Haj Pilgrimage: For selection under PM’s special quota, Muslims queue up at his Varanasi officehttps://indianexpress.com/article/cities/lucknow/haj-pilgrimage-for-selection-under-pms-special-quota-muslims-queue-up-at-his-varanasi-office/

Haj Pilgrimage: For selection under PM’s special quota, Muslims queue up at his Varanasi office

The first flight of Haj pilgrims from Uttar Pradesh will take off on August 17.

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Modi’s constituency office in-charge Shiv Sharan Pathak said they have forwarded the applications, all from Varanasi residents, to Prime Minister Office (PMO) for consideration.

Not selected for Haj pilgrimage in the lottery conducted here for residents of Uttar Pradesh, a number of Muslims are approaching Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency office in Varanasi urging him to select them under his special quota.

Already more that two dozen Muslims have submitted applications at Modi’s Varanasi office to get selected under PM quota. PM has discretionary power to select 150 people from across the country for the pilgrimage.

Modi’s constituency office in-charge Shiv Sharan Pathak said they have forwarded the applications, all from Varanasi residents, to Prime Minister Office (PMO) for consideration.

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“Muslims who were not selected for Haj pilgrimage in the lottery conducted on March 24 in Lucknow and also could not get any help from leaders of other political parties are reaching the PM’s office in his constituency,” a BJP leader said. He said no such requests were received last year after the office was set up following Modi’s win in the Lok Sabha polls from Varanasi.

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“As it is constituency office of PM, we are only collecting the applications from visitors who want to get benefit of PM’s quota for Haj pilgrimage. We are informing them in advance that the final decision on their applications would be taken by PM in Delhi,” said Laxman Acharya, BJP MLC and Kashi region president, who received two such applications during his weekly stay at constituency office.

Secretary, UP State Haj Committee, Zubair Ahmed, said for Uttar Pradesh, the Centre had fixed the quota at 22,898 Haj pilgrims for the current year. The quota was filled through lottery in March. Ahmed said that people are provided opportunity to apply for the annual pilgrimage through separate quota allocated to the President, Prime Minister and Minister of External Affairs.

Akbar Ali, state master trainer for Haj pilgrims, said that President and Prime Minister can select 150 pilgrims through their quota while another 100 can be selected by Minister of External Affairs. Vice-President and Speaker of Lok Sabha, too, have a quota of 50 pilgrims, each.

For Varanasi, the government had fixed the quota at 378 pilgrims this year, Ali said, adding more than 450 pilgrims had gone to Haj from the district last year. The district quota was reduced following the Saudi Arabia government slashing the quota of all the countries, including India, for 2015 and 2016.

Ali claimed that only four persons were selected from Varanasi last year through special quota of Vice-President, who had selected 22 pilgrims also from Mau district.

The first flight of Haj pilgrims from Uttar Pradesh will take off from different destinations, including Lucknow, Varanasi and Delhi, on August 17. “All the pilgrims of eastern UP will leave in more than a dozen flights on different dates from Varanasi airport. List of those selected through any special quota will be finalised by August first week,” said Vinod Kumar Jaiswal, Varanasi district minority welfare officer.