Lone Muslim minister in Modi cabinet aims high

During the official visit of His Highness King Abdullah of Jordan to New Delhi at the end of February last year, the Indian government screened an audio-visual presentation by the Ministry of Minority Affairs to showcase the empowerment of traditional artisans and craftsmen who have been engaged in preserving the rich heritage of the country.

The fact that the Indian government decided to showcase Indian heritage during a  state-visit was due recognition of the exemplary work being done by the ministry of minority affairs, and also a pat on the back for Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi who has single-handedly redefined the contours of the ministry.

Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, the lone Muslim minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new cabinet, represents a crucial link between the government and minority communities of India, who are being encouraged to join the mainstream through various welfare schemes under the ministry of minority affairs.

Born in Allahabad, Naqvi studied Arts and Mass Communication in college and was drawn into politics at a very early age. As a student leader he was incarcerated in 1975 at the age of 17 during the ‘Emergency’ period of former prime minister Indira Gandhi.

As a student leader, Naqvi also participated in the activities of the Janata Party. He was elected to the 1998 Lok Sabha from Rampur as a BJP candidate, and subsequently given the post of Minister of State in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government

After Narendra Modi won the crucial 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Naqvi was inducted as Minister of State for Minority Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs. In 2016 he was made a cabinet minister with the Ministry of Minority Affairs

After the thumping victory of BJP in 2019 general elections, and in recognition of the great work he had executed in his earlier tenure, Naqvi was once again appointed as cabinet minister in the Ministry of Minority Affairs

It was during his tenure that the Ministry of Minority Affairs finally got its due recognition and he exploited its vast potential to spread the benefit to the large segment of the minorities in India. For the first time the government took concrete steps to bring master craftsmen, artisans, and culinary experts from all over India under one umbrella when the ministry hosted ‘Hunar Haat’ exhibition.

Naqvi states that for the last five years the Hunar Haats have become a successful mission to provide employment and income generation opportunities by providing platforms for marketing the products of master artisans, craftsmen and culinary experts belonging to the minority communities.

Hunar Haats are organised by Ministry of Minority Affairs under USTTAD (Upgrading the Skills & Training in Traditional Arts/Crafts for Development) scheme. The USTTAD scheme aims at preserving and promoting the rich heritage of the traditional arts and crafts of the Minority communities.

Naqvi admits that several traditional arts and crafts were under threat of vanishing due to various reasons, the Hunar Haats are aimed at reviving and preserving this rich heritage. In addition, while on one hand Hunar Haats provide a platform to master artisans and craftsmen to display their rich heritage and skill, on the other hand these exhibitions bring both domestic and international markets to the artisans and craftsmen, empowering them with various resources.

Naqvi says that thousands of crafts-persons are involved in the production of handicrafts on show and for sale in these mega events, which keeps them employed for several months in a row.  This ensures that there is development with dignity for these highly talented and skilled crafts people belonging to the minority communities.

The ministry under his leadership has also made documentation and other processes for the annual Haj pilgrimage fully digitalized and worked with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to increase the quota of hajis traveling from India from 100,000 in 2014 to 200,000 today. Naqvi attributes the increase in Haj quota to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “very cordial and friendly” relations with the Saudi leadership.

Also, this year, 2,340 Muslim women from India will be permitted for Haj without ‘Mehram’ or male companion. Moreover, this year, India will be sending the second highest number of pilgrims for Haj after Indonesia.

Although the Haj subsidy provided by the government was removed in 2018 following the Supreme Court order of 2012, Naqvi said that digitising Haj-related processes has ensured that the annual pilgrimage remained inexpensive despite the absence of subsidy and made the system ‘pro-pilgrim’. “We have removed various bottlenecks, opened new embarkation centres that saves travel expenses and negotiated with the airlines to reduce the airfare,” says Naqvi.

Naqvi said that the subsidy previously given for Haj by the government would now be utilised for promotion of education among Muslims girls. The ministry which is already giving a wide range of scholarship to meritorious Muslim students, plans to open new universities for the minority communities to scale up the community education level.

Naqvi’s sprawling ministerial bungalow at Safdarjang Road in New Delhi is always open to all visitors without any security checks or frisking.  Hundreds of visitors, mostly from minority communities throng to his residence every day to discuss and find solutions to issues of concern to Indian minorities.

S.A.H. Rizvi