West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday announced an honorarium of ₹1,000 per month to nearly 8,000 Hindu priests in the State.
The move which may have far reaching political implications comes ahead of the 2021 Assembly polls and drew a sharp response from the Opposition parties.
Almost eight years back Ms. Banerjee had announced an honorarium for Imams and muezzins, a decision that was struck down by the Calcutta High Court. Their monthly allowances are now routed through the State Wakf Board.
“The Brahmin priests of the Sanatan Dharma, who for years carry out prayers in temples, have never received any help. There is a section among them who are very poor… I had meetings with representatives of the Sanatan Dharma and they had asked for a plot of land, and we gave them land in Kolaghat where a pilgrim site will come up,” Ms. Banerjee said on Monday.
Regarding the honorarium for Imams and muezzins, she said the Wakf Board provides them a stipend, but there was no such provision for the Hindu priests. She urged the Chief Secretary to start the honorarium before Pujas. Ms. Banerjee said that her government is willing to help representatives of all religions including Christain priest if they ask for support. The West Bengal government’s decision to give allowances to Durga Puja clubs for organising the festival was also challenged in the Calcutta High Court.
During the day the Chief Minister made series of announcements including setting up a Hindi Academy and Dalit Academy. While TMC MP Dinesh Trivedi has been made president of Hindi Academy, noted writer Manorajan Bypari has been made president of Dalit Academy.
The Opposition parties were quick to criticise the move and accused Ms. Banerjee of mixing religion with politics. Leader of the Left Legislature party and CPI(M) MLA Sujan Chakraborty said she is trying to divide the society.
“This is an indication of the frustration of the government,” he said.
“It is Mamata Banerjee who has introduced communal politics in West Bengal. She decided to give allowance to Imams and muezzins. Now she has been told that she has lost the Hindu votes, so she has announced an allowance for priests,” said Bengal unit BJP vice-president Joyprokash Majumdar.