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Heated political debate erupts over Centre's decision to withdraw 'Haj subsidy'
In an unprecedented move, the BJP-led NDA government has withdrawn the subsidy that was being given to Muslim pilgrims going for Haj (an Islamic pilgrimage) to Mecca and Medina.

"No subsidy will be given to Haj pilgrims from 2018," Union Minister of Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi informed media reporters in New Delhi on Monday. The minister also claimed that the money which will be saved by Central government from ending the subsidy would be utilised for the education of poor children and other welfare schemes related to Muslim women.

"Haj subsidy is being withdrawn. This is part of our policy of empowerment without appeasement and Haj with dignity," Naqvi said.

Naqvi also told reporters that despite this withdrawal, a record number of 1.75 lakh Muslims will undertake the pilgrimage from India this year.

Interestingly, the Centre's decision comes a day after it allowed Muslim women (over the age of 45 years) to go on Haj pilgrimage without a male guardian, though, in groups of four.

Soon after the government's decision to scrap the subsidy, the political scenario heated after AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi accused the Modi government saying that the decision seems as a conspiracy which is completely against the Muslim community. He further added that the Centre is playing the minority and religion card by withdrawing the Haj subsidy.

Owaisi also questioned the amount of money the government had been spending on Kumbh melas and yatras.

However, the leader later said, "I've been saying since 2006 that this Haj subsidy money should be used for education of Muslim children, especially girls. No need to blow the trumpet, SC has already given its judgment on the same."

In 2012, a constitutional bench of the Supreme Court had directed that the Haj subsidy should be done away with in 10 years (by 2022).

Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) National General Secretary PK Kunhalikutty, who is also a Lok Sabha MP from Kerala's Malappuram constituency, said that the decision is politically motivated, further adding that the Haj subsidy was withdrawn while retaining subsidies for several other pilgrimages, as reported in The Hindu.

"The government's argument that the money spent for Haj subsidy would be channelised for the welfare of minority students is a farce," he said.

Surprisingly, Congress has expressed its contentment towards the government's move saying that it hopes the saved money would be put to use for the welfare measures.

"We sincerely hope that Modi Government will honour the SC direction and utilise this money for the disempowered including -- Modern education to children, especially young girls from minority community...," Congress communications in-charge Randeep Surjewala tweeted.

The Haj subsidy is given to Muslim Haj pilgrims in the form of discounted Air India fares.

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