Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi says that the Centre has done more work for the minorities than what previous governments had done in the last six-seven decades.
Union Minister for Minority Affairs, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi is convinced that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)would get far greater number of votes from the minorities, in particular Muslims, in the 2019 general elections, as the party has helped them in a way not seen in the past seven decades. In an interview to The Sunday Guardian, Naqvi spoke on a wide range of issues. Excerpts:
Q: The Narendra Modi government is in its last leg. What are the three major achievements of your ministry and why do you believe that the Minority Ministry under the present government has done more work than what had been done by the previous government?
A: We had kept three objectives from the beginning (when NDA came to power): to bring improvement in the field of education, employment and empowerment. We believe that we have brought in substantial changes in all these fields.
Increasing the literacy rate (among the minorities) was—and continues to be—one of our main priorities. Our ministry is the only ministry which gives scholarship to students from the primary level itself. We have given around 2.75 crore scholarships to students from the minority community in the last four years, due to which the dropout rate, especially when it comes to girl students, has decreased significantly from 72% to 41%. The total number of scholarships given before May 2014 was three crore.
We provided market and opportunity to the artisans and small traders on a large scale. In the same vein, employment-oriented skill development programmes were executed on the ground which provided jobs to around 5.5 lakh people. Under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Vikas Karyakram (which was earlier known as Multi-sectoral Development Programme), we focused on developing infrastructure, primary health centres, schools, drinking water facilities, and on other problems in minority dominated areas which were till now marginalised.
Before 2014, the total worth of the development work done was Rs 18,875 crore. Since May 2014, the work done is worth Rs 22,477 crore.
All these figures are in public records. I assert that we have carried out a lot of work for the minorities, even more than what the previous governments had done in the last 6-7 decades.
Q: Important figures from the Christian community have said that there is a turbulent political atmosphere in the country, especially when it comes to the minorities. How would you respond to that?
A: This is an election year and in an election year, fatwa and farman will be released in huge numbers. The socio, economic and religious rights of the minorities are more secure in India now than ever before. It is more secure even when you compare it with any other country. It has neither been threatened nor hurt in the past nor will this happen in the future.
If you look at the last four years of the Modi government, no major communal tension or riots have been allowed to happen. Some isolated incidents, which were carried out by fringe elements, were controlled immediately and action was taken. That’s why I say that we take statements of such religious heads as isolated cases and we believe it is based on a politically prejudiced mindset.
Q: There is a perception that the BJP does not get the votes of Muslims and probably it never will. How would you respond to that?
A: This perception does not hold water now. Things started changing from the time of Atal Behari Vajpayee and ever since the minorities, and Muslims, have been supporting the BJP, not just in the Lok Sabha but also in Assembly elections. In the 2014 elections, 17-18% Muslim electorate voted for the BJP and for Narendra Modi. Now Muslims see BJP as a party that is focused and committed on inclusive growth.
Q: Given your claim that this government has done more for the minorities than what the previous governments did in the last 60-70 years, would it not be logical to expect that the BJP should, this time, get far greater support from the minorities?
A: Hamare liye vikas ka masoda, vote ka sauda nahi hai (Our development work is not based on the arithmetic of electoral gains and losses).
When we work, we don’t work with the ideology that since we are doing educational empowerment or providing skills or jobs, so we should get rewarded with votes.
There are many communities within the Hindu religion who have not voted for us, but that does not mean that we have stopped development work related to them. Our policy is that no discrimination should be done when it comes to development. Development with dignity and without discrimination has been our motto.
Q: Questions are being raised from within the Muslim community about what the government is doing with the money that it had saved after it abolished the Haj subsidy?
A: We are using that money on schemes that are operational in the field of girl education. We have increased the number of scholarships, have started the construction of girls’ hostels in large numbers and the money is being invested in that.
Q: Do you think the move to make triple talaq illegal will help the BJP electorally?
A: I believe that triple talaq’s abolition is not an election issue. It was a malpractice like sati or child marriage. This judgement on triple talaq has given Constitutional rights to Muslim women. Triple talaq was stopping Muslim women from being treated equally.
Q: A record number of IAS from the minority community cleared the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examinatinos this year, which was “marketed” by the government as an achievement. But how is the government responsible for this?
A: Since the past two years, we have started focusing on free coaching for minority candidates who are appearing for UPSC, medical tests, engineering tests, banking services and other Central and state government jobs. The results are for everyone to see.
The number of minority candidates clearing the examinations has been more than what it was ever before. This year, 136 minority candidates cleared the UPSC, which is a record number since Independence. Of this, more than 52 are Muslims. Last year, 126 minority candidates had cleared the same examination, 51 of them were Muslims.
This proves our claim of empowerment without discrimination. I am not saying that all this happened just because of what our government or the Minority Ministry is doing. What I am trying to point out is that the atmosphere of trust that we have been able to create is helping students act confidently and perform.
Q: Why should a Muslim voter vote for the BJP in 2019?
A: We are a political party and we want people from every class and community to support us. Muslims should have to look around, their house, their community, and their city and see whether the “light of development” has reached them or not.
In the past, they have voted in the name of communalism and secularism and other non issues; this time we are asking them to vote for development and development, without discrimination, which we have carried out.