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'Polarisation': Jagan Govt's Move to Give Away Financial Benefits to Pastors Draws BJP's Ire

An internal circular issued by the YSRC government ordered collectors and district magistrates to enumerate ‘pastor particulars’ through volunteers in villages and submit the information to the government within 15 days.

Rishika Sadam | CNN-News18

Updated:September 3, 2019, 11:41 PM IST
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'Polarisation': Jagan Govt's Move to Give Away Financial Benefits to Pastors Draws BJP's Ire
File photo of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy.
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Hyderabad: Days after the Jagan Mohan Reddy government in Andhra Pradesh decided to enumerate pastors for giving away financial benefits, the state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called it a move to polarise citizens on the basis of religion.

An internal circular, issued last week, ordered collectors and district magistrates to enumerate ‘pastor particulars’ through volunteers in various villages and submit the information to the government within 15 days.

This move is seen as the first step to fulfilling one of the YSR Congress’ pre-poll promises — provide an honorarium of Rs 5,000 to pastors if voted to power. The manifesto had also promised Rs 10,000 to Rs 35,000 for maintenance of temples and Rs 15,000 as honorarium to imams and muezzins. The ruling party last week said all the promises would be fulfilled by March 2020.

“This does not mean the government is giving away money immediately. The collectors have just been asked to gather data on pastors because there is none. We have data on imams as most of them are associated with registered mosques,” Additional Secretary of the state Minorities Welfare Department Usha Kumar told News18.

Kumar said there could be several pastors who are running independent churches or affiliated with any organisation. “This data will help us understand who are eligible for the financial assistance and decide on the implementation part,” she said.

However, BJP leaders called it a "deplorable act" and said the ruling party was trying to divide the state along religious lines.

“Conducting a survey to find pastors using village volunteers and spending public money on payment to pastors is a deplorable act. This is a clear case of state-sponsored religious conversion,” the state party unit said in a tweet.

This is not the first time that state BJP leaders have levelled allegations of polarisation against the ruling dispensation that took charge at the end of May after defeating the Chandrababu Naidu-led Telugu Desam Party (TDP).

Two weeks ago, pictures of state transport bus tickets from Tirumala, carrying advertisements related to Haj and Jerusalem, had gone viral on social media. It was later found that the tickets were printed a few months ago during Naidu’s regime. Soon after, the BJP had accused the government of hurting "religious sentiments".

Tirumala hosts one of the richest temples in the world and lakhs of worshippers visit it annually.

“Since the time Reddy has taken oath, the only way they (BJP leaders) think they can hit out at him is through religion. It becomes easier for them because he practises Christianity. Now, who’s polarising here?” a senior YSRC leader told News18.

“We are just saying that spending public money for any kind of religious activities is not allowed. Spend the money for the state’s development. By spending it on a particular religion, you’re dividing people,” state BJP president Kanna Lakhminarayana told News18.

However, YSRC leader Kammela Sreedhar questioned how enumeration could be construed as a religious imposition. "Besides, every state government is entitled to give financial benefits to certain groups, depending on their budget and priorities. Yes, they’re welcome to point out if there is any discrimination. The BJP can only do religion-based politics. It's funny how they’re talking about division,” added Sreedhar.

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| Edited by: Sohini Goswami
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