The pilgrimage to Mecca is one of the five pillars of Islam. The Koran teaches that each and every follower of the faith who is able to afford it must make the journey to Mecca once in their lifetime.
In India, where some 180 million Muslims make up by far the largest religious minority, the Hindu nationalist-led government announced significant changes to its hajj policy early this year.
"With immediate effect, there will be no (public) subsidies for the hajj," announced the Union Minister of Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi in New Delhi. The step – so said the minister – is aimed at "empowering minorities without appeasement policies".
Use of the term "appeasement" is a sideswipe at the opposition Congress Party, repeatedly accused by Modi's BJP of simply telling the large Muslim minority what it wants to hear and in fact running around after it, in a bid to win votes. The BJP minister's clear message was that the government had had enough of the "implicit pandering" to Muslims.
Shortly before announcing the subsidy withdrawal, Naqvi had visited Mecca and signed the annual agreement over the allocation of the Indian quota. "Last year, Saudi Arabia raised India's hajj quota by 35,000 and this year by a further 5,000 – making it 175,000," the minister from New Delhi was pleased to announce.
Minister Naqvi's explanation for the rise shows that the allocation of pilgrim numbers is not solely based on religion and proportional representation: "The popularity of Prime Minister Modi with the Saudi authorities helped us to secure this increase," he said.
India's central government is responsible for negotiating with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in all matters concerning the hajj. To this end, it maintains a well-staffed embassy in Jeddah.
Administration of the pilgrimages is the remit of the "Haj Committee of India" (HCI). This organisation, founded in 2002, answers to the Minister of Minority Affairs and has offices in all the states of this enormous nation. In line with the Saudi Arabian model, which allocates pilgrims internationally according to quotas, the HCI operates on a national level: The distribution of the Indian national contingent across the country's states is dependent on the size of the Muslim population in each area.