The NDA government is preparing to launch its first scheme for minorities — a national crafts programme called ‘Ustaad’ linked to the ‘Make in India’ campaign — from Varanasi, PM Narenda Modi’s constituency.
Although most programmes being run for minorities had been initiated by the earlier UPA regime, ‘Ustaad’ is the first scheme being crafted by the Najma Heptulla-headed minority affairs ministry.
The government has roped in an unnamed “specialised agency” to devise the scheme. While the ministry isn’t giving out details about the size and worth of the scheme yet, minority affairs minister Najma Heptulla told HT that Modi had given her the go-ahead for the scheme to be launched in Varanasi but declined comments on whether she would go in for a high-profile launch involving the prime minister.
“We are launching it from Varanasi because the entire belt is very rich in crafts...it is an area of certain concentration of traditional crafts,” she said, adding that the BJP manifesto and the prime minister’s office had talked about the need for a programme to preserve and modernise traditional crafts of minorities.
Varanasi is not just an important Hindu pilgrimage centre but is also a byword for quality silk and Benarasi saris — mostly produced by the town’s Muslim weavers in about 40,000 largely sick and dying traditional looms.
During his election campaign from the constituency Modi had said: “The lives of weavers here can be improved with branding, technology and marketing.”
Asked if Modi would kick off the programme meant to help weavers, in which case he will be seen making his first individual push for a minority welfare programme, Heptulla said: “It has to be of a certain scale if the PM launches it. If you go to the PM’s constituency, obviously you tell him. But we are now concentrating on working out the details.”
The scheme, Heptulla said, will be aimed to help make traditional crafts more compatible with modern tastes and markets.