West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee announces allowance for Hindu priests

Published : September 14, 2020 21:30 IST

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee addressing the media at the State Secretariat in Kolkata on September 14. Photo: PTI

With the West Bengal Assembly election of 2021 drawing near and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) poised to offer a serious challenge, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress government appear to be pulling no stops to try and win back some of the Hindu support it has lost to the BJP. On September 11, she announced her government would be paying Hindu priests an honorarium of Rs.1,000 a month and building houses under the Bangla Avaash Yojana for those have no house of their own.

Addressing a press conference, Mamata pointed out that while the Wakf Board provides Imams and Muezzins of the State a stipend and an honorarium, there are no such provisions for Hindu priests. “The brahmin priests of the Sanatan Dharma who for years carry out prayers in temples, have never received any help from the government. There is a section among them who are very poor…. I had meetings with representatives of the Sanatan Dharma and they had asked for a plot of land, which we gave in Kolaghat. We took Re.1 for the land, after clearing it from the Cabinet. They will be making a Sanatan Dharma pilgrim site here,” said Mamata. She said the representatives of the Sanatan Dharma had also requested her to assist those priests who are particularly poor. “There are several thousand of them… we have already received a list of 8,000,” she said.

One of the reasons the State government decided to extend the honorarium to Hindu priests was because “they also maintain ties with different parts of the society and uphold our culture. Please do not misinterpret this,” said Mamata, claiming she would do the same for any religion. “Just as we build cremation sites, we also make burial grounds…,” said Mamata. She said the government had also given ISKCON 700 acres of land. “They will be constructing a temple and a pilgrim site there.”

In 2012, a year after coming to power, Mamata had announced a monthly honorarium to imams and a stipend to muezzins in the State. The decision was later struck down by the Calcutta High Court as “unconstitutional”. Subsequently, the payment to Imams and Muezzins was made through the Wakf Board. Since then Mamata has not shied away from playing the religion card in her politics. In 2018 and 2019, she doled out around Rs.28 crore and Rs.70 crore respectively to around 28,000 Durga puja committees across the State.

The opposition parties are viewing her decision as a “desperate move” ahead of the Assembly election. Joyprakash Majumdar, vice president of the West Bengal unit of the BJP, told Frontline, “Her announcement has verified what we have been alleging for a long time. It is Mamata Banerjee who has introduced communal politics in West Bengal. She decided to give allowance to Imams and Muezzins. She suspended the immersion of the Goddess during Durga Puja because it coincided with Muharram… and now she has been given the ground report that she has lost the Hindu votes, so she has announced an allowance for Sanatan Dharma priests. This is such a blatant mixing of religion with politics…. She got on the tiger and now she cannot get off.”

According to senior Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sujan Chakraborty, Mamata’s announcement exposes the fact that she believes that she has lost in the election. “That is the reason why she is resorting to such unconstitutional means to garner support. Instead of respecting the right of the youth to work, she is simply throwing morsels as a means of appeasement,” he said.

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