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Mamata gets Chandipath flawless this time, in a year she has expanded her outreach to Hindus

Over the past year, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been working to distance herself from ‘pro-Muslim’ tag that the BJP had bestowed on her.

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Kolkata: On Tuesday, West Bengal Chief Minister ensured a flawless rendition of the Chandipath, an invocation to the Goddess Durga, while she was addressing Puja committees in Kolkata.

The significance wasn’t lost on many.

Just last year, ahead of Durga Puja in the state, the chief minister had attempted to recite the mantra, but had got it all wrong. The BJP had targeted her through the fiasco, saying it laid bare their charges that she cared little for Hindus and their traditions.

This year, not only did she get the mantra right, she also announced financial assistance of Rs 50,000 each to around 36,000 Puja committees across Bengal. The announcement is expected to cost the exchequer around Rs 180 crore.

Political experts say it is part of a larger strategy by the chief minister to shed the
‘pro-Muslim’ tag that the BJP bestowed on her and then attempted to exploit it in the assembly elections.

Over the past year, ever since it became evident that the BJP would be her biggest challenger, Banerjee’s Hindu outreach has been discernible.

The frequency of her reciting Islamic religious chants have gone down, and she has rarely been seen covering her head and offering namaaz.

Instead, she has doubled the financial assistance to Puja committees, from Rs 25,000 in 2019 to Rs 50,000.

She has also announced that there will be no restrictions on the Durga Puja immersion, though Nabi Divas falls between Laxmi Puja and Visarjan this year. Muslims observe Milad un-Nabi, which commemorates the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. Banerjee had famously restricted the immersion in 2017 due to Muharram. 

Away from the puja season, Banerjee has named her government’s most lucrative scheme, which promises a minimum monthly income of Rs 500 for women, as Lakkhir Bhandar. The savings of household women or their financial reserve is commonly referred to as Lakkhir Bhandar in every Bengali Hindu household. Lakkhi or Laxmi is the Goddess of fortune and wealth.

Last year, the chief minister had announced a monthly stipend of Rs 1,000 for Hindu priests. The move was similar to the stipend paid to Imams for eight years now. In fact, ahead of the elections, Banerjee had visited 19 temples in Nandigram, the constituency she contested in and lost to her one-time aide Suvendu Adhikari.  

Also read: Modi proposer’s son is acting DGP of Bengal amid tussle between Mamata & Centre over appointment

Political calculation

Political experts say there is an intricate and detailed political calculation behind the Chandipath, the announcements and the schemes.

“I see this as a balancing act. Last year, Prashant Kishor floated an idea of getting Muslim plus votes. Now, the plus is about the Hindus, and Mamata Banerjee’s image was hurting Hindu sentiments. So, she and her party have steadily and systematically worked on rebuilding her image,” said Samir Das, analyst and professor of political science at Calcutta University.

“The Trinamool knows that it will get almost all Muslim votes. But only Muslim votes cannot bring her a win,” he added. “Now, she is making a lot of efforts to get her Hindu vote-bank back. She cannot ignore the statistics that BJP got 38 per cent of the vote share.”

The change, Das said, was very visible. “One can notice how all her big banners and posters with her head covered with hijabs or her pictures posing for namaaz have been removed from several parts of the city,” he said. “There was a big hoarding near Haj House in north Kolkata too. We do not see them now. These are indications.”

The opposition BJP is now taking credit for the change in the chief minister’s attitude.

State BJP president Dilip Ghosh told ThePrint that PM Modi has at least “made Mamata Banerjee a Hindu”.

“We saw her Chandipath. It was almost correct. She seems to have rehearsed it well,” he said. “She knows that the Muslim vote cannot make her win elections and she will need Hindus for that. So this is her vote-bank politics.”

Ghosh added that Bhabanipur, from where Banerjee will contest a bypoll, has a very small number of Muslim voters.

“Bhabanipur has huge Hindu and Sikh voters. She is still scared and that is why she announced the Rs 50,000 bonanza for Puja committees flouting model code of conduct,” he said. “We have written to the Election Commission of India. For this, Trinamool has started a social media campaign calling BJP as an anti- Hindu party.”

The Trinamool Congress insists that too much is being read into all this.

“BJP is a party of cynics and jealous people. They cannot see anything good in anyone who does not subscribe to their ideology,” Trinamool Congress state general secretary Kunal Ghosh said. “The Chandipath was never about getting it absolutely correctly; it was about praying for all. That is what Didi does. She is an emotional person. She does not believe in religious divides.”

BJP’s complaint

The BJP has complained to the ECI, stating that the chief minister cannot announce financial assistance for Puja committees as the model code of conduct has come into effect for the Bhabanipur bypoll scheduled on 30 September.

The Trinamool Congress has hit back with a social media campaign — BJP insults Maa Durga — claiming that the opposition wants to disrupt Durga Puja.

The chief minister has also defended herself. “My chief secretary announced the financial assistance scheme; I did not. The chief secretary is part of the government and the government can take up projects,” she told the media Tuesday.

“BJP leaders are maha murkha (stupid ), they cannot see anything good happening in the state.”

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)

Also read: Pranab Mukherjee relatives, ex-state chief’s wife — why Congress veterans’ kin are joining TMC



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