KOLKATA: Taking a soft Hindutwa stance, Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee on Monday announced that her government will provide poor Brahmin priests monthly stipend and free house.
In order to woo the Hindi-speaking voters, she further announced that the existing Hindi academy would be revamped. TMC's Hindi cell, which had been lying defunct for years, would be restructured, she added.
Mamata’s announcements came days after BJP’s national president JP Nadda accused her of being anti-Hindu for imposing a lockdown on the day of Ram Mandir’s foundation stone laying ceremony. It seems that the financial assistance for priests is aimed to counter BJP’s allegation that she follows the politics of appeasement.
"We held four meetings in the recent past. A list of 8,000 poor priests has been prepared who will be given Rs 1,000 each per month. Besides, the state government will construct homes for them under the state’s housing scheme for the poor," Mamata said.
"I would request all of you not to find any other meaning in this announcement. It is being done to help the Brahmin priests. They will start getting the allowance from next month as it is the Durga Puja season," the chief minister told a press conference here.
The move to revamp Hindi academy and restructure the party’s Hindi cell is said to be an attempt to cause a dent on the saffron camp’s vote bank by taking Hindi speaking voters, who form 14 per cent of the state’s electorate, into confidence. According to records available with the election commission, Hindi speaking voters can be a deciding factor at least 18 to 20 Assembly constituencies in urban and semi-urban parts of the state.
"Warm wishes on #HindiDiwas. Bengali is a land of inclusivity and through our persistent efforts we have proudly inculcated Tagore’s values of ‘Unity in Diversity’. GoWB has taken various initiatives to strengthen Hindi Education, Culture and Welfare of the community in Bengal," Mamata tweeted.
Urging the Centre to include Bengali in the list of classical languages, she further wrote on her Twitter handle, ‘"GoWB has constantly preserved to undertake inclusive development for all by giving recognition to Hindi, Urdu, Gurumukhi, Ol Chiki, Rajbanshi, Kamtapuri, Kurukh languages. I urge the Centre to follow suit by also including Bengali as a classical language in NEP 2020."
The BJP, which emerged as the ruling TMC’s principal opposition by bagging 18 Lok Sabha seats out of 42 in the 2019 general elections, defeated the TMC in all the constituencies where Hindi speaking voters form a majority. It secured victory in Asansol, Barrackpore, and Kharagpur Lok Sabha seats where Hindi speaking voters have always been a deciding factor.
The BJP showed impressive performance with a 10.7 per cent increase in its vote share in north Kolkata Lok Sabha seat, which has a considerable number Hindi speaking voters, though the party failed to snatch away the seat from the TMC.
"For example, we never thought of losing Barrackpore Lok Sabha seat as we fielded a strong candidate like Dinesh Trivedi. Arjun Singh defected to the BJP as he was denied ticket in Barrackpore, a belt dominated by non-Bengali voters, he got the dividend of being a Hindi speaking contestant and won the electoral battle. Since the next year’s election is crucial, every seat is important and our party supremo will leave no stone unturned to win the polls," said a senior TMC leader.
Newly appointed West Bengal Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has also charged the state government with "appeasing the minorities".
The TMC had faced criticism after coming to power in 2011 for announcing monthly allowance for Imams.
The state government had then said that it would be provided by the Wakf Board of West Bengal.
In a bid to dent the BJP's support base among the Hindi-speaking people and the tribal areas of the state, the state government also announced the setting up of a Hindi Academy and a Dalit Sahitya Academy.
"We had earlier formed a Hindi Academy after coming to power. Today we have restructured it and have decided to form a new Hindi Academy with former (TMC) Rajya Sabha MP Vivek Gupta as its chairman. We respect all languages and don't have a linguistic bias," she said.
Gupta is also the editor of a Hindi daily published from Kolkata.
Banerjee also announced the 25-member board of the Academy.
She also tried to reach out to the tribal electorate of the state, a large section of which voted for the BJP in Jangalmahal area, which comprises the districts of Jhargram, Paschim Medinipur, Bankura and Purulia, in the Lok Sabha poll of 2019.
"For the betterment of the languages of tribals, we have decided to form a Dalit Sahitya Academy. Dalits' languages have influence on the Bengali language," she said.
The opposition BJP and CPI(M) criticized the state government's decision of allowance to Hindu priests and setting up of a Hindi Academy claiming that they are "poll gimmicks".
"What was she doing for all these years? Why didn't she announce this allowance when similar assistance was announced for Imams? This is nothing but a poll gimmick. And regarding the Hindi Academy, it was the TMC which has called Hindi-speaking people outsiders," BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha said.
West Bengal Congress president Adhir Chowdhury said that the announcement reflects the desperation of the TMC government.
"The chief minister has realized that only appeasement of minorities will not work. So, she has decided to give doles to Hindu priests. This is a poll gimmick. She is not interested in the development of either Hindus or Muslims," Chowdhury claimed.
CPI(M) central committee member Sujan Chakraborty said that such "politics of dole" will further deepen the communal divide in the state.
(With PTI Inputs)