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Communal loans

Communal loans

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: January 18, 2007

Introduction: Banks told to serve Muslims first

Just in case you thought good sense shall prevail and the UPA Government will desist from embarking on the path of fragmenting India along communal identities in pursuit of what the Prime Minister has unabashedly described as its "Muslims first" policy, you must think again. After directing the apportioning of development funds along communal lines - for instance, 15 per cent of poverty alleviation funds must be set apart for minorities, never mind if there are not sufficient impoverished Muslims in a given area to merit this proportionate allocation - and decreeing that the seething underclass must wait on the sidelines while the 'grievances' of the least of all minorities are tended to, the UPA Government has now asked banks to refashion their lending policy. In a missive to the Indian Banks Association, the Union Finance Ministry has expressed its desire that 15 per cent of priority sector lending in all categories must be set aside for minorities. Under present rules, banks have to earmark 40 per cent of their total loan disbursement for farmers and small businesses, apart from housing loans and indirect farm credit less than Rs 10 lakh, which together form the priority sector. If the UPA Government has its way, about which there should be no doubts, then 15 per cent of priority sector loans, or six per cent of all loans, will be disbursed only to those who do not profess Hinduism. In brief, yet another measure is being taken by the Congress-led dispensation to place Hindus at a disadvantage and attach premium to the non-Hindu religious label. This despite the fact that there is as yet no evidence that banks have discriminated against Muslims in priority sector lending, and a separate financial corpus already exists to specifically fund entrepreneurs who belong to minority communities.

The issue is not about ensuring equal access to bank loans, as will be argued by propagandists of the UPA, their fellow-travellers and social do-gooders who survive on scraps of political and official patronage. It is about injecting the communal virus in the banking sector that has remained truly secular and beyond identity politics till now. It is also about a morally decrepit regime arbitrarily deciding how and where the money of depositors', the vast majority of whom are Hindus, will be used. It is of a piece with the pernicious practice of siphoning temple donations by Hindu pilgrims for the upkeep of Muslim religious institutions, including Islamic theological schools. It makes a mockery of basic laws that govern loans and take into account right loan demand, risk appetite and repayment capability. Once this practice is initiated - let there be no doubt that the Prime Minister shall ensure banks fall in line with this absurd and perverse policy - we can be sure of hearing treacly tales of how Muslims are being "harassed" by bank officials insisting they must repay their loans. We can also look forward to the clergy demanding that Muslims should be exempted from paying interest on their loans as this violates Quranic injunctions, and a craven Government giving in to "safeguard minority religious sentiments". The backdrop for separating Indian from Indian, for re-opening the wounds inflicted by Mohammed Ali Jinnah and his Muslim League, and for undoing the national integration that has taken place over the last six decades, is being slyly crafted by a cynical Government. To sleep through this would be suicidal for the nation.

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