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Sunday, Sep 22, 2019

Durga puja politics: Mamata Banerjee sends out a clear message to BJP

Mamata Banerjee’s identity with Durga puja provided her a first mover political advantage ensuring that the BJP – the principal opponent in West Bengal now – could not occupy that platform, something that was natural for the saffron camp to target

opinion Updated: Oct 05, 2017 11:36 IST
Avijit Ghosal
Avijit Ghosal
Hindustan Times

Symbolism is a potent force in politics. After India’s triumph in the 1971 war with Pakistan, Atal Bihari Vajpayee referred to Indira Gandhi as Ma Durga. More than four decades later, Mamata Banerjee is trying to move closer to the political imagery that Vajpayee conjured up for his opponent. Ever since she stormed to power in 2011, the Trinamool Congress chief has thrown her weight behind Bengali traditions – both cultural and religious – and Durga puja, easily the most prominent of festivals of the state, attracted her attention.

The pujas offer the Bengal chief minister the unique opportunity to project herself as a woman who means almost everything to everyone – protector of Bengali tradition, the liberal religious culture of the state, the arts – all adding to the image of the achiever single woman. Somewhere down the line, all this is underpinned by her carefully cultivated image of a self-sacrificing struggling loner.

To achieve this one-image-pleases-all consider what she has done. Spectacle is an important element in Banerjee’s world and her Durga puja strategy is carefully built around images that have high recall value. Imagine a chief minister climbing on a platform and drawing the eyes of a Durga idol, the symbolic act of bringing it to life. She went on an inauguration spree of some of the marquee community pujas that are high-profile events. In almost each inauguration, she delivered brief speeches holding forth on communal harmony in her signature rhetorical style and lambasted the BJP for importing an alien culture in Bengal.

She wrote the lyrics and set the tune of a theme song (sung by Shreya Ghoshal) for a prominent community puja. Just before the pujas a CD was released consisting of a few songs written by the chief minister. The songs were played in many community puja pandals. Larger than life images of a smiling Banerjee were placed outside many pandals. The approach was subtle but the intention was clear — the symbol of women power inside the pandal and that outside would somewhere merge in the subconscious.

After the pujas she unleashed a jamboree, a veritable carnival parading the idols and tableaux of 68 puja committees on Red Road. She live streamed the event on her Facebook account. As the social networking site became a confluence of the individual and the administrator, the mortal and the goddess, the protector and the caregiver, her festive season strategy reached a crescendo.

Banerjee’s identification with Durga puja also provided her a first mover political advantage. She ensured that the BJP – the principal opponent in Bengal now – could not occupy that platform, something that was natural for the saffron camp to target.

The package was delivered a few months away from the 2018 rural polls which will be a rehearsal for the crucial 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Banerjee braved a hail of criticism to prohibit Durga immersion on Muharram on October 1. When the courts overruled her, she used the party’s influence to ensure not a single community puja organiser went for the immersion; thereby projecting an image that she would go to any extent to protect the interest of the minority community, her solid vote-bank so far.

It is easy to understand who, she indicated, is the asura.

Twitter: @avijitghosal3

First Published: Oct 04, 2017 14:04 IST