Mamata Banerjee acted in undue haste on idol immersion | analysis | Hindustan Times
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Mamata Banerjee acted in undue haste on idol immersion

Still, the West Bengal chief minister is likely to win the support of an overwhelming majority when she claims to take up cudgels to save Bengali culture from the onslaught of the saffron supporters

analysis Updated: Sep 22, 2017 16:09 IST
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee could have tackled the immersion and rehearsals of Muharram processions that would have come out on Dashami evening relatively easily by demarcating separate routes and heavy police arrangements
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee could have tackled the immersion and rehearsals of Muharram processions that would have come out on Dashami evening relatively easily by demarcating separate routes and heavy police arrangements(PTI)

If Mamata Banerjee had egg on her face on Thursday, she has only herself to blame. She acted out of sheer haste in one of those moments when the street-fighter in her got the better of the administrator. If she allowed herself second thoughts before she sent out a tweet on August 23 announcing that Durga idol immersions would not be allowed on October 1, she could have spared herself the embarrassment.

In her haste, Mamata Banerjee overlooked tradition. According to custom, Durga idols are not immersed on ekadashi, the day after Dashami and the day of Muharram this year. Few community puja organisers, if any, violate the custom. Her main worry taken care of, she could have tackled the immersion and rehearsals of Muharram processions that would have come out on Dashami evening relatively easily by demarcating separate routes and heavy police arrangements.

Then there was the political angle. Trinamool Congress has spread its influence among an overwhelming number of community puja organisers in the state. Mamata Banerjee could have used this formidable machinery to ensure that the immersion revellers don’t become reckless, or too adventurous, on Dashami night.

But she rushed. Perhaps Mamata Banerjee, the administrator, had special worries this year. Only a couple of months ago, Bengal suffered the most widely publicised communal flare-up of recent times in Baduria and Basirhat of North 24 Parganas district in which one person was killed and scores of houses and shops were vandalised and set ablaze. Since October 2016, at least a dozen clashes between Hindus and Muslims took place in the state.

Mamata Banerjee, the politician, too, had to be especially alert. She knows it too well that if communal clashes take place in Bengal, the Sangh parivar will benefit. Next year Bengal will go for rural polls that will be a rehearsal for the crucial Lok Sabha elections in 2019, the year when Amit Shah desperately wants to secure half of the 42 seats in the state. Currently BJP has only two.

However, the Bengal chief minister is closest to the truth when she alleges that by promoting the procession with and worship of weapons, the saffron camp is trying to import a culture alien to Bengal. The sangh parivar has pointed out that worshipping weapons is an integral part of Hindu traditions enthusiastically followed in the Hindi heartland. The argument may be true, but is not a valid one.

Mamata Banerjee is likely to win the support of an overwhelming majority when she claims to be taking up cudgels to save Bengali culture from the onslaught of the saffron supporters. Bengalis, despite their dip in collective fortunes over the past several decades, are known to set great store by their cultural traditions. It has its genesis in the post-Chaitanya days of religious liberalism and came into shape in the Bengal Renaissance and during the post-Independence decades when Left philosophy dominated the discourse in the state. The people won’t abandon it in a hurry. The entire race views culture as one of its last differentiating planks.

Over the past few weeks, each controversy from the plan of weapon worship to an advertisement of Jawed Habib depicting Durga waiting for a spa at a salon has helped the Trinamool chief drive home her claim of rising to the defence of Bengali culture. Social media campaigns by sangh followers like the trolling of the meat-eating tradition during the pujas also help the ruling party parade its role of the guardian of Bengali culture. Recently, a YouTube video on egg-roll, one of the most popular street foods in Bengal, attracted severe condemnation, with many pointing out that Bengal is the only place that feasts while many parts of India fasts during Navratri.

There is no way to enter the Bengali mindset except by identifying with the Bengali culture. In the sixties Islamabad failed to read the value Bengalis (of East Pakistan) attach to their cultural traditions and spectacularly paid the price of the insensitivity, despite being on the same side of the religious divide. By foisting practices of the Hindi heartland aggressively on another set of Bengalis half a century later, the saffron brigade may actually end up fortifying Mamata Banerjee’s political ground. That might become her biggest political insurance policy.