West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced on Monday a slew of sops for Brahmin purohits (priests), Rajbongshis, Dalits, tribals of Jangalmahal (the eastern end of the Chotanagpur plateau) and the Hindi-speaking people of the state.
The doles for purohits — 8,000 of them — are a monthly stipend of Rs 1,000 and housing benefits under the Bangla Abas Jojona (Bengal Housing Scheme) that Banerjee launched in January 2018.
Banerjee also announced the formation of a ‘Dalit Board’ which will frame programmes and policies for socio-economic development of Dalits in the state. She said that this board would have representation from the backward Namasudra, Poundra Kshatriya, Matua, Dom, Bagdi, Bauri and Majhi communities.
The Chief Minister said that the Rajbongshi Academy and Matua Board, whose formation she had announced several years ago, would start functioning now. Till date, they have remained on paper.
The formation of a Hindu Academy for development of Hindi was also announced by Mamata Banerjee on Monday. Tribal languages like Alchiki and Kuruk would also be given a boost, the Chief Minister said.
All these sops are targeted at primarily those who have been angered by the Trinamool. The Rajbongshis, who form over 50 per cent of the population of Cooch Behar district and are spread over North Bengal, have been long neglected by the Trinamool.
North Bengal as a whole has never been a priority area since the days of Left Front rule in Bengal. Banerjee did announce special schemes for the region, but bureaucratic apathy and her failure to see those schemes through put paid to her plans for balanced development of the state.
In addition, Banerjee’s keenness to appease Muslims has often translated into the state machinery favouring Muslims over Rajbongshis.
The Rajbongshis, original inhabitants of North Bengal, resent their marginalisation by Muslims, many of whom are illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
The Rajbongshis alleged that the state administration under Banerjee has been biased against them. This resentment fuelled the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in north Bengal.
The Jangalmahal (comprising Jhargram, Purulia and Bankura districts and western parts of Paschim Bardhaman and Birbhum districts) is backward and under-developed and almost all the tribals there suffer from poverty and neglect.
Banerjee had announced grand schemes for accelerated development of that region after coming to power in 2011, but those have remained mostly on paper.
Corruption and misgovernance have only compounded the woes of the tribals, who turned towards the BJP and gave the saffron party a surprise victory in Jangalmahal in the last Lok Sabha elections.
Banerjee, keen to play the Bengali sub-nationalist card, also alienated Hindi-speaking Hindus of the state. Trinamool functionaries and supporters have often led tirades against the Hindi language and Hindi-speaking people, even though they have happily promoted Urdu.
The Trinamool has also been opposing celebration of religious festivals like Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti which are popular among Hindi-speaking people. Banerjee has often indirectly blamed Hindi-speaking Hindus for supporting the BJP.
However, all these sops and schemes announced by Banerjee are unlikely to impress the communities they are targeted at.
And that’s because the Trinamool chief will find it impossible to correct the flaws that have alienated these communities — her Muslim appeasement and record of governance.
Instead of pleasing the targeted beneficiaries, some of the sops announced by Banerjee on Monday have, in fact, angered them.
The dole to purohits, representatives of many associations of Hindu priests told Swarajya, is an insult. They compare it to the largesse Banerjee rolled out for Muslim clerics nearly nine years ago.
In early 2012, Banerjee had announced a stipend of Rs 2,500 per month to imams (Muslim clerics) in all mosques of the state and Rs 1,000 to all muezzins (those who give the call for prayers from mosques).
In addition, each imam was given three cottahs (2,160 square feet) plots of land and loans to construct houses on them. Scholarships and stipends were also offered to children of imams and muezzins.
The state government has, since then, been giving generous grants to the state waqf board to fund Banerjee’s largesse to Muslims.
The doles offered to purohits, in comparison, is a pittance. Also, while nearly 35,000 imams and more than 208,000 muezzins are benefiting from Banerjee’s largesse, only 8,000 Hindu priests would be eligible for the pittance.
“This is too little and too late. Had her intentions been honourable, she would have announced stipends and benefits to clerics of all religious communities instead of only Muslims. And the stipends and benefits should have been equal.
“Hindus form nearly 70 per cent of Bengal’s population, but the number of Hindu priests who will get the stipends are barely one-third the number of Muslim beneficiaries. This is a terrible insult to Hindus,” said Murari Mohan Bhattacharya, a senior purohit.
The Hindi-speaking community, the tribals and the Rajbongshis are also not impressed with the sops announced by Banerjee. Nor are the Dalits.
Many representatives of these communities who spoke to Swarajya termed the Chief Minister’s announcements as “pre-election stunts” devoid of sincerity.
“How does setting up a Hindi Academy help us?” asked Babulal Singh, a trader from Barrackpore, which has turned into a saffron citadel. Singh said that after having promoted Urdu and favoured Urdu-speaking people, it is too late for Banerjee to throw a few crumbs to Hindi-speaking people.
Banerjee has alienated the Rajbonghsis way too much for them to be even marginally impressed by a Rajbongshi Academy that does nothing to address their core concerns of poverty, backwardness and under-development.
The cause of alienation of Dalits is similar to that of the Rajbonghsis. Various welfare measures announced by Banerjee for Dalits have remained unimplemented or sparsely implemented.
Also, Banerjee’s policy of appeasing Muslims works against the Dalits and Other Backward Classes (OBCs). The OBCs, especially, have been adversely affected by this appeasement policy.
Monday’s announcements by Banerjee are, thus, not likely to win back popular support for her.
Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.
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