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Trinamul rally of Hindu priests

Bengali priest at a ceremony.  Stock Picture (Pic: Shutterstock)

Suri: Trinamul Birbhum president Anubrata Mondal has lined up a rally of over 5,000 Hindu priests in the district next month in an apparent bid to counter the BJP's allegations of minority appeasement.

The first such rally by a non-BJP player in Bengal marks a shift in the sense that parties in the state usually organise shows of strength by workers, peasants and labourers, mainly over economic and political issues.

Mondal has asked party workers to conduct a "census" of Hindu priests in each of the 19 blocks of Birbhum to ensure maximum attendance for the January 8 rally. The BJP has had a notable presence in the district since the Lok Sabha elections of 2014.

"We will give the priests a namabali, a Gita, books on Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda and photographs of Sri Ramakrishna and Sarada Devi. BJP leaders are shaking at the thought of the event," said Mondal.

Earlier this year, Mondal had organsied a yagna that was conducted by 11 priests from Assam's Kamakshya temple at the famous Kankalitala temple in his district to counter the programmes of the Sangh parivar on Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti.

"There is no place in our state for the Hindutva card. Our party, our government is there for all," said Mondal.

The proposed rally is being seen as an attempt to test the waters for planning a Trinamul-backed organisation of Hindu priests, modelled on the lines of trade unions.

Sources said that if such an organisation was formed, it would help Hindu priests access government facilities and handouts.

The move, they said, seeks to strike a deft balance with the existing allowances to imams and muezzins, which have been heavily criticised by the BJP camp. Minorities account for 35 per cent of the voters in the district.

"We have already set up several gates in Bolpur to spread the news among lakhs of visitors to the Pous Mela.... The gates will be retained for the chief minister to see when she visits the district next week," said a district leader.

The sources said the size of crowds the BJP had been able to gather for its rallies in the district - on December 24, a Suri rally of the party drew more than 15,000 people - had become a matter of concern for Mondal.

Although the state BJP leadership - from state president Dilip Ghosh to district president Ramkrishna Roy - has been dismissing the proposed rally as a "desperate drama", sources in the state unit claimed that the party had altered the nature of political discourse in Bengal.

Political scientists said they were looking out for clues that suggest any change. "This could well be the beginning of an unhealthy trend for politics and society of Bengal, one that should not be taken lightly," said Biswanath Chakraborty, professor of political science at Rabindra Bharati University.

Some said it was a logical step forward in Trinamul politics.

"Trinamul believes in populism, which essentially necessitates keeping everyone happy with handouts, doles, assistance, recognition... appeasement of every section, leaving nobody unattended. This is in line with the party's political trajectory since 2011," said Maidul Islam, assistant professor of political science at the Calcutta-based Centre for Studies in Social Sciences.

For now, Mondal's initiative seems to have struck a responsive chord with sections of Hindu priests.

"We are observing the role of all political parties. Whichever raises its voice for us, we will naturally be inclined to throw our weight behind it," said Somenath Chatterjee, state committee member of the Nikhil Banga Sanskrit Premi Samiti, an apolitical organisation of priests that claims a membership of 10,000 across the state.

Chatterjee mentioned the gesture of Congress MLA Miltan Rashid, who asked in the Assembly last month why Hindu priests should not get an allowances similar to those for imams and muezzins.

"These are important demands in our favour," said Chatterjee.

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