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Minority scholarship test for Modi

New Delhi, May 14: A question playing on the minds of the Union minority affairs ministry is whether Narendra Modi will carry a Gujarat baggage to New Delhi if he heads a government at the Centre.

The Gujarat government has consistently opposed a pre-matriculation scholarship scheme initiated by the UPA for students in the minority communities.

The matter is pending in the Supreme Court now but a section of officials in the Union ministry is keeping fingers crossed on what stand Modi would take if he becomes Prime Minister.

Apart from the apprehensions over schemes like the scholarship plan, some officials are worried over the very future of the department.

“We are genuinely apprehensive about the fate of the ministry as well as such welfare schemes aimed at benefiting the minorities,” a senior official in the minority affairs ministry told The Telegraph. “More so because Modi is the prime ministerial candidate and his government in Gujarat had opposed the scheme.”

However, another section of officials felt that if Modi assumed power, he might cast himself as a moderate and steer clear of any action that would give his critics a chance to claim their worst fears had come true.

Gujarat was the only state that had opposed the scholarship scheme announced in 2008 following the Sachar committee’s report that highlighted the plight of Muslims in India.

Modi has always claimed that Muslims are better off in Gujarat than in other states.

His government refused to introduce the scholarship scheme, saying such measures amounted to discriminating against other communities on religious lines and were, therefore, against the Constitution.

The matter had reached Gujarat High Court after a Bhuj resident challenged the denial of the scholarship aimed at benefiting Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist and Parsi students whose parents have an annual income of less than Rs 1 lakh. The Centre bears 75 per cent of the scholarship amount and states the rest.

In the high court, the Centre had contended that all other states had adopted the scheme, part of the Prime Minister’s 15-point minority-welfare programme which last year received Rs 17,323 crore as allocation for the Twelfth Plan (2012-2017), a 137 per cent increase over the 2007-12 outlay of Rs 7,283 crore.

The Modi government had countered by saying that it was not compulsory for states to implement all central schemes. The state said it had several schemes of its own for the poor and would not offer benefits on religious lines.

The state also said the Sachar panel itself was “arbitrary” and “discriminatory” and was aimed at helping Muslims only.

In March last year, Gujarat High Court directed the state government to implement the scholarship scheme.

A minority ministry official said the Gujarat government moved the Supreme Court late last year, challenging the high court’s verdict. “The matter is still pending in the court. We have also filed an affidavit before the court,” the official added.

“It’s a precarious situation for us. We are in doubt about the existence of the ministry, considering the arguments of the Gujarat government in the high court that the Sachar panel itself was ‘unconstitutional and arbitrary’ as it did not take into account other minority communities,” said another official who has been with the ministry for six years.

Outgoing minority affairs minister K. Rahman Khan has also often spoken about the Modi government’s failure to set up a state minorities’ commission despite several requests. Most states have such commissions but the Centre’s hands are tied as it can only recommend a state to set up one.

As result day neared, a ministry insider summed up the mood. “Let’s see whether we have to pack our bags,” the official said.

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but we have promises to keep,” another official said, improvising on Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, asked about the air of uncertainty in the department.