The UPA government will substantially raise funding for a school-to-PhD level national scholarship programme for minorities, committing Rs. 10,000 crore over the next four years, as it tries to ratchet up its minority agenda ahead of the general elections.
The Cabinet approved the allocation after discussions took place between the K. Rahman Khan-led minority affairs ministry, the Planning Commission and the Prime Minister’s Office.
Enhanced funding will help target 45.2 million students, potentially covering virtually every minority child from low-income households. BJP PM candidate Narendra Modi has been opposed to the minorities-only scholarships on principles of “equality”. The Gujarat government has shunned the scheme on grounds that the state had a universal scholarship programme for all school children. In March 2009, the Gujarat high court upheld the minority scholarships as constitutional, and the matter now lies before the SC.
Many Muslims, India’s largest minority, say they see educational opportunities as the key to overcoming disadvantages faced by them. The 2006 Sachar report found Muslims made up only 4% of undergraduate students and had high dropout rates, largely due to financial reasons.
According to a 2012 report by the New Delhi-based Centre for Equity Studies the “single most important contribution” Muslims wanted from the government was education. Welfare schemes administered by the minority affairs ministry, a creation of the UPA government, would be a key plank of the Congress in the elections.
The decision to pump Rs. 10,000 crore for scholarships was taken in view of the “programme’s success”, an official said. Currently, the applicants outnumber funds available. This scheme has helped over three million Muslim students stay enrolled between 2007 and 2012, according to government data. Girls have landed more high-school scholarships than boys.