The offending placard. (HT Photo)
The offending placard. (HT Photo)

Placards welcoming Amit Shah placed Tagore below him, kicks up a row

BJP leaders quickly removed the placards after local people, for whom Tagore is cultural pride, and students of Visva Bharati, Bengal’s only national university set up by the poet, raised objections.
By Tanmay Chatterjee | Hindustan Times, Kolkata
UPDATED ON DEC 19, 2020 12:29 AM IST

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) drew people’s ire after placards bearing Union home minister Amit Shah’s picture above Rabindranath Tagore were found all over Bolpur and Shantiniketan in Bengal’s Birbhum district on Friday.

Shah, who will be on a two-day tour of Bengal this weekend, will visit Bolpur on Sunday. He will take part in a roadshow and address a rally. He will also have lunch at the village home of a folk singer.

The placards also had bold images of Bolpur’s former Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Anupam Hazra who joined the BJP in 2019 and is now the party’s national secretary. Hazra was also a student and teacher at Visva Bharati. The images were printed against a saffron background. The placards bore the name of a cultural organization as the sponsor.

On December 9, BJP’s Bengal unit quoted JP Nadda as saying that Tagore’s birthplace is Visva Bharti. The tweet was later deleted. The TMC, however, used the tweet to criticise the BJP chief for not knowing the land’s history. The Nobel laureate was born in erstwhile Calcutta’s Jorasanko.

BJP leaders quickly removed the placards after local people, for whom Tagore is cultural pride, and students of Visva Bharati, Bengal’s only national university set up by the poet, raised objections.

Hazra, who has been put in charge of the arrangements being made to welcome Shah, claimed that the placards were neither made nor put up by the BJP.

“This was planned by the TMC. We were brought up in Shantiniketan. I was a student here. We know how to pay respects to Tagore. This was a sabotage. In this same manner a bust of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar was vandalised (in 2019) in Kolkata during a roadshow of Shah. The placards were placed around the spot where the roadshow and rally will be held,” said Hazra.

“Our men are removing the placards because we cannot see Tagore insulted. The TMC should have removed these. The organization named in the placards does not even exist,” said Hazra.

Bikash Mishra, the BJP’s Bolpur town unit president however said the placards, and similar ones with photos of Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh, had been made for the rally.

Anubrata Mondal, the TMC district president known for his provocative speeches, said, “Is Tagore’s place below Amit Shah? Can Bengal be insulted like this? People will not tolerate this.”

Hours after the TMC shared photos of the placard on social media, the Bengal BJP tweeted an old old photo showing a placard with a life-size image of Mamata Banerjee hanging against the trunk of a tree with a little bust of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose kept below it.

“Don’t teach us about respecting Bengali icons! Be it Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose or Rabindranath Tagore, TMC cadres have scant respect for Bengali culture. All they do is compete with each other to appease Pishi at the cost of dishonouring national heroes like Netaji or Kabiguru,” the BJP tweeted at 11.36 pm.

During the day, Visva Bharati students owing allegiance to several Left organisations also protested against Shah’s proposed meeting with vice chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty on Sunday. Shah will also be visiting some sites inside the sprawling university campus.

Stating that Rabindranath was the face of the fight against fascism, the organisations submitted a memorandum to Chakraborty. “We appeal to our VC and other officials not to welcome this kind of a person (Shah) to Shantiniketan and tarnish the ideology of Rabindranath and Shantiniketan,” they said in a letter to the VC.

The Visva Bharati authorities did not react to this till Friday night.

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