New Delhi, June 22: Fifteen per cent of funds allotted for development and welfare schemes will now be set aside for the minorities.
The cabinet decision, which adds a new feature to the Prime Minister’s 15-point programme for minority welfare, is a follow-up to proposals outlined by Sonia Gandhi last week. The revised programme is also aimed at preventing communal riots, prosecuting communal offences and rehabilitating victims of communal violence.
Brushing aside possible charges of “Muslim appeasement”, Congress leaders said the scheme would cover all the “nationally declared” minorities, including Christians, Sikhs, Parsis and Buddhists.
The BJP, however, was quick to condemn the separate fund allocation as “dangerously divisive” and the Samajwadi Party, desperate to avoid a division in its Muslim vote bank before next year’s Uttar Pradesh elections, termed it an “empty political ploy”.
The hint of such a move lay in Sonia’s comments on minority welfare at the June 12 inauguration of the India Islamic International Centre here.
“The development level of considerable sections of the Muslim population is a matter of concern in terms of equity and social justice, so is the under-representation in public employment and public life,” the Congress president had said.
She said the Centre needed to address issues of jobs and education and widen the levels of prosperity so that every community felt it was an equal stake-holder in the “new India that is emerging”.
As she listed the United Progressive Alliance government’s “notable” initiatives, she mentioned the creation of a ministry of minority affairs as well as the Planning Commission’s intention to identify areas of “special inputs” for minorities in the 11th plan.
The 15 per cent fund reservation is believed to be the brainchild of minority affairs minister A.R. Antulay, whose ministry will oversee the disbursement and utilisation of the money.
Congress sources said the party would use the move to try and win votes in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and other poll-bound states.
BJP vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi termed the decision a “gimmick”, alleging it was “just a ploy to divert people’s attention from the burning issues of the day”.
“But this will fail,” he said.
The Samajwadi Party was stumped for a response. One of its MPs, Ramji Lal Suman, admitted: “We can’t publicly say anything against this decision. However, the effectiveness of any policy depends on its implementation.”