haj. This, my friends, is the Jaziya that non-Muslims pay in "free" India, one governed by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Hajpayee.

Why do I target Hajpayee...? Because, on February 8, a Union Cabinet meeting, chaired by Hajpayee, approved an enhanced subsidy for Haj -- causing the subsidy quantum to shoot up from Rs 10 crore in 1994 to Rs 137.12 crore this year. The Cabinet okayed the hiked subsidy without making any changes in the net airfare for the pilgrims. Pramod Mahajan said that Air India would utilise six aircraft on wet lease for transportation of pilgrims. The actual travel cost per head would be Rs 31,044, assuming that flights going one way remain empty. While the airfare stays pegged at Rs 12,000, subsidy on *each* ticket has risen from Rs 5,000 in 1994 to Rs 19,044 this year.

Wait. The government does not subsidise trips to Vaishno Devi -- that's a fabrication by those who justify subsidising the Haj. The pilgrimage to Kailash-Mansarovar is different: It's totally government-run -- because it is a trip to China and needs clearance from the MEA. The number of people who can go to Kailash is extremely limited and they need to register at least six months in advance. The MEA pays out Rs 3,250 for each of the 600 pilgrims. The total cost: Rs 19.5 lakh. And we're talking 80% population...

On April 19, Bal Thackeray asked the BJP government to discontinue the generous assistance extended to Haj pilgrims before scrapping the subsidies for food grains and fertilisers for farmers. He was ignored. While offering subsidies or tax incentives to domestic industries and the farming community to encourage their growth and productivity, or levying customs duty, can be argued as means applied by all governments, where does the Haj fit into the scheme of secularism...?

I'm advised that "You cannot govern this country by turning some Indians against some other Indians. By drumming up hatreds between Indians." For if we do, we get "our share of riots and massacres and bomb blasts." Hmm... I appreciate the intellectual gloss, the ideological firepower and the secular-liberal apologetics available to what otherwise is crude minority communalism. I value this demonisation, in an "academic" veneer, of what essentially is Hindu resistance to minority appeasement. Like all "secular" entities, that Great White Hope of pinkos, the Srikrishna Commission, refused to accept the reasons cited for the gradual build-up of Hindu ire against Muslims. Whether the overruling of the Supreme Court judgment in the Shah Bano case, or the Muslim's refusal to accept Vande Mataram, or the honorarium granted to maulavis, or the provocative writings in Urdu newspapers which openly declared jehad - secularists deny it all. Even the concessions granted for Haj was perfunctorily rejected by the Commission as a reason for the Hindu's risen bile...

It's simple: Last week, a priest attached to the Church of North India at Surendranagar, Saurashtra, was beaten up and paraded naked at a fair. VERY BAD! But do you know why? The priest admitted that he and two other priests were distributing religious pamphlets at the fair organised "on the occasion of a religious festival on August 22." That is, Janmashthami. Would Muslims welcome Hindus distributing the Gita at an Uras...?

Merely winking at all the mayhem "secular" governments have set off makes a poor resume for the job of opinion-making. When you fudge over this kind of tyranny instead of ending it, there is no way you can stop what happened to rioting Muslims or foreign evangelists. Because your own strength, your own ability to support justice is compromised. That is where secularists fail.

The survival of India, our democracy, our unique civilisation -- that these things are in question today is hardly because of terrorists massed at our borders. We must worry about their survival most of all because of the mess that we have allowed to grow and fester inside. Like every other secularist and pinko, Atal Bihari Hajpayee has sold out. His hand-picked sidekick, BJP president Bangaru Laxman, says that the party would stop listening to dissenters if they continue criticising the Hajpayee government -- "Soon we will start ignoring them." This party has NO saving grace. It used Hindus to reach Delhi, and that's about all. So it's not just Hajpayee; I want the BJP out, out, OUT.

Varsha Bhosle

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