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The Supreme Court’s directive to the government to stop the Haj subsidy in 10 years is a good deed done in driblets.

There is no doubt that state subsidies in support of a citizen’s faith are an anachronism in secular India and they should be ended wherever they exist. The only reason why the Haj subsidy has survived so long is because various governments have been squeamish about being seen as anti-minority. So they left it to the courts to take the difficult call.

Unfortunately, even the highest court seems to be pussyfooting around the issue and has called for a 10-year phaseout. If, as the bench of Justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Desai seems to believe, the subsidy is unwarranted, why stretch it for a decade?
A simpler way to do it without inconveniencing ordinary Muslims who thought they were paying the full price for the Haj – the pilgrimage to Mecca that the Prophet exhorts every good Muslim to make in his or her lifetime – is to make a one-time government contribution to a Haj Fund corpus and then let Muslims manage the show henceforth.

For example, if the government were to make a one-time corpus of Rs 1,000 crore available, the annual income on this would be at least Rs 100 crore. This would be more than enough to continue the subsidy almost indefinitely, and better off Muslims could continue to make contributions to improve the corpus and enable more poor people to undertake the Haj.

The 10-year phase out is a bad idea.

Another bad idea is the habit of quoting from scripture to uphold Indian law. A decision on the Haj subsidy should be based on the Indian constitution, not interpretations of the Koran or the Hadith.

So when a court quotes the Koran to justify its decision to end the subsidy, it is creating a bad precedent. The Koran is said to proclaim the following: “And Haj (pilgrimage to Makkah) to the House (Ka’bah) is a duty that mankind owes to Allah, those who can afford the expenses (for one’s conveyance, provision and residence).”

One is glad to hear that the Koran is against the Indian government’s Haj subsidy, but what if the Koran had held otherwise? Would we then always have the subsidy?

The courts have to abandon the idea of quoting from holy books and religious tradition while upholding Indian law. Sometimes these laws may support what the constitution says; at other times they may not.

By quoting from scripture, the courts are laying minefields in the path of upholding the constitution – which is their only job.

Consider the embarrassment if a jehadi comes to court saying the Koran tells him to kill kafirs, will the court then uphold his stand? Or will it quote from another verse to defeat him?

It is best if the courts stick to the law and not look for divine support to do what the constitution enjoins them to do.

The Supreme Court has tied itself into a contradiction when it observed, quite correctly, that it “has no claim to speak on behalf of all the Muslims of the country and it will be presumptuous for us to try to tell the Muslims what is for them a good or bad religious practice.”
But this is precisely what the court ends up doing anyway, according to a report in The Indian Express.

The judgment goes on to speak on behalf of the “majority of Muslims”. It says:

“Nevertheless, we have no doubt that a very large majority of Muslims applying to the Haj Committee for going to Haj would not be aware of the economics of their pilgrimage and if all the facts are made known a good many of the pilgrims would not be very comfortable in the knowledge that their Haj is funded to a substantial extent by the government.”

How can the court know this? Maybe the courts are trying to do too much – uphold the law and offer sops to the faithful by quoting from their holy books.

The only book the courts should quote from is the Constitution of India.


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