It wasn’t long ago that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in the run-up to the UP elections, told an excited gathering at Fatehpur, “If there is a ‘kabaristan’ (graveyard), there should be a ‘shmashaan’ (cremation ground), too. If there is electricity during Ramadan, there should electricity during Diwali too. There should be no discrimination.” These words were the first signal that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government wanted to end the leverage of the taxpayer’s money for religion-focused vote-bank politics. In many ways, this was also a continuation of the party’s ‘sabka saath, sabka vikaas’ (development for all) agenda, which catapulted it to power in 2014 –- a concept which even former US secretary of state John Kerry had termed visionary.
Over the past few days, as communal violence in West Bengal assumed political hues, the Mamata Banerjee-led state government has been accused of favouring the Muslim community. The Trinamool spokesperson has defended the Mamata government, saying it doesn’t spend more money on Muslims than some other states. However, a look at the spending statistics of five states ruled by other political parties show that non-BJP ruled states do indeed spend more money on the welfare of minority communities like Muslims, Christians and Sikhs than BJP-ruled states like Maharashtra.
The West Bengal government allocated Rs 2,816 crore in its 2017-18 budget to the Minority Affairs and Madrassa Education department, which looks after the welfare of close to 25 million Muslims in the state. Muslims constitute 27 per cent of West Bengal’s population — a testament to their significance as a vote bank for any party looking to wrest power in the state. On an average, the Mamata government spends Rs 1,140 on every person in the minority community. These figures may sound mediocre, but when compared with the BJP-ruled state of Maharashtra, they are indeed astronomical.
The Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government in Maharashtra slashed its allocation to minorities to Rs 350 crore in 2017-18 from Rs 405 crore last financial year. Maharashtra has almost 13 million Muslims, representing roughly 16 per cent of the state’s population. The amount of money spent on every Muslim works out to be Rs 269. Though this money is predominantly meant for Muslims, a part of it is also spent on other minorities in the state. Maharashtra’s 6.5 million Buddhists also get a share of this pie. If Buddhists and Muslims were to share this money, each person in these communities would end up getting even less -– Rs 179 per head. But since many of the Buddhists in the state are Dalits, many in the community get benefits from funds meant for welfare of Schedule Castes (SCs). Even if most of the money was meant for Muslims, West Bengal still spends almost five times more on every Muslim than Maharashtra.
BJP-ruled Maharashtra’s spending stands out as compared to other states ruled by different parties. In Congress-ruled Karnataka, the state government allocated Rs 1,527 crore for the welfare of minorities. Karnataka has a little over half as many Muslims as in Maharashtra. But as is evident, Karnataka allocated five times more money for the community’s welfare than a state which has twice the number of Muslims. Every Muslim in Karnataka was entitled to Rs 1,933 worth of benefits according to the allocation. Unlike Maharashtra, Karnataka’s 1.1 million Christians are the second-largest minority community in the state. Even if Christians were given a share of this pie, the average amount of money received by each person of the Muslim and Christian community would work out to be almost Rs 1,700. This again is far higher than states like Maharashtra and West Bengal, which have significantly higher number of Muslims. While the Congress has been known to be proactive in matters of minority welfare, it still spends a smaller portion of its budget on minorities than the Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal. Congress-ruled Karnataka spent 0.82 per cent of its budget for minority welfare. The Mamata Banerjee government, meanwhile, spent 1.54 per cent of its budget on it.
While the Congress-, Trinamool- and BJP-ruled states present a picture in contrast to one another, India’s newest state of Telangana stands apart from them all. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), led by K Chandrashekhar Rao, which supports the BJP-led government at the Centre on most issues, recently raised reservations for the backwards among Muslims to 12 per cent in the state. The thrust on gaining traction among the community is also evident in the state’s spending on the community. The 4.4 million Muslims in the state got on average Rs 2,675 worth of benefits each from the state government as part of its allocations for the welfare of the community. Even if the state’s half a million Christians were to get an equal share of the pie, each member of both these communities would end up getting Rs 2,457. That’s almost 10 times the amount each Muslim gets in BJP-ruled Maharashtra.
The scenario doesn’t change much in Uttar Pradesh, which has the highest number of Muslims for a state in India. In the last year of the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajawadi Party (SP) rule in the state, an amount of almost Rs 5,431 crore was allocated for minority welfare. Each of UP’s 38.5 million Muslims would have got almost Rs 1,410 worth of benefits in this allocation. If one were to add Sikhs, who form the second-biggest minority and less than half a million Christians in the state, each member of these communities would have received Rs 1,375. The Akhilesh Yadav government spent 1.57 per cent of its budget on minorities – the highest among all states. Will the Yogi Adityanath government reverse this trend and align his state’s spending on Muslims more closely to PM Modi’s Fatehpur rally statements? The Yogi administration’s maiden budget on July 11 could well answer that question.