In a sharp indictment of the minority appeasement policies of successive Governments at the Centre and the states, the Supreme Court earlier this week took a stern view of the huge state subsidies for Haj pilgrimage and directed the Congress-led UPA Government to ?either grant such subsidy to all religions or don'tgive it at all.?
A three-judge Bench comprising Chief Justice Y K Sabharwal, Justice A R Lakshmanan and Justice C K Thakker asked Solicitor General G E Vahanvati ?whether granting subsidy for one pilgrimage does not violate the secular character of our Constitution that there shall be no discrimination on the basis of religion.?
Vahanvati through a Special Leave Petition had sought a stay on the order of the Lucknow Bench of Allahabad High Court on August 26 this year imposing a blanket ban on the subsidy given by the Central and state governments to Haj pilgrims.
The High Court'sorder came on a petition moved 11 years ago by Hari Shankar Jain on behalf of a social worker B.N. Shukla.
Interestingly, in the Supreme Court, Vahanvati sought to defend the Haj subsidies saying the government was providing facilities for the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra and incurring an expense of Rs 3200 on each pilgrim. But the Bench was quick to point out that the money being paid was towards provision of facilities and it was not a subsidy.
The Bench asked Vahanvati to ?tell us whether any such subsidy is given to any other yatra. You can make arrangements like running special trains for the Kumbh Mela, provision for law and order, hygiene and other facilities, but can you grant financial subsidy??
However, the Bench stayed the Allahabad High Court order only for this year after Vahanvati pointed out that it would have far-reaching effect as the entire arrangements done for the Haj, scheduled for November, would be affected and it would be a big setback for the country in terms of international image.
The Supreme Court also asked the High Court to dispose of the main petition on the validity of the subsidy as expeditiously as possible, but before Haj 2007.
The High Court order was widely welcomed by all nationalist forces and progressive Muslims, who asserted that Islam too does not allow state funding of the annual pilgrimage.
?There is no subsidy on Hindu pilgrimage to Mansarovar or on Sikh visits to Holy Gurudwaras in Pakistan. Similarly, there should be no subsidy on Haj. None of the Islamic countries offer subsidy on Haj,? BJP Deputy Leader in Lok Sabha Prof Vijay Kumar Malhotra had said.
Party Vice-President Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi had, in fact, slammed the subsidies as the ?biggest fraud on the country? and said it was being done to make up for the huge losses incurred by the Air India.
In fact, way back in 1997 itself, a Pakistani court (Justice Tanvir Ahmed of the Lahore High Court, to be precise) had ruled that any expenditure defrayed by the government in subsidizing Hajis was contrary to the Shariat and therefore wrong.
Since then, the Pakistani government has stopped all subsidies for Haj pilgrimage.
Even a hardcore ?secularist? like Javed Anand of Communalism Combat admits, ?While the Saudi orthodoxy and neighbouring Pakistan under growing Islamic fundamentalism find Haj subsidy un-Islamic, secular India perists with subsidy and the quantum keeps growing with every passing year.?
Observers recall how the Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal and the then Saudi Ambassador to India A. Rahman N. Alohaly had told an Indian delegation led by the then External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh that any state subsidy for Haj pilgrimage is wrong.
?Our ulemas will help you in explaining to your people that the subsidy goes against the spirit of the Shariat,? Al-Faisal himself had stated.
The Saudi leaders knew that there are five essentials of Islam of which only three are obligatory on all Muslims. These three are, Kalma (the declaration that there is only one God and Mohammad is his Prophet), Namaz (prayers five times a day) and Roza (fasting during the entire month of Ramzan). The remaining two are obligatory only for Muslims with adequate financial means to fulfil them. These are Zakaat (annual Islamic tax payable according to a prescribed formula depending on the financial status of a Muslim) and Haj (pilgrimage to Mecca).
Haj is obligatory, only once in a lifetime and only for those Muslims who are both physically capable of undertaking the journey and have the financial capacity. The money required for the performance of Haj should come out of one'sown legitimate earnings or possession and the amount should be sufficient to meet the entire expenses to be incurred on the performance of the Haj.
Moreover, in a country where Muslims refuse to sing the national song terming it as un-Islamic, how Islamic is it to undertake Haj with subsidies generated from taxes, mostly paid by ?kafirs? (non-believers and idolators), the Muslims need to answer this question as well.
That there is a sizeable section of Indian Muslims themselves who are opposed to Haj subsidies is evident from the fact that a hardliner like Syed Shahabuddin claims, ?I have told successive Prime Ministers in the country that this Haj subsidy is there because of their political need; it has never been our demand. No Muslim leader has ever demanded subsidy.?
But Shahabuddin is not entirely correct. Barely a couple of days after the Supreme Court'sobservations, a Muslim delegation from Jammu and Kashmir reportedly met Congress President Sonia Gandhi and demanded both increase in subsidy and the quota from the state. Ever appeasing, Gandhi promptly promised to look into the matter.
Away from religious interpretations, secular principles and political analysis, there is also a financial aspect which makes the Haj subsidies a butt of ridicule. Notwithstanding the subsidy, an intending Indian pilgrim still has to put together at least Rs 65,000-Rs 70,000 for Haj. By what logic can anyone argue that a person who can afford Rs 60,000-Rs 70,000 is incapable of raising few more thousands, which constitute the subsidy?
What'smore, today, there are hundreds of tour operators who offer an all-inclusive Haj tour package for the same amount without any subsidies whatsoever, and also earn a profit.
As ?promised? by the Congress President, the government would certainly come out with specious arguments to defend its blatant appeasement policies and nationalist organisations would continue to oppose it.
But if Haj subsidy is indeed un-Islamic, if an entire spectrum of Muslim ulemas, intellectuals, scholars and ordinary Muslims?stretching from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan to India?are so clear that this is so, shouldn'tIndian Muslims themselves ask the government to discontinue the subsidy or at least refuse to avail of it? One yardstick for Vande Mataram and another for Haj! Adherence to religious tenets should not certainly be opportunistic.