NEW DELHI: Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman received an unusual suggestion from the BJP - to consider making budgetary provisions to start mid-day meals in madrasas across India following modernising them. Many interesting details like these seem to be trickling out, a day after Sitharaman held a three-hour long closed-door, pre-budget meeting at the BJP headquarters.
Does the BJP want mid-day meal in madrasas?
Sources say the suggestion to "think about" a mid-day meal scheme in madrasas came from the minority morcha, which too attended the meeting with the Minister, like other morchas, such as S.C. Morcha, Mahila Morcha or Kisan Morcha.
Mid-day meal is a scheme started by the government "to enhance enrolment, retention and attendance and simultaneously improving nutritional levels among children" in government schools. It feeds approximately 10.2 crore children in roughly 11.5 lakh schools every day.
Though the scheme extends to madrasas and maqtabs, but "there's no uniform scientific approach to it," insists a top official in the Union ministry of minority affairs. He told IANS, "It varies from state to state and whether the madrasas receive aid from the government."
A considerable number of madrasas are either not recognised by the government or are run by private individuals. JDU Spokesperson Neeraj Kumar confirmed that in Bihar too, the scheme is extended only to the government aided madrasas. The students studying in non-recognised madrasas are ineligible for the scheme.
The BJP's minority morcha has suggested that all unrecognised madrasas should not only be "mainstreamed" but the mid-day meal scheme be made available there. Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year in a speech had pitched for madrasa modernisation.
Interestingly, this unusual suggestion from within the BJP comes a day after the resignation of the BJP's minority cell secretary in Madhya Pradesh Akram Khan came to light. Khan's resignation citing "some colleagues have been making indecent comments against a particular community" left the BJP embarrassed.
Will Nirmala Sitharaman pay heed to this suggestion? A BJP source who was present at the pre-budget meeting said: "The FM didn't object to any idea, how much radical or big in scale it may be. The BJP has given suggestion. But the government will do what is fiscally prudent for it."
Extend free coaching to General categories, too:
Another suggestion that stood out among the volley of suggestions was to extend the free coaching for competitive exams to general category students. At present, students from the scheduled castes and OBC category get this advantage. The BJP's Yuva Morcha, which is headed by BJYM Chief Poonam Mahajan, came up with this suggestion, said a BJP source.
The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has a scheme through which it imparts free coaching facilities to meritorious students for competitive examinations like the ones "conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), the Staff Selection Commission (SSC) and the various Railway Recruitment Boards (RRBs)" and others. The coaching facility is also available for entrance examinations of the Indian Institutes of Technology or management courses like CAT. The BJP wants this facility be extended to meritorious students belonging to the general category.
The SC/ST Cell demanded certain 'special concessions' for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes community that may give the BJP an edge while battling parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party or outfits like the Bheem Army. However, the nature of 'special concessions' sought from the FM wasn't elaborated.
Sitharaman tutored back, too:
Thursday's meeting of Sitharaman was divided into four segments: meeting with key post holders, heads of different cells of BJP, the media department and finally, intellectuals. The meeting was attended by senior leaders like the BJP's Working President J.P. Nadda, General Secretary, Organisation, B.L. Santosh, General Secretaries Bhupendra Yadav and Arun Singh among others.
The meeting wasn't just a one track way of receiving suggestions but giving back too. In the interaction with the BJP's media cell, it was less about taking inputs than informing the army of BJP spokespersons on what to market and how on national television. For instance, a media cell member, who attended the closed door interaction with the Minister told IANS: "She (Sitharaman) cited the coal auction system as something that has brought transparency and is going to generate employment." It was a suggestion to stress this point vigorously in television debates, making a case for the Modi government.
The Finance Minister soaked up Industry concerns via the BJP:
For the first time, the party has been holding background talks with industry experts and representatives to understand what they need to activate growth. Seven such meetings are already over. Party spokesperson on economic affairs, Gopal Krishna Agarwal, who has been in the thick of such meetings, told IANS that the outcomes of the last seven meetings were conveyed "one by one" which, Agarwal claims, the FM listened to "patiently and kept noting".
Four such background meets with industry representatives are yet to take place. Once they are over, another meeting with Sitharaman will be arranged where their basics will be communicated to her. According to Agarwal, 200 individuals have either been asked or are in the process of being asked for their opinions and requirements for their respective industrial sectors during the 11 meetings.
However, Sitharaman has been at the receiving end of opposition parties, particularly the Congress, for the Finance Minister's absence from the crucial two-hour long Niti Aayog meeting on Thursday with over 30 industry experts and economists to review and take their views on steps to revive the Indian economy on growth and employment. But it turns out that she was specifically tasked by the PM himself to take the BJP's granular suggestions back to the Finance Ministry, as he himself took charge of Thursday's Niti Aayog meeting along with Home Minister Amit Shah, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari.