There are two facets to the West Bengal government’s latest scheme in the segment of social security. At a critical juncture when the minority question has placed the country on the boil, the Rs 800-crore Aikyashree plan envisages scholarships to students of minority communities. The fineprint of the decision must be that the ruling party will not discriminate between students belonging to a cross-section of minority communities.
The benevolence is remarkable not the least because 50 per cent of the applicants from West Bengal did not get the Centre’s scholarship last year. Acknowledgment of merit knows no denominational frontier. Having said that, misgivings about the timing are not wholly unfounded. It has been unveiled scarcely a week before the State budget, scheduled to be presented in the Assembly on 10 February.
Implicitly, the Rs 800-crore outlay is a non-budgetary embroidery, and there is no indication as to how the resources will be generated to take care of the additional burden. While the signal of intent is to be appreciated, the praxis sadly remains an unknown quantity. Yet the initiative is still more significant when viewed through the prism of the upsurge against the Citizenship Amendment Act, let alone the latter-day communal award, as proposed.
The scholarships can be divided into two categories ~ the pre-matric stage (Class One to Ten) and the post-matric (Class Eleven to the post-graduate level). For the higher classes, the state scholarship is likely to be more attractive than the Centre’s, registering a 10 per cent increase. The success of the scheme will hinge primarily on the follow-through if the Benthamite doctrine of the “greatest good of the greatest number” is to be attained. Half the applicants from West Bengal ~ 16 lakh out of 32 lakh ~ had been granted central scholarships in 2019-20.
Even after a year, data on the rejections is still not available. This precisely has prompted the state to launch Aikyashree with effect from this year. Theoretically, therefore, the state’s initiative covers a wider reach. It surely is an eminently worthwhile endeavour in comparison to the national government’s floundering essay towards a redefinition of citizenship ~ 73 years after Partition. Notably, there has been an increase in the number of applicants from minority communities.
This does reflect the effectiveness of the government’s campaign to make the new scheme successful. Yet another factor is that the state has not fixed any definite criteria, apart from a family income, for applicants. Both the Centre and the state have fixed a family’s annual income at Rs 2 lakh.
Nor for that matter has Bengal prescribed any academic criterion, unlike the Centre’s scholarship for which the applicant has to secure a minimum of 50 per cent in the previous final-year exam. On closer reflection, a qualifying mark ought not to be wholly discounted. Even a minority candidate needs to possess a certain merit to avail of the scholarship, which affords no scope for a one sizefits all formula.