Kolkata: At a time when the state government of West Bengal is bending over backward to snip out avoidable expenditure, chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday announced a 28 crore largesse for Durga puja organisers.

She said the state will pay 10,000 each to 28,000 community puja organisers, describing it as a “gift" and a move aimed at “community development". The cost will be borne by different departments of the state government such as consumer affairs and tourism, she added.

She also announced that community puja organisers will not have to pay fee to the fire department to obtain licence.

The move seen widely as Banerjee’s attempt to rebut allegations that she is partisan towards minority communities, triggered sharp political reactions.

Dilip Ghosh, the state president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said in an election year, Banerjee is trying to make it up to Hindu voters for last year’s debacle over immersion of idols. He was referring to the restrictions imposed by her administration on immersion last year in view of Muharram celebrations which coincided with the end of the Durga puja.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, leader Rabin Deb described the move as “competitive communalism". She is competing with the BJP and playing the same game, alleged Deb, a member of the party’s central committee, while questioning how a government could afford such grants.

Banerjee’s “gift" of Rs10,000 is a small amount compared with the typical budget of community pujas, said some organisers, asking not to be identified. “So the tokenism is unmistakable," one of them said.

Biswanath Chakraborty, an independent election analyst and a professor of political science at Kolkata’s Rabindra Bharati University, said whereas other parties “discard" the line toed by the BJP, the Trinamool Congress leader “adapts" it for her own political gains.

“This is clearly an election year bonanza," he added.

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