DELHI: Muslims in India have largely welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of a mega scholarship scheme for students from the minority community.
However, they are cautious about the implementation of the project considering the fate of mega projects announced in the past.
On Tuesday, the Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi declared that in the next five years 50 million scholarships would be granted to Muslim students — half of them to girls.
“If the scholarship really comes to me as the government is saying then I will realize my dream of continuing my studies,” said Tasleem Begum, a Class 10 dropout from the south Indian city of Hyderabad.
She had been unable to continue her studies due to financial constraints at home.
“I want to see myself as a police officer if I continue with my study,” 18-year-old Begum told Arab News.
Shahnaz also wants to study if grants become available. Two years ago, her poverty-stricken parents forced her into a marriage with a rich man after she cleared her secondary exam. However, the marriage turned out to be a nightmare for her and now she wants to resume her studies.
“I want to educate myself well enough to stand on my own two legs and live an independent life,” Shahnaz said.
Hyderabad-based Shahnaz hopes that “the scholarship scheme by the government reaches her also so that she can pursue her studies.”
Minister Naqvi said that “girls from minority communities who have dropped out of school will be linked to education and employment through ‘bridge courses’ from reputed educational institutions of the country.”
He also announced the mainstreaming of madrasas by introducing modern education.
Author and social activist Jameela Nishat said: “The policy is good, but how do you motivate people who have dropped out of school?”
“Earlier policies by the previous government mostly benefitted people from good families — it could not reach the poor. So the important thing is how you implement the project,” Nishat said.
She is suspicious of the outreach attempt by the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).
“I feel what they are trying to do is to use Muslim women to fight against Muslim men. It’s an attempt to polarize the community,” Nishat told Arab News.
“If the government is keen to help Muslims, they should punish the perpetrators of lynching and atrocities against Muslims.”
Moulana Mehmood Madani, of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, one of the leading organizations of Islamic scholars belonging to the Deobandi school of thought in India, said: “We should welcome the initiative for educational upliftment of Muslims but it is too early to comment on the merit and intent of the scholarship.”
Since Modi returned to power with a big majority he has been trying to reach out to minorities. In one of the first speeches after his victory the prime minister lamented that political parties in the past had used Muslims as “vote banks.”
“They were kept in illusion, the climate of fear and insecurity. They were misled by deceit. It would have been better if they were given education so that some good leaders emerged from the community, which could have become equal to other sections,” Modi said.
“We have to gain their trust. ‘Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas aur ab Sabka Vishwas (everyone’s support, everyone’s development and now everyone’s trust) — this is our mantra. I will leave no stone unturned and I will work for all citizens of India,” the premier said.
A group of prominent Muslim scholars in a letter supported the prime minister’s offer.
However the political activist, Irshad Ullah, from the eastern city of Allahabad, said that “such glib talk by the PM does not hold any meaning.”
“He should tell us what he did in the past five years. If he talks about the political representation of Muslims, Modi should tell the world how many Muslim candidates the BJP fielded in the recently concluded elections,” Ullah told Arab News.
The BJP won 303 seats out of 543 in the election but it does not have any Muslim name on the list. This was also the case in the last elections.
The state assemblies where the Hindu rightwing party rules do not have a single Muslim represented.
Dr. Hilal Ahmed, of the New Delhi-based think tank the Center for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), said: “This kind of announcement must be seen in two different ways — one is, the policy perspective behind it. Second, the Modi regime has not deviated technically from the affirmative action policy discourse created by the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. However, one has to see the implementation of the announcement should be perfect.”
Ahmed said: “I hope this government, unlike the UPA, will try to do something concrete.”
“No doubt the BJP is trying to reach out to Muslims. The party got 8 percent Muslims votes like they got in 2014,” Ahmed said.
Dr. Afroz Alam, of Maulana Azad National University, said: “There is nothing new in the announcement of scholarships for Muslims.”
“Most of the government in the past have been giving scholarships to Muslims. The problem is the certainty of implementation and the scheme reaching out to the targeted group,” Dr. Alam said.
“No doubt minorities are apprehensive about the BJP government, but this fear will go if the program is implemented sincerely and honestly,” Alam told Arab News.
“It’s too early to say that the BJP is trying to reach out to Muslims,” he said.