The government took the right decision recently to stop state subsidy for Haj pilgrims. There is no justification for a secular state to subsidise pilgrimages of people to religious places. The need to continue Haj subsidy has been a matter of debate for long, and even many Muslim parties and groups have asked for the subsidy to be scrapped. The practice started during the British period and post-Independence governments expanded it and continued it. Last year, about Rs 250 crore was spent as Haj subsidy. It is not the amount involved but the principle behind it that makes it unacceptable. It became a matter of political patronage. Large official delegations accompanied the pilgrims and this, too, became a method of bestowing undue favours on officials and others.
The Supreme Court had in 2012 directed the government to phase out the Haj subsidy in 10 years. The court wanted the subsidy to be stopped not because it found the practice was against the Constitution, but because it was against Islamic tenets. Haj is a holy duty for Muslims but according to Islamic teaching it should be undertaken only by those who can afford to bear the expenses. So, any kind of subsidy can be considered unIslamic. The phasing out process actually started after the court's order and the subsidy has been reduced over the years. The Modi government has decided to stop it altogether before the court-mandated period. The subsidy was mainly in the form of subsidised fares offered by Air India. There is even a view that this could not really be called a subsidy because the fares would be lower than those charged by Air India if tickets were booked in an open competitive market. So, Haj travel might actually be cheaper without the subsidy.
The BJP has always opposed Haj subsidy as it saw it as part of a policy of minority appeasement. But it has been silent on many other kinds of subsidy being given to Hindus. State subsidies are given for pilgrimages to Hindu holy places like Mansarovar, Amarnath etc. These, too, should be stopped. Otherwise the government's claim that it is only implementing the court's order and that it wants to utilise the subsidy funds for purposes like the socio-economic development of Muslims would not be believed. It would be naive to think that the government acted only on these considerations, and it cannot be denied that there is politics behind the decision, as it was in the case of the triple talaq law. For the BJP, there is some political capital to be earned by denying a privilege, right or wrong, to the Muslims.