Com­mu­nal dole

Ma­mata Ban­er­jee’s de­ci­sion to spend Rs.28 crore on Durga Puja cel­e­bra­tions across West Ben­gal brings to the fore her pro­cliv­ity to use the re­li­gion card in pol­i­tics and raises ques­tions about her govern­ment’s pri­or­i­ties.

FrontLine - - POLITICS - BY SUHRID SANKAR CHATTOPADHYAY

WEST BEN­GAL Chief Min­is­ter Ma­mata Ban­er­jee’s an­nounce­ment that her Tri­namool Congress govern­ment will be dol­ing out a whop­ping Rs.28 crore to all the com­mu­nity Durga Pu­jas in the State has sparked off a ma­jor po­lit­i­cal con­tro­versy, once again bring­ing to the fore her pro­cliv­ity to use the re­li­gion card in pol­i­tics, es­pe­cially ahead of elec­tions.

Clearly with an eye to stem­ming the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the State ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elec­tion, Ma­mata Ban­er­jee has promised to give Rs.10,000 to each of the State’s 28,000 puja com­mit­tees (3,000 of which are in Kolkata). The govern­ment has also waived the li­cence fee that puja or­gan­is­ers had to pay and in­creased the con­ces­sion on elec­tric­ity bills from 20 per cent to 23 per cent. The Kolkata Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion and the Fire and Emer­gency Ser­vices De­part­ment will bear the ex­pen­di­ture for the Kolkata pu­jas, while the De­part­ments of Tourism, Con­sumer Af­fairs, and Self Help Groups, along with the West Ben­gal Po­lice, will take care of the pu­jas in the rest of the State.

While call­ing it a “gift” from the State govern­ment to fa­cil­i­tate “com­mu­nity devel­op­ment”, the Chief Min­is­ter made no at­tempt to cam­ou­flage the po­lit­i­cal over­tones be­hind the move. “Out of mis­chief, a lot of money may be of­fered to you from out­side. Do not suc­cumb to the temp­ta­tion. There is no need to beg any­thing from any­one,” she said at a pre-puja co­or­di­na­tion meet­ing with puja or­gan­is­ers. This is be­ing seen as a bla­tant at­tempt by Ma­mata Ban­er­jee to win back into the Tri­namool fold those Hindu vot­ers who, dis­en­chanted by her per­ceived pol­i­tics of mi­nor­ity ap­pease­ment, have be­gun to lean towards the BJP.

Ac­cord­ing to Sur­jya Kanta Mishra, Com­mu­nist Party of In­dia (Marx­ist) Polit Bureau mem­ber and sec­re­tary of the West Ben­gal unit of the party, the State govern­ment is en­gag­ing in “com­pet­i­tive com­mu­nal­ism”. “For the last two years, she tried to com­pete with the Hin­dutva forces at their own events: when the RSS [Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh] gave a call for Ram Navami cel­e­bra­tions, she also or­gan­ised Ram Navami pro­ces­sions; when the RSS cel­e­brated Jan­mash­tami, so did she. This com­pet­i­tive com­mu­nal­ism is ul­ti­mately lead­ing to po­lit­i­cal po­lar­i­sa­tion, a choice be­tween the Tri­namool or the BJP,” he told Front­line. Mishra be­lieves that sec­u­lar demo­cratic forces are still strong in West Ben­gal, but there is an in­creas­ing per­cep­tion that the main po­lit­i­cal bat­tle is es­sen­tially be­tween the Tri­namool and the BJP. “This is an il­lu­sion that a sec­tion of the me­dia has also helped cre­ate, that in Ben­gal if you want to fight the Tri­namool you have to take the side of the BJP, and if you need to take on the BJP, you have to seek help from the Tri­namool. It can in­flu­ence peo­ple for some time but not all the time,” he said.

IN A DURGA PUJA PAN­DAL

The BJP, too, did not miss the op­por­tu­nity to come down heav­ily on the govern­ment. “In the first place, the State govern­ment should not be fund­ing any pu­jas. For so long they [the Ma­mata Ban­er­jee govern­ment] were try­ing only to keep the Mus­lims happy by ex­tend­ing var­i­ous favours to them. This has an­gered the Hin­dus and, as is ev­i­dent in the elec­tions, re­sulted in the rise of the BJP, and now in an at­tempt to take a pro­hindu step, the govern­ment is do­ing an il­le­gal thing. Peo­ple are not fools. They are laugh­ing at this ges­ture,” Dilip Ghosh, pres­i­dent of the BJP’S West Ben­gal unit, told Front­line.

Ma­mata Ban­er­jee’s an­nounce­ment came just six days af­ter the Ma-

Kolkata, a file pic­ture. in

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