Kolkata: Pilloried by the BJP for alleged appeasement politics, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is trying to shed her image of being only pro-minorities to regain the ground lost in the recent Lok Sabha elections. She is attempting to take the battle to the rival camp, with her government coming up with a series of measures in favour of Hindus, including a special allowance for a section of priests.
In the polls held in April-May, the BJP aggressively plugged the Hindutva narrative and made unprecedented inroads in West Bengal, with its tally jumping to 18 Lok Sabha seats from the two it had bagged in 2014. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) which had bagged 34 seats in 2014 found its numbers reduced to 22.
The BJP played up the Hindutva card in a big way and portrayed Mamata Banerjee as pro-minority, a card which paid the party well at the hustings.
Apparently realising the urgent need to address the situation, Mamata Banerjee, soon after the Lok Sabha elections, instructed the party-run Kolkata Municipal Corporation to announce a special allowance for the Agradani Brahmins – who perform the last rites of the deceased in the eight KMC-run crematoriums. Consequently, city Mayor Firhad Hakim announced a daily allowance of Rs 398 for such priests and handed over the cheques to them.
The BJP had earlier carried out a high-pitch campaign against the Mamata Banerjee government’s decision to give monthly allowances to Imams and Muazzins of mosques, while ignoring the priests of temples.
As another measure of the Trinamool Congress to reach out to the majority community after the poll drubbing, Firhad Hakim – also the state minister for municipal affairs and urban development – stepped down as chairman of the Tarakeshwar Development Authority (TDA). His appointment to the post in 2017 had given fodder to the BJP to raise a hue and cry, while demanding that such a position should be reserved for Hindus as the jurisdiction of the TDA includes the Tarakehswar Temple considered very auspicious by the majority community. He was asked to step down, because of this pressure, said a Trinamool leader on condition of anonymity.
The ruling party leader conceded that the BJP campaigned strongly on the appeasement plank, particularly playing up the Tarakeshwar issue on the electronic and social media that the ‘sentiments of Hindus were hurt’.
“I don’t know why our people (Trinamool leaders and workers) did not try to counter the BJP propaganda. Consequently, there was anger among the Hindus, which shouldn’t have been there,” the leader said, adding the BJP campaign was one of the reasons that TMC lost even the Hooghly Lok Sabha seat.
The Mamata Banerjee government has also started acting on another issue raised by the BJP for long – that law keepers in Kolkata were turning a blind eye to two-wheeler riders in minority-dominated areas breaking traffic rules by not wearing helmets and riding at breakneck speed, many times in intoxicated state.
Over the past month or so, the police have been hauling up such bikers in a big way and apparently as a conscious move, the authorities are giving out the names of Muslim youth punished during such drives.
But the right wing leaders and other opposition parties are far from impressed. The RSS Swayamsevak Sangh feels it is just a ‘show-off’.
“Due to the appeasement, a community has become aggressive. For this reason, the Chief Minister has been forced to take some action. But she has not discarded her appeasement policy. These measures which she has been taking are only cosmetic, just a show-off,” RSS South Bengal Prachar Pramukh, Biplab Roy told this agency.
Leader of the Opposition and Congress veteran Abdul Mannan said Banerjee has tried to use the Muslims only as a vote bank. “Muslims have not been appeased. Look at the poor number of Muslims in state government jobs. They are educationally so backward. Mamata has done nothing for the community. She has only attended Iftaar parties and Eid congregations by tying a scarf on her head. She does and says whatever is politically expedient for her,” Mannan said.