Will Sustainable Development Goals be achieved under Hindutva Milieu?

Manzoor Ali

Governments across the globe are already in the process of designing policy framework and schemes to onset Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the successor of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which ended in 2015. SDGs have a timeline of next 15 years to achieve 17 goals supported by 169 targets. However, SDGs are not merely a continuation of MDGs. The realisations about weaknesses in MDGs and changes in the world economy have certainly triggered the shift in approach towards SDGs. The goals under MDGs were too narrow. The concept of MDGs did not take a holistic view on development. And, most importantly, the goals in developing economies were dependent on aid from developed countries. Now, under the SDGs it is expected that each participant country raises its own resources through private sector, increase in tax collection, and crackdown on illicit financial flows and corruption. For the fulfillment of SDGs, India needs $565 billion annually until 2030. At the global level, United Nation Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that the total investment needed is in the order of US$5-7 trillion per annum. Hence, resource mobilization would be an important consideration for the success of SDGs. Would it be possible to achieve the desired goals once we have availability of resources? The paper focuses on India in the specific context of goal number 10 of SDGs which is related to inequality.      

SDGs and Muslim

Goal number 10 aims to “reduce inequality within and among countries” – and talks about bridging the gap between haves and have-nots within the country. Globally, “estimates suggest that almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population, amounting to US$110 trillion—65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population”.[i] A similar picture has emerged in post-reform India. According to the Credit Suisse report (2015) the share of richest one percent Indians in country’s wealth went up to 53 percent in 2015 as compared to only 36.8 percent in the year 2000.[ii] Recognizing inequality’s negative impact on the economic and political stability, SDGs target to:

“Progressively achieve and sustain income growth of the bottom 40 percent of the population at a rate higher than the national average (target 10.1) & by 2030, empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status (target 10.2)”
Target 10.2 in the SDGs is vital to understand the changed approach towards inequality. It overtly advocates for social, economic and political inclusion without making any distinction. It is vital in the Indian context as majority of poor belong to particular sections of the society, viz. – Dalits, Adivasis and Minorities. It should be noticed that, although poverty rate has been going down among all the religious communities, Muslims’ percentage share among the poor population was the highest (25.4 percent) in 20010-11.[iii] On other indicators as well, Muslims are lagging behind the other communities.

 Table 1: Social Category wise average MPCE (MRP) at Constant Price (1987-88 = 100)


Urban Million plus
Other Urban areas
Hindu ST
 Hindu SC
 Hindu OBC
Hindu Others 
 All Hindus
 Muslim OBC
Muslim Others
 All Muslims
Other religions
Source: Kundu Committee Report, 2014.

Table 1 show that the increase in Monthly Per Capita Expenditure (MPCE) of Muslims has been Rs. 34.7 above ST (33), but certainly below the national average of Rs. 40 in rural India.[iv] In Urban India, the increase of MPCE of all Muslim is Rs. 59.7 as compared to all Hindus (93) and national average (86.7). These facts are corroborated by the field research carried out by the author in Banaras in 2009 as part of the doctoral work. In the Muslim weaving community in Banaras, it was observed that nearly 83 per cent of weavers earn not more than Rs. 2,000 a month, which amounts to Rs. 66.66 average daily income of a weaver. A family of 2-3 working males could fetch around Rs.133 -200 per day, making the family fall into the lower class category. It may also be noted that, poverty level among Muslims is above national average.

Such high poverty level has a direct bearing on other developmental indicators such as education and health. Muslims have the lowest literacy levels (70 percent) as compared to 74 percent among Hindus and 83 percent among other religious minorities.[v] Hence, to make SDG’s goal of curbing inequality a success, India needs to do well and deprive section of population must rise above the poverty line, especially Muslim population.  

Some Hurdles to SDG Goals

There is an impression that India is ready with plan to contribute in SDGs. Addressing United Nation General Assembly (UNGA) in 2015, PM Modi extolled that Indian development agenda is mirrored in the SDG of UN. NITI Aayog (2015) has already mapped various schemes and nodal ministries required to achieve the targets set under SDGs.[vi] In the context of Goal 10, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment is the nodal agency and Multi-Sectoral Development Programme (MSDP) for Minorities is the identified scheme.

Table 2: Status of Fund Allocation and Utilisation under Ministry of Minority Affairs (in Rs. Crore)

Utilisation* (in %)


       Note:  *Utilisation has been reported taking into account BE figure
       BE: Budget Estimate; RE: Revised Estimate
       Source: Compiled by CBGA from Ministry of Minority Affairs, Govt. of India

