“Empowering the minority communities and creating an enabling environment for strengthening the multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-religious character of our nation”.
“To improve the socio-economic conditions of the minority communities through affirmative action and inclusive development so that every citizen has equal opportunity to participate actively in building a vibrant nation. To facilitate an equitable share for minority communities in education, employment, economic activities and to ensure their upliftment”.
The two quotations above are taken from the website of the Ministry of Minority Affairs and describe, respectively, its vision and mission. They underline the importance of empowerment, inclusive development, affirmative action, equal opportunities and enabling environment for minority communities in order to strengthen multi diversity of our country and also enabling their proactive participation in the building of a vibrant nation. This portrays the ministry as a significant, proactive, empowering, and powerful institution capable of affecting the lives of millions of minority members across the nation.
However, the ministry’s actions, particularly in the last couple of years, indicate that it is not only diluting its vision and mission, but also cutting its own roots longing for its own death.
How ironic that a ministry whose sole purpose is to empower minorities is now consistently working to disempower those it was created to protect. In a flurry of moves, the ministry has terminated a number of vital scholarship programmes for students from minority communities. These include the pre-matric scholarship, the Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF), and the Padho Pradesh Scheme. When asked if the government intended to reinstate these scholarships during the current parliamentary session, the government responded that it has no such plans. These anti-welfare measures for minority students have raised fundamental questions about the institution’s raison d’être.
The ministry’s arguments that these programmes overlap and that the interests of minority students are being met by other programmes are not only deceitful, but also suggest a lack of empathy and prejudice. I have already written on the hollowness of this argument in context of discontinuing of Maulana Azad National Fellowship by the ministry. The ministry must be reminded that the deviation from its stated goals will gravely reflect on the socio-economic progress of the minorities especially on Muslims further pushing them on the margin of the society.
The current budget of the union government, which slashed the ministry’s appropriation by 38 percent, has further heightened concerns about the agency. With the exception of post-matric scholarship, the budgets of practically all previous programmes have been drastically slashed. The scheme that provides one-time financial assistance to students who pass preliminary examinations conducted by UPSC, SSC, and state public service commissions was not included in this year’s budget. However, a new scheme called Prime Minister-Virasat ka Samvardhan (PM Vikaas) has been added to the ministry with a budget of ₹540. This at least indicates that the ministry will continue for at least this financial year.
So, what do the ministry of minority affairs’ anti-welfare moves for minorities signify? Does the large budget reduction this year have any bearing on the future of the ministry? It is not hard to assume that these developments have raised questions about the very viability of this ministry in light of its own anti-minority conduct. Any sane individual would be compelled to consider along these lines and question the ministry’s actions. If the ministry offers little to address the challenges and problems encountered by minority communities, it would be reasonable to believe that the government should dissolve the ministry. As opposed to keeping it as a token gesture that does little to help the minority community’s needs. However, in light of the current hostile political environment and this government’s general contempt for minorities, I’d like to make two observations about the ministry’s future.
First, the ministry will continue to serve as a political tool, much like the government’s double-speak on democracy, free speech and expression, and minority rights protections.
First, the ministry will continue to serve as a symbolic body for political purposes, similar to the government’s double-speak on democracy, free speech and expression, and minority rights protections. The presence of a ministry for minorities will allow this government to engage in political posturing, as it is often criticized for the infringement of minority rights. However, a brazen act to dismantle the ministry seems remote, no one should be surprised by it.
Second, with the exception of a few ministries, the remainder of the government’s ministries have fallen into obscurity. This is supported by the fact that we can recall the names of no more than a handful of ministers. However, the ministry of minority affairs seems to capture our attention not because of its bold empowering decisions, but rather because of the constant stripping of its authority and power. This is not the case with other similar ministries despite going into obscurity. The current deplorable state of the ministry reflects the daily humiliation and helplessness that minorities experience. Therefore, maintaining this ministry would serve as a reminder of the subordinate status of minorities and the insufficient resources allocated to addressing their concerns and needs. Keeping the ministry would thus be consistent with the government’s psychological tormenting and harassment of its opponents. The best example of this is the fact that the ministry has not paid minority students’ stipends for several months under MANF. I spoke with several beneficiaries under the scheme at Maulana Azad National Urdu University, they all shared this feeling that the ministry is purposefully harassing and tormenting them because of their identities.
Regardless of the future of the ministry, whether it is retained or dissolved, its current policies stand in stark contrast to its own founding ideals. Until the ministry prioritizes its own commitments to ensure the upliftment of minorities, its constitutionally aligned vision for an inclusive, diverse, and vibrant nation will not be realized.
Abdul Moid is PhD Scholar at Maulana Azad National Urdu University (Department of Political Science)