The Union government launched a “Progress Panchayat” on Thursday under which representatives of the Ministry of Minority Affairs and other ministries will go to 100 minority dominated districts as a part of its “minority outreach” programme. The government’s aim is to interact with the Muslim community directly.

In the first such programme, which was held at Bichor village of Mewat in Haryana, where poverty and lack of development are evident despite it being barely 120 km from the national capital, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Minister for Minority Affairs, told a 2,000-strong crowd, including women with veiled faces, that the objective of the “Progress Panchayat” was not political but to reach out to the minority community and apprise them of the development initiatives taken by the government. The crowd waited to listen to the minister for more than three hours and most people had travelled one-two hours on foot and tractors to reach the village.

Naqvi did not announce any new schemes, but focused on the work being done by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and made multiple references to India’s recent engagement with Pakistan on border issues. According to Union Minister and Gurgaon MP Rao Inderjit Singh, the village is so backward that one of the main wishes of the children here is to catch a glimpse of a train as they have never seen one. 

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“Our only agenda is development and nothing can supersede that. PM Modi has told us that it is us, the ministers, who need to go to the people, rather than asking the people to come to us. The PM is fighting against the enemies of the nation who are against our country,” Naqvi stated, before announcing that his ministry would work on setting up a “Sadbhawna Bhawan” at every block of Mewat to encourage extra-curricular activities. When Naqvi learnt about the local Mewati youth’s love for cars, he announced that his ministry would talk with the state government to cooperate in setting up an international level driving school where the young people of Mewat could learn driving and also get employment as a result.

Naqvi started his speech by recalling a recent anecdote about how he met the CEO of a German based company, who was from Mewat. “The CEO had read about the Progress Panchayat and how it was going to start from Mewat and, hence, he came to meet me and extended his best wishes,” he said.

Rao Inderjit Singh, listing water scarcity and lack of education as the main problems of Mewat, stated that efforts should be started to develop Mewat as the next Gurgaon. 80% of the total population of Mewat is Muslim.

Mewat apart from being poor, has also the worst literacy rate in Haryana. 

Sixty-five-year-old Mohammad Aslam, who had walked for one and a half hours to reach the “panchayat” site, said he did not have any aspirations or hope from the government but had come here as everybody else did.

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