The leader of India’s Haj goodwill delegation is strongly opposed to the decision to transfer the management of Haj affairs from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to the Ministry of Minority Affairs (MMA).
Responding to a question at a press conference in Jeddah on Thursday, Zafar Sareshwala said, “Haj affairs should remain with the Ministry of External Affairs. The ministry has competent diplomats and capable officers, plus it has the benefit of institutional wisdom acquired over many decades of successfully managing Indian Haj affairs.”
Sareshwala said he did not see any reason for any change. “Initially, even I was of the view that since Haj was primarily a minority affair, it should come under the Ministry of Minority Affairs. On hindsight and after having seen with my own eyes the excellent management of the annual pilgrimage by the Ministry of External Affairs, I feel the (transfer) decision is not wise. It ought to remain the way it is now.”
The decision to transfer Haj affairs was taken by the previous Manmohan Singh-led government. The present Narendra Modi-led government went along with the decision and effected the change earlier this year. Haj 2017 will therefore be managed by the Ministry of Minority Affairs.
In response to a question from a Member of Parliament in April this year, Minister of State for External Affairs, V.K. Singh had said, “It has been decided to transfer the work related to management of the Haj pilgrimage, including administration of the Haj Committee Act (1959) and rules made thereunder, from the Ministry of External Affairs to the Ministry of Minority Affairs.”
Najma Heptulla, who was until recently the Minister of Minority Affairs in the Modi government, confirmed in February this year that Haj would be transferred to the Ministry of Minority Affairs. “I have received a communication in this regard,” she said.
“Haj is being transferred to us but not because of mismanagement,” she said and added that it was transferred “perhaps from the administrative point of view since Haj deals with a minority community.”
Heptulla was replaced recently by Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi as the Minority Affairs Minister.
The opposition to the move by Sareshwala, who is said to enjoy a good rapport with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is considered significant.
“I will submit a report to the honorable Prime Minister on all the good work that I have seen here and I will recommend that Haj should not be transferred to the Ministry of Minority Affairs,” he said. “This is my view. Ultimately, of course, it is up to the government to decide.”
Sareshwala said he was never in favour of a ministry “that was created out of the blue by the previous government to accommodate out-of-work politicians and throw a few crumbs to them”.
The issue is set to become a talking point in the coming days with the emergence of details about exactly what the transfer entails. At the moment, the community seems to be confused and divided.