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TMC leaders to organise conference of Hindu priests in Bengal district

The meet will be held in Birbhum in the first half of January.

kolkata Updated: Dec 20, 2017 12:17 IST
Koushik Dutta
Koushik Dutta
Hindustan Times
TMC,Mamata Banerjee,Trinamool Congress
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has highlighted her association with Durga Puja, Bengal’s most popular festival, to argue that the allegations of her appeasement of the Muslim community is unfounded.(HT Photo)

In the first move of its kind, in January Trinamool Congress leaders will organise a conference of Hindu priests in the south Bengal district of Birbhum, where BJP has made inroads into a few of the areas.

Bengal is supposed to go for the rural polls in the first half of 2018. The elections are crucial as these will be a rehearsal for the Lok Sabha elections in 2019.

Read: Durga puja politics: Mamata Banerjee sends out a clear message to BJP

“We have taken up a programme for the next one month when a conference with the Hindu priests of the district will be held,” Anubrata Mandal, district president of the ruling party, told HT. This will be the first conference of Hindu priests that Trinamool Congress leaders will organise in the state.

A section of the priests who attended a conference organised by Vishva Hindu Parishad in Kolkata in July 2017. (HT Photo)

The decision was taken on December 18, the day when the results of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly elections were declared.

For BJP Bengal is a focus state in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The party wants to win at least 22 of the 44 seats in Bengal. In 2014, it won only two.

Though Mandal did not elaborate why they are taking such a step, district leaders said it was supposed to send a signal both to the electorate as well as BJP that the ruling party is close to every section of the society.

In the conference, Trinamool leaders are supposed to interact with the priests and take their opinion on what the ruling party can do to improve their lot, and what are the gaps they want to be fulfilled.

Read: West Bengal: Sabang bypoll to test Mukul Roy’s grit

“In different areas such as Mayureswar, Parui, Ilambazar, parts of Nalhati and Murarui, BJP has made inroads. Through the conference of the priests of the district, we will be able to send a message to the common people as well as the opposition that we don’t appease any particular community,” said a ruling party leader, who sought anonymity since he is not authorised to speak to the media.

On April 5, 2017 Hindutva outfits took out a rally with bikes and swords in Kolkata on the occasion of Ram Navami in Bhawanipore, which is the home turf of chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Kolkata did not witness anything like it earlier. (Samir Jana/HT PHOTO)

“Though the BJP presence is not much in the district that has 19 blocks, 11 Assembly constituencies and more than 3,000 booths, the party leaders don’t want to be complacent,” said the Trinamool leader.

Significantly, over the past few weeks, chief minister Mamata Banerjee has said in public meetings that the allegations of minority appeasement against her cannot be substantiated. “I also chant the shlokas, inaugurate a number of community Durga pujas and perform puja myself. So how can one allege minority appeasement,” she remarked on more than one occasion.

Read: Bengal rural polls: Mamata to fight BJP’s ‘appeasement’ slogan with development

Ever since Mamata Banerjee announced honorariums for imams and muezzins and homestead land for the imams in 2011, BJP has criticised her for appeasing the Muslims for electoral gains. According to the 2011 census figures the community constitutes 27.01% of the state’s total population, while in the rural areas they form 30.79%.

Mandal put up an indifferent face. “We not bothered about who has made inroads in any particular spot. We have announced about our activities for the next one month. The meeting with the priests is one of it. We will also hold meeting with women and the minority community”, he said.

Mandal, who has courted controversy in the past by urging his supporters to hurl bombs at the police, is unfazed about the growing presence of BJP in the district and said that the opposition will not find suitable candidates in the rural polls.

“It (conference of priests) are an indication that they are afraid of us. Trinamool Congress only backs the minorities and indulges in politics of appeasement,” said Kalosona Mandal, secretary of BJP in Birbhum district.

First Published: Dec 20, 2017 12:17 IST