Union minister Piyush Goyal said on Thursday that Muslims are safer in India than in most other parts of the world, PTI reported. Goyal made the remark in Davos, Switzerland, at a session on “Strategic Outlook: India” at the World Economic Forum.

“India is probably one of the most inclusive societies in the world,” Goyal said. “India is a country which welcomes all diverse viewpoints, all diverse opinions, the Muslims in India are safer than any other part of the world in terms of equal opportunity.

The railways and commerce minister said the Indian government does not practice religious discrimination in its programmes. “When we take electricity to every home we do not ask them their colour or their religion, when we take toilets, digital tech, bank accounts, cooking gas to every home we do not ask their religion,” the minister asserted.

Goyal, defending the Citizenship Amendment Act, said that India has a duty to protect people who suffer religious persecution in other countries. He also said that all countries have citizenship laws. The minister claimed that of the 57-odd Islamic countries in the world, most respect what India is doing for the welfare of the poor across all religions.

Defending the National Population Register, Goyal said every country has such a register. He also claimed that the National Register of Citizens “is a bogey that is being created”. Goyal added that political opposition also exists in all countries, referring to Indian Opposition parties criticising the Citizenship Amendment Act, the NRC and NPR.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, passed by Parliament on December 11 last year, provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, provided they have lived in India for six years and entered the country by December 31, 2014. The Act has been widely criticised for excluding Muslims. At least 26 people died in last month’s protests against the law in BJP-ruled states – 19 in Uttar Pradesh, five in Assam and two in Karnataka.

The National Register of Citizens, on the other hand, is a proposed exercise to distinguish between undocumented migrants and Indian citizens. One such exercise, carried out in Assam last year, left out over 19 lakh people.

As first reported by Scroll.in, the NPR is the first step to creating an all-Indian National Register of Citizens which would identify undocumented migrants residing in India.

‘Would have bid for Air India’

Goyal said that he would have bid for debt-ridden national carrier Air India if he was not a minister, PTI reported. “If I wasn’t a minister today, I would be bidding for Air India,” Goyal said. “It has some of the best bilaterals the world over...a well managed and efficient Air India with lot more good aircraft put in using these bilaterals is nothing short of a gold mine to my mind.”

Bilaterals is a term used to denote an agreement between two countries that allows each other’s airlines to operate services with a specific number of seats.

Goyal claimed that in its first term, the Narendra Modi-led government inherited an economy that was in terrible shape, the Hindustan Times reported. “Steps were taken to put the economy back in shape and if the government had looked at divesting these jewels [Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited and other government firms including Air India Limited], it would not have got a great value.”

The airline’s debt, which stood at Rs 55,000 crore at the end of March 2018, grew to Rs 58,351.93 crore at the end of March 2019. In November last year, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said that the airline was expected to be sold by March 2020. Sitharaman claimed there was a lot of interest in Air India.

In March 2018, the government had planned to divest 76% stake in Air India, ignoring a parliamentary panel’s recommendation to give the debt-ridden airline five years to revive itself. The proposed stake sale, however, failed to take off as the government did not receive any expressions of interest from potential bidders by the end of the deadline.

On November 27, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri told Parliament that the Centre will have to shut down the national carrier if it was not privatised. However, he added that a favourable deal would be negotiated for all employees.