Jobs @ MG
EDITORIAL: 16-31 March 2001
The annual subsidy incurred on the Hajj, pilgrimage to Makkah, amounting to Rs
150 crore (US$ 33m) this year, has been criticized by an Arab official who is
said to have expressed the view that the subsidy goes against the spirit of the
Shari’ah. This was leaked to a Delhi newspaper and was lapped up by the
Hindutvites, ever-eager to find an issue to embarrass Muslims.
Leaking the story the paper claimed that the Qur'an specifically insists that
the pilgrimage must be done from ‘within’ the pilgrim’s own resources and
gave the fatwa that one's pilgrimage may not be ‘accepted by God’ if
expenditure on transport to the Hajj holy sites and on food is not out of the
the pilgrim’s own money. The paper also disclosed that in 1997 even Pakistan
discontinued government subsidies to Hajj pilgrims. After this introduction the
paper disclosed that the Ministry of External Affairs, which is the apex body
that deals with the pilgrimage, has ‘over the last few years’ [i.e., since
BJP came to power!] has argued that the subsidy be gradually discontinued, 'but
the government hasn’t been able to take a decision on the matter.'
New Delhi’s subsidy for the Hajj began only in 1993, the year after the Babri
Masjid demolition, when the then prime minister Narasimha Rao used it as a sop
in the hope of 'assuaging' the Muslim community which had deserted the Congress
Party en masse in the wake of the Babri sacrilege and the communal riots that
followed all over the country.
Before we move further let us clarify that there had never been any plea on the
part of any Muslim individual or body, however poor or small, to the government
to defray Hajj expenses, and the subsidy was introduced voluntarily only to
persuade Muslims to accept the mode of air travel after the government itself
for whatever reason had decided to discontinue sea voyage to Jeddah which,
traditionally and historically, was the usual mode of Hajj travel for Indian
pilgrims. In 1993, the price for the pilgrim’s airfare was fixed at Rs 12,000
and the additional subsidy per person then amounted to Rs 2,000. Ever since the
government has been defraying the travel cost per pilgrim in excess of Rs
12,000. This year, the subsidy came to an additional Rs 20,000 per person,
amounting to Rs 150 crore. Let it also be clear that this subsidy is paid only
to around 60 percent Indian pilgrims going through the Haj Committee, an
official organization of the Indian government, while around 40 percent going
through commercial operation are denied this subsidy.
There has been a consistent complaint from Indian Muslims that the subsidy is
grossly hiked in order to make way for huge kickbacks and malpractices. The
normal round-trip airfare for Delhi-Jeddah-Delhi sector through commercial
carriers is around Rs 23,000 but the chartered flights on the same route are
costing the Haj Committee Rs 32,000! Everyone except the government of India
knows that chartered flights are always cheaper than normal commercial flights.
We raised this issue even last year and there was hue and cry which, as is
normal in India, quickly died down.
It should also be made clear that there is no religious ban on accepting subsidy
from the government which is bound to take care of all its citizens especially
while going abroad in large numbers. The government of India spends huge amounts
on the administration of internal pilgrimage by Hindus, for instance to Vaishnu
Devi, Allahabad and other tirths. The Indian government also bears huge costs to
facilitate pilgrimage of Hindus and Sikhs going to Pakistan for religious
The Qur'an nowhere says that the pilgrimage should be done from 'within the
pilgrim’s own resources.’ It only says that Hajj is obligatory for whoever
'can make it' (Surah 3, verse 97). The Saudi government invites over a thousand
people from all over the world to perform pilgrimage at its own expenses.
Traditionally many people go on Hajj paid by others. Indian Muslims did not
demand the Hajj subsidy and they will not demand its withdrawal either. If the
government decides to withdraw it, it will have to withdraw all similar
subsidies and facilities provided by official agencies to pilgrims at home. q