New Delhi: Human resource development minister Arjun Singh has sought a higher allocation for the modernization of madrasas, or schools of traditional Islamic education, in the Budget.
In a letter to Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Singh expressed concern that a tentative allocation of Rs65 crore proposed for the Union Budget 2008-09, an increase of Rs10 crore over the sum allocated last year, would prove insufficient.
Singh pointed out that against an outlay of Rs750 crore demanded by his ministry, the Planning Commission had proposed Rs350 crore for the entire 11th Plan period. As a result, he said, the government would find it difficult to upgrade the 12,000-odd madrasas across the country.
In his letter, a copy of which was viewed by Mint, Singh added that his ministry proposed to equip madrasas for imparting vocational education, which would need substantial outlays. Singh also said that it was the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government which, in 2006-07, had taken the initiative to provide higher allocations and assistance to “an all-time high number of madrasas”, which had been neglected under the previous government.
Singh’s concerns are in keeping with the stated policy of the UPA government.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his address at a meeting of the National Development Council, which comprises Union ministries and all chief ministers, had said in December 2006, “We will have to devise innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably in the fruits of development. They must have the first claim on resources.”
Despite a furore over his remarks, especially from the principal opposition, the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the UPA government, in its budget for 2007-08, earmarked funds for development of districts selected on the basis of concentration of population of the minorities. The BJP was quick to level charges of communal budgeting.
However, with elections in several key states this year and Lok Sabha elections due next year, certain ministries want increased allocations for the minorities. An increased allocation for madrasas, therefore, is part of the Congress party’s larger political drive.
The BJP said the Congress was falling back on its bad old discredited ways. “We believe Muslims and madrasas should be brought into the national mainstream. But, since more than 95% of madrasas follow a rigid religious curriculum, giving more Central funds to such institutions only amounts to a blatantly communal misuse of government machinery and it can only further alienate the Muslim community from the national mainstream,” said Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, a vice-president of the BJP. “If this government is genuinely interested in the uplift of the minorities, why doesn’t it devise a scheme for providing free education to the poor among the minorities?”
Imran-Ur-Rehman Kidwai, chairman of the Congress party’s minority department, however, welcomed the move. “Even if none of these steps bears fruit immediately, or entices voters in the coming elections, the government must make sure that it does enough within its term to make the process irreversible.”
S.Q.R. Ilyas, a member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said the budget supports only a few select madrasas and added that he would not like the funding to be linked to an earlier proposal of the ministry to set up a central madrasa board. “The problem with any such scheme is that though it is a positive start, its effectiveness would depend on how much money actually reaches the beneficiaries.”
Government-aided madrasas offer higher salaries to the Ulema and follow a more uniform curriculum, paving the way for universities to eventually recognize their degrees.
A section of the Muslim community, however, opposes the creation of a board as it believes this would lead to excessive controls on traditional education.
“Madrasas will continue to be a system of education and introduction of modern education, and vocational training can only help its students compete with those from mainstream schools. To that extent, higher allocation to madrasas is required,” said Mazhar Hussain, associate professor, School of Languages, Literature and Cultural Studies, Jawahar Lal Nehru University.
Pragya Singh contributed to this story.