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Indian Hajj authorities discuss plans to eliminate VIP quota for pilgrimage

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New Delhi: Indian authorities in charge of planning Islamic pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia are looking to abolish the VIP quota for Hajj pilgrims.

India, a country in South Asia with a majority of Hindus, has the largest Muslim minority in the world with more than 200 million Muslims.

At least 150,000 Indian Muslims travel to Makkah for the Hajj each year, which is one of Islam's five pillars and a spiritual pilgrimage.

While some people must wait years for their turn, there are 500 reserve places each year set up for top government officials; this practice is currently being reviewed by the Haj Committee of India.

Discussions are still ongoing.

“We have just taken a decision to abolish the VIP quota, but that decision has not been implemented ... There is no consensus on this issue so far,” S. Muawari Begum, vice chairperson of the committee, told Arab News.

Ending the preferential treatment for VIP pilgrims would be consistent with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's general policy of not granting special favours due to higher social rank, according to Begum and the committee's chairman, A. P. Abdullakutty.

“This VIP culture is not good with lakhs (hundreds of thousands) of people waiting for the Hajj pilgrimage. This is bad. PM Modi is in favour of ending the VIP culture,” Abdullakutty said, adding that more clarity on the issue was expected soon, Arab News reported.

“After extensive discussion with all stakeholders, our new policy is prepared ... in a few days’ time a new policy of Hajj would be announced.”

500 may seem like a little number compared to the country's annual Hajj quota, but for Muslims, the concept of special treatment during Hajj seemed bizarre.

“When you go for Hajj, everyone is the same there. Everyone is equal there. There is uniformity there. People wear the same clothes, go through the same process of pilgrimage,” Asad Rizvi, an intellectual based in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, told Arab News.

“There is no concept of VIP in front of Allah.”

Some believe that even a few hundred seats would help make the journey more accessible to everyone.

“Many people aspire to go for Hajj, but the limited number of spots come in their way,” Zaid Khan, a resident of Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, said.

“I am sure more people will get the opportunity to visit Saudi Arabia and perform Hajj.”

The existence of such a quota surprised 81-year-old Delhi resident Asad Shah.

“If the government abolishes it, I should welcome it,” he said but hoped that more would be done to help facilitate Muslim pilgrimage.

“Until a few years ago there was a government program where they used to facilitate the Hajj for poor Muslims, chosen through a lottery system. If the government thinks about the welfare of Muslims, then it should restore it.”

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