| Focused: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee sips tea at the minorities’ development corporation programme. Picture by Amit Datta
Calcutta, Jan. 13: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today turned a fair organised by an arm of the government into an election roadshow, admitting that Muslims were under-represented in the public sector and announcing a slew of sops.
The chief minister’s incentives for the minority community, which include gas ovens, soft loans and low-cost housing, came a day after the Prime Minister indicated that the Lok Sabha polls will be held early.
With minorities development minister Mohammad Salim by his side, Bhattacharjee listed his government’s “success” in serving the community and also owned up to the Left Front’s shortcomings in getting it a fair share of jobs.
Inaugurating Milan Mela, organised by the West Bengal Minorities’ Development and Finance Corporation, the chief minister admitted that the number of Muslims working for the government was not proportionate to their population. The last census recorded more than 26 per cent Muslims in the state.
“The number of students from the community in schools and colleges is nowhere near what it should be,” he said and added that one of the failures of the front government was in its inability to give them more representation. “The community is undeniably lagging behind,” the chief minister said.
Bhattacharjee had advice for the community leaders. Take advantage of modern education, he said. “There were protests when the A.R. Kidwai Commission recommended that madarsas teach English, science and computers along with the Quran and Arabic… This mindset will prove suicidal.”
An attempt, the chief minister said, is being made to “spread a lie” — “that India is for Hindus only”. The fair, he added, is being promoted to prove that such propaganda would not work.
After the sermon, came the sops. The government will provide low-cost houses in Rajarhat on the eastern fringes of the city to 80 families in the first round of a scheme announced today, said officials.
“We tried desperately to give the community something concrete,” said the chief minister. “I am very happy that we have made a start in providing a solution to one of the worst problems for the community,” he added.
More than 50 self-employed people were given loans ranging from a few thousand rupees to Rs 2.5 lakh. Scholarships and stipends were announced.
The corporation has given over Rs 78 crore as loans in the past three years, the chief minister reminded the audience. Loans worth Rs 9 crore would be issued this year alone. The number of people to benefit from the soft loans would be about 25,000, the chief minister said.