Table 2 shows that total allocation for Ministry of Minority Affairs (MoMA) was Rs. 3,827 crore in 2016-17 (BE), which is a 2.4 percent increase over the previous year budget. In 2016-17 (BE), MSDP constituted 29.4 percent of total allocation for minorities i.e. Rs. 1.4 crore each for 710 blocks and 66 towns. However, the scheme suffers from inadequacy and underutilization of funds. Moreover, just an analysis of the budgetary allocations does not capture the in-built discrimination in the system based on ethnic identity. The discriminatory attitude of the staff in implementing agencies explains the “unruly practices”.[vii] Negative perceptions regarding Muslims run deep into every aspect of the system, some of which are enumerated as follows:
  •  Muslims are a homogenized community, due to commonness of their faith. Politically, Muslims vote en masse and they do not have social hierarchy.[viii]
  • Muslims are poor because of their choice. They go to madrasas to seek religious education, and thus lose opportunity of high earning jobs. 
  • Muslim community is the most patriarchal as highlighted by the prevalence of purdah, triple talaaq and multiple marriages.
These perceptions vitiate the identity of Muslim, which according to Charles Taylor is nothing but “Oppression”, a by-product of majoritarian politics. This prejudice, in and outside government, has resulted in discriminatory approaches against the minorities, especially Muslims. However, this experience has not been linear but marked by complexity of change dependent on dominant ideologies at the helm of affairs.

One has to mark the changes and continuity these imaginary goes through, especially in public. With the change in position of dominant ideology in politics, it also changes. With a centrist party like the Indian National Congress in power, one can see some Commissions and Committee being set up and certain programmes directed specifically towards the Minorities. However, centrists do proceed with a caution such that they are not perceived as ‘anti-Hindu’. They lack concrete ideology and are dependent merely on strategy to be relevant. [ix] Secondly, the institutional staff, over-represented by Non-Muslims and dominated by Upper Caste Hindu (UCH), is certainly not much enthusiastic for any such programmes and policies. Hence, it may be termed as a half-hearted attempt by centrists as a piecemeal democratic approach towards minorities in general and Muslims in particular.

Once the right-wing ideology came to power, both the policies and Implementing Agencies (IA) have been supporting each other overtly. The general prejudices have turned into overt discrimination. For instance, Ministry of Minority Affairs stated that Muslims are not minority in this country. Others stated that “All Indians are Hindus”. And how did institutions support this thought? In a RTI reply to a query by a Muslim candidate for rejection of his candidature, for instance, CRPF DIG replied that “since the applicant is a Muslim, a religion associated with terrorism, he could not be given the information sought by him due to security reasons.” The reply matched with Home Minister’s announcement that no information will be released about the representation of Muslims in the police force.

These are the obvious consequences of a right-wing government. A little focus on their idea of Minorities, especially Muslims, and secularism exposed their claim of fulfilling SDG Goal 10. Hindutva politics, which advocates for Hindu domination, is divisive and antithesis to Goal 10. The current government claims to be a truly secular government by treating every one equal and not tailoring special programmes for the minority, as they referred it as appeasement. However, scholars including B.R. Ambedkar have argued that “Treating unequal equally is wrong”. I.M. Young argued that a polity or a “neutral” nation state treating everyone equal can produce inequality. Young calls it ‘paradox of democracy’ where equality makes some people more powerful citizens. Hindutva understanding of treating everyone equal certainly leads to maintaining the status-quo and pushing minorities to the category of second class citizens, a situation where Muslims are continuously reminded that not only their welfare schemes but their existence depended on the benevolent nature of Hindus. What has happened in India in recent years is the “convergence of communal majority into the political majority”, where ‘receptivity’ for data, discrimination and development deficit of Muslims has been dwindling. 


The targets of Goal 10 are to bridge the gap between rich and bottom 40 percent of the population through providing equal opportunity and having non-discriminatory inclusion approach by 2030. With the onset of SDGs in 2015, the responsibility of its completion now falls into the hands of the right-wing government in India. The Hindutva government and its social groups, which believe in cultural hegemony of Hindus, have created an atmosphere of fear among Muslims. The atmosphere is clearly not suitable for what Goal 10 intends to fulfill. The Hindutva politics is the biggest hurdle towards its achievement. With the condition of alienation, community is unable to articulate their demand or even if they formulate, lack voices in government. With a high probability of continuation of the rightist government post 2019, Hindutva politics may dominate for 10 out of 15 years of SDG timeline. Due to discriminatory attitude of Hindutva forces toward the 180 million Muslims in India, certain goals of the SDGs might never be achieved.


[i] Fuentes Nieva, R. and N. Galasso, “Working for the Few – Political Capture and Economic Inequality”, Oxfam International. 2014.
[ii] The share of 10 percent richest Indian in country’s wealth is 76.3 percent in 2015 as compared to 65.9 percent in 2000.  
[iii] This percentage are based on Tendulkar Committee Report on poverty and calculated by Arvind Panagariya in a working paper No. 2013-2, SIPA, 2013.  
[iv] This is a comparative figure between 2004-05 and 2011-12.
[v] Kundu Committee Report (2014).
[vi] Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – Draft Mapping, Development Monitoring and Evaluation Office, NITI Aayog, New Delhi, 2015.
[vii] Nancy Fraser’s idea of “unruly practices” means gap between rules and their implementation.
[viii] This has been the constant reason for not allowing Scheduled Caste status to Dalit Muslims
[ix] Point is borrowed from Zoya Hasan’s book “Congress After Indira: Policy, Power and Political Change (1984-2009)”, 2012.  

The Author is Assistant Professor at Giri Institute of Development Studies, Lucknow