With an eye on next year’s Assembly elections, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday announced a Rs 1,000 monthly allowance and free housing for 8,000 “poor Sanatan Brahmin priests”.
The Trinamool Congress chief also announced the formation of a Dalit Sahitya Academy, which will be headed by writer Manoranjan Byapari, and reconstituted the existing Hindi Academy.
“Sanatan Hindu Dharma representatives demanded special allowance. They had earlier requested land from the government to build a Hindu pilgrimage site. We gave them land at Kolaghat for this. We also realised that many Brahmins ar
working as priests for many years, but they are very poor. To help them financially, the government decided to give them Rs 1,000 and provide them houses under the Bangla Abas Yojna scheme. They have already submitted the names of 8,000 poor Brahmins. They will get their allowance before Puja.”
Many of the priests eligible for this allowance have regular day jobs and are not attached to temples. Many of them conduct pujas at the homes of customers while doing regular day jobs.
Responding to any criticism that this move might attract, Banerjee added, “Do not misconstrue the meaning of this announcement. We already used to give allowance to imams and muezzins. We are now giving allowance to purohits [Hindu priests]. If poor Christian padres come and demand an allowance, we will consider that also.”
Meanwhile, announcing a 14-member committee that will set up the Dalit Sahitya Academy, the Chief Minister said, “We had already started a Santhal Academy. We already gave recognition to Santhali, Rajbanshi and other marginal languages. We have announced the formation of a Matua Development Board. The members of the development board are yet to be decided.”
Congratulating people on the occasion of Hindi Diwas, the Chief Minister said the Hindi Academy established in 2011 would be reconstituted, with editor and former Rajya Sabha MP Vivek Gupta as its chairperson. IPS officer MK Singh will be the co-chairperson of the 25-member body
“We respect all languages. We have decided to form a new Hindi Academy. We have also decided to set up a Dalit Sahitya Academy. Dalits’ languages have influence on the Bengali language,” Banerjee said.
The BJP enjoys strong support in Dalit and tribal communities, and in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections received massive backing from the Namasudra Dalit community, most of whom migrated to the state from present-day Bangladesh.
The Opposition party also enjoys the support of a significant chunk of the Hindi-speaking population in the state. While Kolkata and Howrah have a fairly large Hindi-speaking population, at least eight of the state’s 23 districts share borders with the Hindi-speaking states of Bihar and Jharkhand.
The TMC chief also said that manuscripts conserved in Bishnupur museum would be digitised. “Bishnupur has a huge historical background of classical music and Sanskrit literature. They have manuscripts on palm leaves and cotton. Digitisation will help researchers study those manuscripts.”
In response to the Chief Minister’s announcements, BJP leader Rahul Sinha said, “When Mamata Banerjee realised that her party will lose the coming Assembly elections, the government is talking about Brahmins, Hindi-Sanskrit and Dalit literature. Why did they not speak about these earlier? The people of West Bengal know that after the elections Mamata will forget these things.”
CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty also lashed out at the government, saying “At this time, the state government should have done something for the helpless youth or for the poor people. Instead of doing so, the state government is doing dirty religious politics. This is a very dangerous trend and unfortunate also.”
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