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Facing ‘minority appeasement’ charge, Bengal govt offers Rs 5-lakh life insurance to Hindu pilgrims

Around five to six lakh pilgrims attend the annual Gangasagar fair on the occasion of Makar Sankranti at the confluence of the Ganges at Sagra Islands in South 24 Parganas district. Several deaths – caused mostly due to stampedes, sinking boats, fire and the cold – are reported from there every year.

kolkata Updated: Dec 10, 2017 21:41 IST
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri, Hindustan Times, Kolkata
Mamata Banerjee,Gangasagar fair,Life insurance
The decision is being viewed as a direct attempt by the Mamata Banerjee government to counter BJP propaganda that the Rs 10-lakh compensation recently announced for deceased Haj pilgrims amounted to minority appeasement.(Arun Sharma/HT File)

The Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal has announced attractive sops for pilgrims attending the upcoming Gangasagar fair in an apparent attempt to reach out to Hindu voters and counter the BJP’s charges of alleged minority appeasement.

Addressing a high-level meeting held at the state secretariat on Friday, chief minister Mamata Banerjee announced that pilgrims coming to Gangasagar next year will be covered by life insurance amounting to Rs 5 lakh each. The premium in this regard will be borne entirely by the state government.

Around five to six lakh pilgrims attend the Gangasagar fair on the occasion of Makar Sankranti at the confluence of the Ganges in Sagra Islands, South 24 Parganas district. It is scheduled for the second week of January.

This decision is being viewed as a direct attempt by the state government to counter BJP propaganda that the Rs 10-lakh compensation recently announced for deceased Haj pilgrims was nothing but minority appeasement.

Bengal panchayat affairs and rural development minister Subrata Mukherjee, who was present at the meeting, confirmed the decision. “Never before has any state government announced such a huge compensation for a fair attended by so many lakhs of people. The first thing our government did after coming to power in 2011 was discard the tourism tax that the erstwhile Left Front government used to charge. And now, we have announced such a huge insurance cover (for Hindu pilgrims),” he told HT.

Several deaths – caused mostly due to stampedes, sinking boats, fire and the cold – are reported from Gangasagar every year. The death of six pilgrims during this year’s edition of the fair resulted in a verbal battle between the Union and state governments. While the Narendra Modi government at the Centre claimed that the pilgrims died in a stampede, the Bengal administration maintained that they occurred due to age-related ailments and the cold. As tempers rose, the state government even termed the ex-gratia compensation announced by the Prime Minister for the deceased’s families as an “attack on the federal structure” of the country.

The BJP, as expected, was not impressed with the announcement of life insurance. Terming the state government’s decision as a desperate attempt to cover up its “Muslim appeasement policy”, BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha said, “This is obviously the fallout of the six deaths that occurred at the Gangasagar fair in January. But, more than that, the chief minister is starting to feel that her appeasement policy is sending out a negative signal to the masses.”

First Published: Dec 10, 2017 19:06 IST