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Monthly dole, home for Hindu priests

CM Mamata Banerjee announced an honourarium of Rs 1,000 each for around 8,000 pujaris
Mamata Banerjee

Pranesh Sarkar   |   Calcutta   |   Published 15.09.20, 02:21 AM

Mamata Banerjee on Monday announced a monthly honourarium of Rs 1,000 each for around 8,000 poor Hindu priests, besides homes for those eligible among them.

The chief minister said such doles could be rolled out for people from other religions also if they applied for the same.

“Poor Hindu priests had met me multiple times so that we considered an honourarium for them. The state government decided to allow a monthly honourarium of Rs 1,000 for nearly 8,000 priests, who had already applied. The government would also build houses for the poor priests, who don’t have homes, under the Banglar Avas Yojana,” said the chief minister at Nabanna on Monday after holding a meeting with top government officials.

The move holds significance in the backdrop of the BJP’s attempts to spin a narrative that the Bengal chief minister’s politics revolves around minority appeasement by referring to her decision of giving honourarium to imams and muezzins.

“The announcement of honourarium for Hindu priests came just about six months ahead of the 2021 Assembly polls. It is clear that the chief minister is trying to do a balancing act ahead of the polls,” said a senior government official.

The fact that she had known in advance that the announcement would be given such a spin was clear when Mamata urged people to treat it in proper spirit.

“You should not take it in other way. We give honourarium of Rs 1,000 a month to folk artists as well.... If appeals from other religions come, we will consider those too,” said the chief minister.

While Mamata tried to make it clear that she was trying to be inclusive in her approach, Trinamul insiders said the issue was being discussed within the government over the past few weeks.

The Trinamul government had announced a monthly honourarium of Rs 2,500 for imams and Rs 1,000 for muezzins in April 2012. But in 2013, Calcutta High Court had stuck down the notification through which the government had allowed this honourarium distribution.

The government then transferred a grant of Rs 500 crore to the Board of Wakfs under the Wakf Board Protection, Supervision and Development scheme and a part of the amount was being used to give honourarium to the imams and the muezzins, sources said.

“In a balancing act, now, in all likelihood, the Hindu priests would be given honourarium through the information and cultural affairs department,” said a senior government official.

The decision, Trinamul sources said, will drill holes into the BJP’s narrative that Mamata is “anti-Hindu” and her politics is about minority appeasement.

A Trinamul source said Mamata’s communication on Monday had been well-planned as she had wanted to send out a message that she was inclusive unlike the BJP. The chief minister also announced restructuring of the Hindi Academy by bringing in several new members into the board on a day Hindi Divas was being celebrated across the country.

“We had set up a Hindi Academy after we had come to power in 2011. Now, we are restructuring it by bringing in several new members,” said the chief minister.

Mamata had earlier announced a series of schemes, including pension for the tribal populace in the state.

“It is clear she is trying to reach out to all sections of the society, some of which the BJP has successfully wooed,” said a political analyst.

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