Minorities minister K Rahman Khan on Sunday confirmed the central government's plan to set up a Rs 12,000-18,000 crore fund for minorities which would principally be spent for education.
The fund is likely to be a matter of contention ahead of the 2014 general election, with BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi opposing a minorities-only scholarships on principles of equality, while the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is pursuing the programme.
The Cabinet had earlier in December approved the allocation for a school-to-PHD level national scholarship for minority students after discussions between the minority affairs ministry, the Planning Commission and the prime minister’s office.
"We need infrastructure. Indian Muslims need education and for that we need infrastructure. Currently we lack in infrastructure," Khan said here, adding that “a fund with $2-3 billion (Rs 12,000-18,000 crore at current exchange rates)” was in the works. “Even if only 1% of Indian Muslims donate, we will be able to generate this amount."
Khan was delivering the keynote address during a function of American Federation of Muslims of India origin.
He said Muslims in India had the resources but only need the mechanism to generate and manage the fund.
Asked when the government was likely to finalise the fund, Khan said, "We have been working on this for some time. Now we are going to announce it very soon." He claimed the Union government was taking all necessary steps to improve the condition of Muslims.
Analysts are seeing such moves as a result of Modi’s increasing popularity, which continues to battle the taint of communalism since the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Zoya Hassan, a professor of Political Science in Jawaharlal Nehru University said in a recent atricle: “The Muslim vote bank thesis has gained a fresh lease of life due to the Narendra Modi phenomenon. In the 2014 polls, Muslims will put out all stops to block Modi from reaching 7 Race Course Road (the PM’s residence)”.
The UPA is keen on delivering the message that the Centre's record on social inclusion for minorities has been good.
According to a 2012 report by the New Delhi-based Centre for Equity Studies the “single most important contribution” Muslims want from the government is 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.