Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on February 10, 2023 invoked the 1983 Nellie massacre in Assam, while Indira Gandhi was in power at the Centre, the mass killing of Sikhs in 1984 and the torment of Hindu saints protesting against cow slaughter outside Parliament in 1966, in a bid to counter Opposition criticism about reductions in Budget allocations for the Ministry of Minority Affairs.
The Ministry’s Budget allocation for 2023-24 fell 38% in comparison to the previous year. The Opposition has also been protesting the decision to scrap several scholarship programmes for minority students and reduce funds for others.
Stressing that the Narendra Modi-led NDA government does not engage in “vote bank politics”, Ms. Sitharaman reiterated points flagged by Minority Affairs Minister Smriti Irani on Twitter that students of all communities are covered under fellowship schemes run by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and the University Grants Commission, as well as the Ministries of Social Justice and Empowerment and Tribal Affairs.
“Our New India and our PM’s clear focus on Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas means inclusive development and no one is to be removed. Whoever is eligible will get it, that’s how gas or houses or toilets or water was distributed to everybody. We didn’t discriminate. Everything is distributed to every Indian citizen who’s eligible,” she asserted.
Evoking past massacres
Countering Congress MP Adhir Chowdhary, whom she said had “expressed a lot of concern” about lower allocations for minority affairs and talked “very emotionally” to allege that the government was against a community, Ms. Sitharaman said: “I felt very sad and want to humbly state that the allocation has not gone down in the Budget.”
“I would like to remember a few pages of history and ask questions. I want to ask, after giving a good number in the Budget, if a community is massacred that year, even after the Election Commission says, ‘don’t hold an election at the time’, where that community’s blood had also not dried -- who went to Nellie and held an election? Congress party’s leader, Srimati Indira Gandhi,” she asserted.
“In that year’s Budget, much allocation was made but public killings also took place of that community in Nellie, Assam. Will they reply on this or not? If you like that community and are protecting them, then how did this occur? If you have so much love for that community, then in Delhi, wearing tyres around their necks, who massacred Sikhs? Was the Budget allocation low?”she asked.
‘Hate not linked to Budget’
Urging Opposition MPs not to assign hate or love for a community based on Budget allocations, Ms. Sitharaman asked: “When you massacred them, what was their Budget allocation? In Delhi, in 1966, if anti-cow slaughter demonstrators and Hindu Sanyasis protesting outside Parliament were beaten up, who did that? It was this very Congress party,” she asserted towards the end of her defense of the Union Budget in the Lok Sabha.
“So are we hating a community because of Budget allocations? Absolutely not. Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas, Sabka Prayaas. (Development for all, with trust and effort from all). This is my answer to those who do this drama,” Ms. Sitharaman concluded.
Earlier, the Minister also quoted figures cited by Ms. Irani to show that over 21,100 minority students have been granted loans worth ₹289 crore through the National Minority Development and Finance Corporation in the last eight years, as against 17,200 beneficiaries during the eight year period of 2006 to 2014 under the UPA regime.