Durga Puja committees to Tollywood, BJP makes fresh inroads into Bengal
Whether it’s the Durga Puja committees, the Calcutta high court bar association or the Bengali film industry, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been making inroads everywhere since it stunned poll pundits by winning 18 of 42 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
On July 23, BJP-backed candidates won a majority of the posts in the Calcutta high court bar association, the first time the saffron camp has done so.
Till July 27, around 70 community Durga puja committees from Kolkata and the districts have approached state BJP leaders with requests to have top leaders inaugurate their pujas.
And, since July 18, a number of television and film actors have joined the BJP in Delhi and Kolkata, accusing Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders of controlling the industry.
Bengal’s biggest festival
Durga Puja has traditionally witnessed politicians reaching out to the masses and TMC leaders, especially Mamata Banerjee, hogging the limelight since 2011 when the Left Front’s 34-year reign ended. However, 2019 is likely to witness an unprecedented scenario.
In 2018, Banerjee declared that all 3,000 community Durga puja organisers in Kolkata and 25,000 in the rest of Bengal would be given Rs 10,000 each by the state. “There are people who will offer you (the clubs) big money. Don’t get lured,” Banerjee said, without naming any party.
According to BJP leaders who did not wish to be named, the dole that cost the state exchequer Rs 28 crore made no impact on the people. What affected public sentiment was Banerjee banning Durga idol immersion for a day in 2017 to facilitate Muharram processions. This was one of the key issues that BJP leaders Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and Yogi Adityanath milked during the Lok Sabha poll campaign.
Till July 27, around 70 community Durga Puja committees had sounded out state BJP leaders for inaugurations, a role mostly reserved for either TMC leaders or celebrities till last year.
“Most committees want to invite Amit Shah, state president Dilip Ghosh, our national working president J P Nadda and other senior leaders. We have conveyed their requests to Delhi. So far we have made no commitment,” said Tushar Kanti Ghosh, head of the state BJP cell that maintains links with community clubs.
The development has not gone down well with TMC leaders and many of them went into damage-control mode. Significantly, one of the puja organising clubs that approached the BJP is Sanghashree, located within 500 metres of the chief minister’s residence at Kalighat. Till last year, the chief minister’s brother, Kartick Banerjee, was an honorary member of the puja committee. This year the organisers wanted Shah to inaugurate the puja. They even met BJP state general secretary, Sayantan Basu, and made him a member. However, on Saturday the club members made a U-turn and said they did not want to have any association with the BJP. “The club members did not tell us the reason. Obviously they are under pressure,” claimed Ghosh.
The sudden development, however, has not disheartened the BJP. At Santoshpur Avenue South puja committee, a BJP backward class morcha leader, Gautam Goswami, is one of the organisers. “We want to invite a BJP national leader. Durga Puja witnesses the largest turnout of people and our target is to utilise this opportunity and build contact with the masses,” he said.
Heavyweight TMC leaders, many of whom are either organisers or patrons of some big-budget pujas, are accusing the BJP of politicising the festival. Panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee, who has been closely associated with Ekdalia Evergreen Club’s puja, one of the biggest crowd pullers, said, “Durga Puja should be left out of politics. It is an integral part of Bengal’s culture. They (BJP) have become desperate.”
Debasish Kumar, a member of the Kolkata civic body’s mayor-in-council, has been associated with the Tridhara Sammilani puja in south Kolkata. “People may make all kinds of efforts but Bengal is an impregnable fort,” said Kumar.
The movie industry
Since July 18, as many as 13 actors from Tollywood, Bengal’s movie hub at Tollygunge in south Kolkata, joined the BJP in Delhi and Kolkata. While none of them are stars, all are popular faces, including Parno Mittra, Rrishii Kaushik and Anindya Banerjee. They were accompanied by Anjana Basu and Kaushik Chakraborty, who renewed their party membership.
For chief minister Banerjee, who has several actors among her MPs and MLAs, this was embarrassing because those who joined the BJP criticised TMC leaders of controlling the industry and not letting people work freely.
Popular actor and screenplay writer Rudranil Ghosh did not join the BJP but stoked speculation by skipping Banerjee’s Martyr’s Day rally on July 21 for the first time since 2011. “I did not go because I cannot support wrong action. People are moving away from the ruling party because a section of its leaders is rude and corrupt,” he claimed.
Youths and traders
According to Debjit Sarkar, head of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha’s (BJYM) Bengal unit, youths have accounted for the maximum growth of the BJP in recent months. “The biggest challenge for us is to build movements that attract youths. Not surprisingly, BJYM members are at the receiving end of attacks by TMC. Those killed in Purulia and Bankura during the panchayat polls were all youth members. But that hasn’t stopped BJYM from swelling. We have more than 25 lakh members right now,” Sarkar claimed.
Pratap Banerjee, head of the BJP’s state cell on traders’ bodies, said, “Traders, who have to depend on the administration, hesitate to support us openly. But the scenario is changing, especially in the districts where the BJP has grown sharply.”
“I am touring the north Bengal districts right now. In Cooch Behar, for example, many have joined us because the BJP filled the vacuum left by other opposition parties,” Banerjee said on July 25.
“The size of the Scheduled Tribe population in Bengal is around 60 lakh and roughly 80% support the BJP. This has happened primarily because the chief minister has failed to create jobs and traditionally tribal people have stayed away from business as a means of livelihood. There are many tribal youths who have done post graduation but are working as farm labourers,” alleged Khudiram Tudu, head of the state BJP’s ST cell.
Statistics vindicate Tudu. While the Opposition accused the TMC of not allowing their candidates to file nomination in more than 30% seats in the violence-marred 2018 panchayat polls, BJP candidates bagged 644 of the 1,944 gram panchayat seats in Purulia and 329 of the 806 seats in Jhargram, the districts with the highest tribal populations in the state.
Calcutta high court
BJP-backed candidates won a majority of the posts in Calcutta high court bar association on July 23. This is the first time it has taken control of the bar association of the country’s first high court set up 157 years ago.
BJP candidates won eight out of 15 posts. These include posts of the vice-president, secretary, assistant secretary and five executive committee (EC) members. Partha Ghosh, member of the BJP’s legal cell, said, “We have initiated the process that will finally lead to TMC’s defeat in the Assembly polls in 2021.” There were 53 candidates in the fray. The association has 10,000 members.
Ashok Kumar Dhandhania, an independent candidate, became president, defeating the TMC candidate. Many lawyers said that he is close to the BJP camp.
Trinamool’s Dum Dum Lok Sabha MP and senior leader Saugata Roy said, “The BJP may be trying to make deeper penetrations into Bengal but they are not acceptable to all sections of society. They made a dent in the vote bank in the recent Lok Sabha polls but people are turning back once again. I don’t see a bright future for the BJP in Bengal.”