"In India’s majoritarian politics, the very idea of the minority is divisive in nature".
These words of Dr Mujibur Rehman perhaps answer several questions when one looks at the current state of minority exclusion within a divisive system.
On January 14, the Hindu Business Line reported that the Centre has discontinued the ‘Padho Pardesh’ overseas education program after notifying the bank to stop the subsidy given on education loans. Almost a month back, the Union Government on December 8, 2022, discontinued the consequential Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF) and two weeks prior to this, on November 25, the government discontinued the 21-year-old Begum Hazrat Mahal pre-matric scholarships, for classes 1 to 8, retaining them only for classes 9 to 12.
All of these scholarship programmes had one common component --- granting education benefits to students from minority communities in India with a focus on Muslims.
In the case of MANF, a fellowship for minority students in India pursuing PhD and MPhil, the Union Ministry for Minority Affairs (MoMA) has maintained that it overlapped with other schemes without any further explanation. While there were fellowships for minority students until the 12th standard, the Maulana Azad fellowship was the only one that funded higher education.
Additionally, in the instance of pre-matric scholarships, the government contended that the scholarship of the minority affairs ministry had to be brought in line with the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs. It added that the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009 makes it obligatory for the government to provide free and compulsory education to all children till Class 8.
However, following the discreet suspension of the Padho Pardesh scholarship, the Indian Banks’ Association stated that no reasons were ascertained by the MoMA and they were only directed to implement the order through Canara Bank, the designated nodal bank to discontinue the Padho Pardesh Interest Subsidy Scheme from 2022-23.
Academicians and demonstrators have argued that the move mimics the hate politics mitigated by the saffron party towards the minority community.
Reassessing politics of hate, going back in time
Speaking to Outlook, Dr Rehman says, “In reality, one should not be surprised at the move. I am not, to say the least, because of the political developments in the country and what has happened has happened on the expected lines of events.”
Rehman further draws attention to the roots of divisive politics stemming from the 1920s and explains how a century-long political history of India still remains significant in shaping the dominant beliefs to date. “While the Congress-left-socialists believed in the idea of every faith cohabiting together, the Muslim League and the Hindu rights groups had different belief systems. Subsequently, Congress and the Muslim League were successful in retaining their ideology, it was the ‘Hindus’, whose visions were overlooked.”
It is fair to say that the current situation hints at the unfolding of the repressed majoritarian sentiment that could never reconcile and accept the hegemonic policy led by the secularists. And now they must outsmart it. According to a report by the Indian Express, All India Muslim Personal Law Board executive director, Dr S.Q.R. Ilyas, said, “The various scholarships provided to the minority community, in particular to the Muslim community, pre-matric, post-matric, merit-cum-means scholarships, were instituted after the Sachar committee report that children from the Muslim community were some of the most educationally backwards in the country, even lagging behind the children from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.”
The Sachar Committee was a seven-member High-Level Committee in India established in March 2005 by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The committee was headed by former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court Rajinder Sachar to study the social, economic and educational condition of Muslims in India. The Committee highlighted and presented its suggestions on how to remove impediments preventing Indian Muslims from fully participating in the economic, political, and social mainstream of Indian life. The report was the first of its kind to reveal the backwardness) of Indian Muslims. Committee Report brought the issue of Muslim Indian inequality to national attention, sparking a discussion that is still ongoing.
Rehman also reminds of the strong condemnation the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh drew from the BJP and then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in 2006. To Singh’s statement that Muslims must have the “first claim” on the government’s resources when it comes to development benefits, back then, BJP responded by terming it as "appeasement politics”. An NDTV clip from 2006 shows Modi saying that the “leader of the country should refrain from using such language”.
Several media reports and research papers point to how students and experts have disputed the union government’s argument that the MANF scholarship has overlapped with other scholarships.
Since the program was specifically meant for Muslims and minority communities, their cutbacks can be viewed as a larger project of disempowering minorities, Article 14 quoted Delhi university professor Apoorvanand Jha, as saying.
Commenting on a series of moves that threaten to wipe away targeted development, Rehman elucidates how the government has created a narrative where they blame the minority community for their own ‘backwardness’. “Tapping on the majoritarian belief that Muslims are viewed as instigators of terror and suspicion, the Hindutva ideology has created a narrative where the minority community must take their own accountability of backwardness,” says Rehman, who perceives this as a Brahmanical approach where the upper caste Hindus have time and again abhorred the backward classes.