In what has become an annual feature, the West Bengal government today declared a grant of Rs 50,000 each to all 36,000 Durga Puja clubs in the state, 2,500 of them in Kolkata alone.
Unlike in the past, the announcement was made not by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee but her Chief Secretary HK Dwivedi. This was clearly because the Bhabanipur assembly bypoll, which she is contesting, is scheduled for September 30, along with elections in two other assembly seats.
The BJP, though, is furious over the announcement.
A delegation of the party met the Chief Election Officer in Kolkata and complained about the alleged violation of the model code of conduct. It will take up the matter with the Election Commission tomorrow.
Chief Secretary Dwivedi declared the Rs 50,000 grant at a function at the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Indoor Stadium in Kolkata before Ms Banerjee climbed onto the stage for the event.
“The Chief Secretary has told you everything. Because the model code of conduct is in place, he made the government announcement as is the practice,” she said in a carefully worded address.
“I have spoken to him about this. I understand that the same things that were announced for last year will be applicable this year as well.”
Sources in the BJP, however, said the Chief Secretary making the announcement didn’t mean the poll code was not violated.
“The politics of dole that the Trinamool does…that’s what has been done. It’s a violation of the model code. We want the CEO to take appropriate steps. We will go the EC office tomorrow,” said BJP state Vice-President Pratap Banerjee.
A letter written by the party to the Chief Election Officer said “this has been done to influence the electoral process”.
Ms Banerjee, meanwhile, repeatedly said that the programme to announce the grant had been organised “with permission”.
“We had to do it before the elections because, after that, it would be too late to put in place Covid-management preparations at Durga Puja pandals,” she said.
The Chief Election Officer is yet to comment on the matter.
Ms Banerjee has had to contest the bypolls since she lost the Nandigram seat in the Assembly polls held in May to her former aide and the BJP’s candidate Suvendu Adhikari. He is now the state Leader of the Opposition.