The Karnataka government is considering taking legal action against journalist Sudhir Chaudhary, an anchor on the Hindi channel Aaj Tak. They accuse him of spreading false and harmful information about a subsidy program for minority communities aimed at supporting commercial vehicle ownership.
The program under discussion offers a substantial 50 percent subsidy to individuals belonging to religious minority groups, provided their household income does not exceed Rs 4.5 lakh, enabling them to acquire commercial vehicles. In Karnataka, there are six recognized religious minority communities, namely Muslims, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Parsis, who stand to benefit from this initiative.
Karnataka’s Minister of Information Technology & Biotechnology, Priyank Kharge, took to twitter on Tuesday to express his concerns about the actions of Aaj Tak’s anchor. Kharge accused the anchor of intentionally spreading false information regarding government schemes initially introduced by BJP MPs and subsequently amplified by certain sections of the media.
The minister characterized these actions as deliberate and malicious and indicated that the government would pursue appropriate legal measures in response. In support of his statement, Kharge shared a screenshot from an Aaj Tak show promotion featuring Chaudhary, accompanied by a Hindi caption that questioned whether the subsidy for minorities in Karnataka excluded Hindus. Harge’s warning to the news anchor aligns with the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government’s recent fact-checking policy. This policy aims to counteract efforts to spread misinformation that could disrupt peace and harmony within the state.
Manoj Jain, the secretary of the Karnataka Minority Welfare Department, shared some key insights on Tuesday regarding the newly introduced ‘Svalambhi Sarathi Scheme.’ Under this initiative, which has been expanded from its previous subsidy limit of Rs 2.5 lakh, beneficiaries who have secured bank loans for the acquisition of autorickshaws, goods vehicles, or taxis will now receive a substantial subsidy, amounting to 50 percent of the vehicle’s value, capped at Rs 3 lakh.
The eligibility criteria for this scheme include individuals from religious minority groups aged between 18 and 55 years, with an annual income not exceeding Rs 4.5 lakh. Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar highlighted these details as part of the BJP’s critique of the state government’s policies.
The ‘Svalambhi Sarathi Scheme’ comes with a specific condition outlined by the minorities department: “Applicants or their family members should not have availed benefits under any other scheme (excluding Arivu Scheme) of the KMDCL (Karnataka Minorities Development Corporation Limited) in the last 5 years.” It’s worth noting that a similar subsidy program existed before the current government assumed office in May.
Documents from the Karnataka minorities department reveal that in the fiscal year 2022-23, during the BJP’s tenure in power, there was a set target of Rs 15 crore allocated for subsidizing small commercial vehicles for religious minorities.
Under former chief minister Basavaraj Bommai, the department released Rs 7.1 crore in 2022-23. In 2021-22, the department released around Rs 5.4 crore against a target of Rs 10 crore.
The controversy surrounding the subsidy erupted just last week when Union Minister Chandrasekhar shared an advertisement released by the Karnataka government. The advertisement announced a subsidy of Rs 3 lakh for individuals belonging to minority communities who wished to purchase small commercial vehicles. Chandrasekhar’s response to this announcement was strongly critical, as he accused Rahul Gandhi’s Congress party of engaging in what he termed as “shameless, lazy, appeasement politics” aimed at favoring specific communities in Karnataka.
He illustrated his point by suggesting that one could buy a vehicle for Rs 6 lakh, benefit from a 50% subsidy, and then immediately sell it for Rs 5 lakh, resulting in a substantial profit of Rs 2 lakh. He further highlighted that this subsidy was exclusively available to non-Hindus and excluded economically disadvantaged Hindu communities. Chandrasekhar also characterized it as a form of “state-sponsored conversion inducement,” accompanying his comments with the hashtag “TruthAboutCorruptCong.”
A political dispute arose with the BJP accusing the Congress of using state resources for “appeasement,” and the ruling party responding by criticizing the BJP’s “blind hatred for minorities.” Tejasvi Surya, a BJP MP representing Bengaluru South, claimed that the Congress had increased electricity charges and raised excise duty and other taxes to fund their giveaways. He expressed his concerns on Twitter, stating, “Karnataka’s middle-class citizens will be financing a scheme that targets a specific religion, offering a ₹3 lakh subsidy for vehicle purchases.
The Congress seems willing to go to great lengths to please its core voter base, even if it means burdening hardworking, tax-paying middle-class families.” Dinesh Gundu Rao, Karnataka’s Health & Family Welfare Minister and former state Congress president, responded to Chandrasekhar on Twitter, reminding him that this scheme had existed during the BJP’s government as well. He urged Chandrasekhar not to let his animosity toward minorities cloud his judgment and advised him to correct his statement.