The NDA government is preparing to launch its first scheme for minorities — a national crafts programme called ‘Ustaad’ linked to the ‘Make in India’ campaign — from Varanasi, Prime Minister Narenda Modi’s constituency.
Although most programmes being run for minorities had been initiated by the earlier UPA regime, ‘Ustaad’ is the first scheme being crafted by the Najma Heptullah-headed minority affairs ministry under the Modi government.
The government has roped in an unnamed “specialised agency” to devise the scheme. While the minority affairs ministry isn’t giving out details about the size and worth of the scheme yet, or who would inaugurate it, it may well have Modi to launch it.
Minority affairs minister Najma Heptulla has told HT that Modi had given her the go-ahead for the scheme to be launched in Varanasi but declined comments on whether she would go in for a high-profile launch involving the prime minister.
She said the area was selected because of its “rich concentration” of traditional arts, but it would cover important crafts centres across the country.
“We are launching (it) from Benaras (sic). The entire belt is very rich in crafts…it is an area of certain concentration of traditional crafts.”
The BJP’s manifesto and more recently the Prime Minister’s Office talked about the need for a programme to preserve and modernise traditional crafts of minorities, Heptullah said.
Varanasi isn’t just an important Hindu pilgrimage centre. It’s also a byword for quality silk and fine Benarasi saris, mostly produced by the town’s Muslim weavers in about 40,000 largely sick and dying traditional looms.
Modi, during his election campaign from the constituency, had said: “The lives of weavers here can be improved with branding, technology and marketing.”
Asked if Modi would kick off the Ustaad programme meant to help these weavers, in which case he will be seen making his first individual push for a minority welfare programme, Heptullah said: “If the PM launches it, it has to be of certain scale. If you go to the PM’s constituency, obviously you tell him. But we are right now concentrating on working out the details.”
The scheme, according to Heptullah, will cover centres such as Bhadohi, Murshidabad, Hyderabad and Moradabad etc. It will be aimed to help make these traditional crafts more compatible with modern tastes and markets, Heptullah said.