State Irrigation Minister Rajib Banerjee promised stipends, houses and health insurance to Brahmin purohits (priests). Asking them not to trust BJP, he further said he will help build the organisation at the grassroots level. Banerjee was speaking at a first-of-its-kind rally organised by Paschim Banga Rajya Sanatan Brahmin Trust, where thousands of Brahmin purohits gathered at Rani Rashmoni Road on Friday to press for their nine-point demands, including stipends, houses, health insurance and spread of Sanskrit.
The move comes at a time when BJP won 18 seats in Bengal in the Lok Sabha polls and is trying to woo voters at the grassroots level.
After coming to power, the TMC had announced stipends for imams and muezzins, which was criticised from different quarters, including the Brahmin purohits. Also, BJP has always targeted Trinamool Congress and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for Muslim appeasement in the state.
Striking a balance
With lessons learnt from Lok Sabha polls, where in many seats a clear polarisation of votes was seen in favour of BJP and the crucial assembly polls coming up in 2021, Trinamool Congress is reaching out to the Hindu community in Bengal. Just after the polls, the TMC has brought in a fresh narrative of Bengaliness in the state. Coupled with that, it is important for the party to highlight its secular stand in the state. The poll results also showed that in seats with considerable SC and ST votes, TMC did badly. Through reaching out to Brahmin purohits’ organisations indirectly and helping it to spread at the grassroots level is a politically significant move of the party. Through this, TMC also aims to counter BJP, whose spread in Bengal has been much dependent on festivals like Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti as well as targeting the chief minister for Muslim appeasement.
At the rally, the minister said, “I am sad that Brahmin purohits are in a miserable condition. Brahmins are not finished. They will show the way forward. We have shown that Brahmins have the courage to hold such a mammoth rally at the heart of Kolkata. No one has ever thought for the welfare of Brahmin purohits, who visit door to door and shop to shop to pray for us.”
“I will meet CM Mamata Banerjee with your demands. I take it upon myself as a responsibility to ensure Brahmins get monthly stipend. We well also ensure that there is roof over your heads. The purohits are so poor that some of them do not have proper roofs over the heads. We have ‘swastha sathi’ health insurance scheme for the poor. Why should Brahmins not have it? I will ensure that you come under it. Some of your demands will be fulfilled by this year. But all of your demands will not be fulfilled overnight,” said Banerjee.
“I will also speak with the state education minister regarding Sanskrit education in schools and setting up institutes for spread of Sanskrit,” said Banerjee.
The minister also asked the purohits to organise themselves under one umbrella.
“I will ask you to bring all Brahmin purohits under one umbrella and spread your organization to every block and assembly constituency. I am there with you and promise to fight for your demands,” said Banerjee. He also took a dig at BJP and asked everyone to unmask the party.
“They (BJP) have made Lord Ram their political agent. They have used you and thrown you. It is time that they are unmasked. They are double-faced people, who used religion for their politics,” said Banerjee. He also promised that another mega rally would shortly be held at Maidan near Shahid Minar.
Their nine-point demands include stipend for purohits who are senior citizens, monthly stipends for working purohits, houses for homeless Brahmins, identity proof for the community, providing Sanskrit education in schools from class five and setting up of ‘Tols’ or educational institutes for children of Brahmins.
Secretary of the purohits’ organisation, Sridhar Misra, said: “We are grateful to Rajib Banerjee for supporting us. We are also hopeful that Mamata Banerjee will hear our pleas and help. Brahmins purohits are in a difficult situation in the state and they need help.”
The Kolkata Municipal Corporation started stipends for Brahmin purohits at crematoriums after the Lok sabha polls.