Even as finance minister P. Chidambaram’s Rs60,000 crore debt relief package for farmers took centre stage in his last full Budget before the next general election, he also proposed higher allocations for the Congress party’s core constituency, which has been systematically weaned away by regional rivals such as the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party.
“Scheduled castes (SCs), scheduled tribes (STs), socially and educationally backward classes and minorities will continue to receive special attention,” noted Chidambaram.
The minister then announced a doubling of allocation to the ministry of minority affairs, to Rs1,000 crore in 2008-09, a provision of Rs45.45 crore for modernizing madrasa education, Rs3,966 crore for schemes benefiting SCs and STs exclusively and Rs18,983 for schemes where at least 20% funds would be earmarked for SCs and STs.
Besides that, he said, a multi-sectoral development plan for each of the 90 minority concentration districts would be drawn up at a cost of Rs3,780 crore and the allocation for 2008-09 would be Rs540 crore.
“With all his exuberance, the finance minister announced all but the election dates,” quipped Gurudas Dasgupta, leader of the Communist Party of India in the Lok Sabha.
Dasgupta, member of one of the four Left parties that lend critical outside support to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre, claimed there was less to the announcement than what it was made out. “As many as 26% of Indians belong to the minorities, but all that the minister has allocated is a paltry Rs1,000 crore,” he said.
Cautioned Mohammad Salim, a Lok Sabha member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist): “Don’t go by the announcements alone. Last year, too, there were similar claims but, nothing was actually allocated for minorities.”
“I am surprised at the communal overtones of the Budget. It is a throwback to the Liaquat Ali days, the consequences of which are well known,” said L.K. Advani, the prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance.
Advani was referring to the Muslim League politician who played a prominent role in the partition of the country and went on to become Pakistan’s first prime minister.