This Is Why Doles To Religious Festivals Is A Bad Idea

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Sep 26, 2020 10:44 AM +05:30 IST
This Is Why Doles To Religious Festivals Is A Bad Idea New-found love for Hindu festivals: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee sketches the eyes of goddess Durga on the auspicious day of Mahayala at Chetla Agrani Club in Kolkata. (Subhendu Ghosh/Hindustan Times via GettyImages)
  • Many suspect that by handing out this generous dole to Durga Puja organisers, Mamata Banerjee has cleverly paved the way for lavish grants to Muslims — her crucial vote bank — in the run up to the Assembly elections in April-May next year.

Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has announced a 50,000 Rupee grant to each of the 37,000 community Durga Puja committees in the state.

Last year, she handed out Rs 25,000 to each Puja committee. The rationale behind this dole was that the organisers of the community Pujas are finding it 'impossible' to find sponsors and advertisers this year.

Most individual donors have also been financially hit by the pandemic and have not been able to donate generously to their local Pujas.

This has forced Puja organisers to severely curtail their budgets.

Banerjee said that it's because of this funds crunch faced by Puja organisers that she is handing out 50,000 Rupees to each of them.

Banerjee also asked the fire services department to waive the fees the department charges from Puja organisers to grant clearances to them.

Local civic bodies have also been asked to waive taxes, while the power utilities have been asked to give 50 per cent discount on power bills of the Puja committees.

This dole will cost the state exchequer more than Rs 250 crore — the direct grant of Rs 50,000 means an outgo of Rs 185 crore, while the waiver of charges and taxes and the discount on power bills will add up to an estimated Rs 65 crore or even more.

That’s a substantial sum of money for a cash-strapped state like Bengal, which struggles to even pay salaries to its employees.

But more than making poor economic sense, the practice of using taxpayers’ money to sponsor religious festivals is terrible and fraught with dangerous long-term implications.

Funds from the exchequer should never be used to fund religious festivals.

Taxpayers’ money is meant to fund only development works, on the law and order machinery and defence of the country, and on welfare measures.

Sponsoring Durga Pujas is far from being a welfare measure and smacks of appeasement.

Especially, when done by Mamata Banerjee, who has been frequently accused of appeasing Muslims.

It is hard to keep away from the conclusion that this practice of handing out doles to Puja committees that she started last year was aimed at deflecting the ‘Muslim appeasement’ criticism she had been facing.

Celebrating Durga Pujas, or any other religious festival for that matter, ought to be the concern and responsibility of that particular community.

The state can, and should, act only as a facilitator — ensure adequate civic and other facilities, and look after the safety and security aspects.

The state has no business to give out doles to the organisers of religious festivals.

If organisers of Durga Pujas have not been able to collect adequate funds to hold the Pujas on the grand scale that they used to, so be it.

There can be no case that Durga Pujas have to be a grand affair every year.

If most households in the country, and across the world, are having to pare their budgets and trim their expenses, why should Durga Pujas be an exception?

It is quite possible, and many would say even desirable, for Durga Puja organisers to cut down on the usual expenses and hold the Pujas without the usual and even unnecessary glitz and glamour.

It is also absolutely unnecessary for every locality to have multiple community Pujas as is the case now.

In unusual times like this, the Chief Minister would have done well to appeal to localities to get together and join hands to organise just one Durga Puja in their respective locality.

Religion, and its practice, is a personal affair and has to remain so. The state has no business to interfere in it or promote it in the form of financial handouts.

What is worrisome, and more so since this involves Mamata Banerjee, is this practice of giving doles will be extended to religious festivals of other communities as well.

Come Christmas, and she may well be giving huge grants to churches to hold Christmas celebrations and feasts.

And would the Christians be unjustified in asking for such grants?

If Hindus can be given grants for Durga Puja, can Christians be deprived of similar largesse for Christmas?

And why should Muslims also be deprived of doles to organise their festivals?

Many suspect that by handing out this generous dole to Durga Puja organisers, Mamata Banerjee has cleverly paved the way for lavish grants to Muslims — her crucial vote bank — in the run up to the Assembly elections in April-May next year.

“That — giving out huge doles to Muslims for their religious festivals —seems to be Mamata Banerjee’s primary motive. She has acknowledged many times that she depends on Muslim votes to stay on in power and doles would be a sure-shot way of keeping the community happy,” said a senior BJP leader.

The BJP leader said that apart from Milad an-Nabi (the observance of the birthday of Muhammad) that falls on 30 October, other upcoming Muslim festivals are Lailat al Miraj (the nighttime journey of Muhammad from Mecca to Jerusalem) on 18 February next year and some other minor festivals before the start of Ramazan from 13 April.

"Thus, the coming months offer Mamata Banerjee ample opportunities to give out generous doles to Muslims in order to make them happy before the polls. The dole to Durga Pujas is just a preemptive ploy to silence any criticism that may be voiced when she starts giving doles to Muslims for their festivities,” said the BJP leader.

While it remains to be seen if the BJP leader’s predictions come true or not, the very practice of handing out taxpayers’ money for celebrating religious festivals — be it Durga Pujas or Christmas or Eid — is a bad idea that militates against the spirit of the country’s Constitution.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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