Kolkata: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee seems to be making a shift towards wooing Hindi-speakers and Hindus in the state, though she insists there’s nothing “political” about it.
On the occasion of Hindi Divas Monday, Banerjee restructured her Trinamool Congress party’s defunct Hindi cell to stop the BJP’s growing imprint among the 14 per cent people who speak the language in Bengal. Her government also re-introduced a Hindi academy, to preserve the language, literature and culture of Hindi-speaking people in the state.
Banerjee also announced a monthly stipend of Rs 1,000 for Hindu purohits (priests), similar to the stipend her government had started giving Muslim imams eight years ago — something the BJP had highlighted in last year’s Lok Sabha elections, in which it increased its tally from 2 seats to 18. BJP chief J.P. Nadda, just last Thursday, hit out at Mamata Banerjee, accusing her government of having an “anti-Hindu” mindset.
The Bengal government has also announced an academy for the preservation of Dalit literature and culture, and CM Banerjee said these schemes should not be seen as a “political move or otherwise”.
But experts claim these are ways to turn Bengal’s “liberal politics” into “religion-based politics”, as the BJP looms large.
On their part, the BJP leaders say Banerjee is “so scared” of the mood on the ground that she is trying to revive her voter-base among Hindus and Dalits.
Trinamool leaders, meanwhile, say the moves are an attempt towards “inclusivity”.
Hindi given importance
Ahead of next year’s assembly elections, the Trinamool Congress announced a rejig in its Hindi cell, with former Union minister Dinesh Trivedi as the chairman of a three-layered structure. The cell, Trinamool leaders claim, will address the grievances of Hindi-speaking voters and work for their welfare.
Mamata Banerjee has often harped on Bengali pride and the significance of the language, but now seems to have realised that non-Bengali voters — over 1.5 crore of them — might make a difference in the polls.
Speaking about her government’s move to revive the defunct Hindi academy, Banerjee told the media at state secretariat Nabanna: “We respect all languages. Bengali is our mother tongue and we observe 21 February as Bengali Bhasha Divas. Today, we are also revamping the Hindi academy, which was founded in 2011 with 13 members. A new committee has been formed with 25 members.”
Trivedi, the Hindi cell chairman and a Rajya Sabha MP, said, “Trinamool Congress is for all. We love all languages. Our CM works for inclusivity.”
Another Rajya Sabha MP and new Hindi cell president Vivek Gupta added, “This is an outreach programme. Bengal for decades has had a lot of immigrants thriving here. After 2019 general elections results, the party realised that a section in the state might have felt disillusioned or not heard. That is why the party decided to create a platform for them.”
Gupta, who also runs Sanmarg, a Hindi daily, said: “Hindi speaking people constitute 14 to 15 per cent of the total population of the state. We are encouraging them to come to us freely and exchange their thoughts and issues.”
Announcing the academy for Dalit literature and culture, Banerjee added: “We are also starting Dalit academy soon and the committee members have been selected. Besides, we have tribal academy, Raj Banshi academy, Matua development boards and others.”
In all, West Bengal has 15 development boards for different communities.
Stipend for Hindu priests
Mamata Banerjee’s government is extremely cash-strapped, but still announced an allowance for poor Hindu priests and for the renovation of their houses under the Bangla Aawas Yojana scheme.
The government has received a list of 8,000 poor priests of the Sanatan Dharma, and more names will be added as and when the Bengal government receives recommendations, the CM said.
“As we earlier announced an allowance for Imams, we are announcing allowances for priests of Sanatan Dharma as well. They met three to four times and requested for an honorary allowance for the poor priests. We will give an allowance of Rs 1,000 per month,” she said, meaning the initial cost to the exchequer will be at least Rs 80 lakh per month.
Banerjee’s sops for Imams, announced in 2012, had drawn flak from all sections. But now, the chief minister insists the scheme will be extended to other religions too, if needed.
“Even if the padris (Christian priests) come to us, we will try to help them as well. We build crematoriums and we also build burial grounds. We work for people,” she said.
‘Communism to communalism’
The idea of a secular state government gets destroyed when a government announces special schemes for particular communities — Hindus or Muslims — said senior political analyst Prof. Partha Pratim Biswas.
“Last year, Mamata Banerjee announced Rs 10,000 for 28,000 Durga Puja committees. In 2012, she announced an allowance for Imams, and now she is giving money to priests. Why such categorisation based on religion? She can give allowance to unemployed youths or she can generate employment for the poor… why such religion-based categorisation for government schemes?” Biswas told ThePrint.
“This is happening because the Trinamool Congress is scared of the BJP’s influence, but it is playing into the BJP’s hands. They lay traps for her and Mamata falls into them,” said Biswas.
Left party leaders, whose alliance ruled Bengal for 34 years between 1977 and 2011, said Bengal’s society and politics is now being transformed from a Communist-socialist structure to a communal and caste-based structure.
Senior CPI(M) leaders said Banerjee is “facilitating BJP-RSS” by acting on a similar communally sensitive line.
Nilotpal Basu, member of the CPI(M) politburo, told ThePrint, “The socialist and liberal structure of Bengal politics and governance have gone for a toss. BJP’s entry to Bengal was never autonomous, but facilitated by Trinamool. Mamata Banerjee’s politics is totally understandable. It is an instance of complete collapse of governance and it shows her abject failure in dealing with real issues.”
BJP’s state president Dilip Ghosh, however, said that Mamata Banerjee is “scared” of the BJP.
“Nadda ji said in his speech how anti-Hindu her government is. They set different rules for different communities. Now she can read the ground and see the support for us swelling, so she is trying to woo the Hindu votes and Hindi-speaking people. But this will not work, people are not stupid. They can see the design,” said Ghosh.
However, Trinamool’s Gupta said, “The BJP is subtly trying to divide the people of Bengal along the religious and linguistic lines, but we are trying to be united.”
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