So begins the poll dole: UPA mulls financial sops to woo Muslim voters ahead of 2014

published on March 1, 2013

With elections to several state assemblies on the horizon and the Lok Sabha polls next year, the UPA government wants to leave no stone unturned to woo the crucial “Muslim vote bank”.

The government is raining sops to get the 10 crore-odd voters from the minority community back to its poll tent.

In what could be a game changer among Muslim voters, the Minority Affairs Ministry has decided to increase the loan limit for small entrepreneurs and self-help groups from the existing Rs.5 lakh to Rs10 lakh.

This will be made available to minority groups, primarily Muslims as beneficiaries, at a mere 4 per cent annual interest, which is 8-10 per cent for others.

In addition, the ministry has also made a provision for loan up to Rs.20 lakh for pursuing higher studies for Muslim youths at just 2 per cent interest. The banks usually give such loans at 12 per cent annual interest for general category students.

Confirming these two key steps, Minority Affairs Minister K.Rahman Khan said, “The steps have been taken at an internal meeting of the ministry, and we do not need to go to the Cabinet for the execution.

These would be administered through the National Minorities Finance Development Corporation (NMFDC), which is also in for an overhaul.”

“The NMFDC is a Rs.1,000-crore financial institution serving the minorities, but needs restructuring to reach out to the target groups with effective disbursement of loans, tracking its use and assuring its repayment,” he added.

More importantly, the ministry has decided to rope in banks and left out state departments in the loan disbursements. “We will approach the banks to cut red-tape and minimise the usual complaints of state’s discrimination against Muslims, particularly in non-Congress-ruled regions,” Khan said.

The populist measures come at a time when the UPA government is also thrusting on making interest-free banking a reality for Muslims.

The minority affairs ministry has moved a proposal to the Finance Ministry asking it to explore vehicles of financial instruments which can facilitate interest free financial products, including loans, for the community benefits and allow utilisation of financial assets worth $1.5 trillion in the country banks.

It is learnt that Rahman Khan has personally written a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh requesting him to ask the ministry of external affairs to transfer all Haj-related functions and schemes to his ministry.

He has also asked for transferring the minority education programmes, so far with the HRD ministry, to the minority affairs ministry. Top ministry sources said the request has been agreed in principle and a notification to this effect will be out soon.

The UPA government, which has just launched its direct cash transfer scheme to reach out to aam aadmi in rural belts, is banking on these financial incentives to woo the Muslim community and other minorities slowly slipping out of their “assured electoral list”.

The Congress, in particular, is trying to gain back foothold in UP, Bihar and West Bengal in the next general elections.

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