The Congress government in Uttarakhand has announced a monthly pension of Rs 800 for around 500,000 Hindu priests, sparking off a controversy with opposition BJP accusing chief minister Harish Rawat of trying to woo Brahmin voters.
All priests who perform religious ceremonies in households and temples, and are not associated with the Char Dham – the state’s four pilgrimage centres of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri – will be eligible for the scheme, sources said.
Government schemes for religious leaders have been a contentious issue in the past. Last year, the Calcutta high court barred West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee from paying a monthly stipend to thousands of imams and muezzins, religious leaders who organise prayers in mosques.
Officials said the Uttarakhand government’s decision was aimed at checking “distress migration” of priests due to lack of earning opportunities.
“Purohits (priests) aren’t able to earn enough and are hence migrating. The pension will check this forced migration,” said additional chief secretary S Raju. Official sources said Char Dham priests were excluded from the scheme since they are generally economically better off.
The BJP, however, said the plan was aimed at helping the ruling Congress in the state where polls are due in 2017. The BJP had swept the hill state in May’s general elections.
“The CM has initiated the pension scheme to help the Congress secure the Brahmin vote bank that constitutes 28-30% of the state’s voters,” said state BJP spokesperson Suresh Joshi.
The Congress rubbished these allegations. “It is not fair to look at every decision taken by the government through the prism of politics,” said Surendra Kumar, the CM’s media in-charge.