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Thursday, Nov 14, 2019

Opinion | While Mamata was busy with her party’s grip on Durga puja, the saffron camp made inroads with Ram Navami, Janmashtami and Hanuman Jayanti

The BJP has not only gained ground in West Bengal – a state where it always remained in the fringes – but also achieved a degree of penetration and polarisation that has encouraged them to claim they will win the assembly elections in 2021 or even if they are held earlier.

opinion Updated: Aug 30, 2019 16:05 IST
Avijit Ghosal
Avijit Ghosal
Hindustan Times
Chief Minister of West Bengal  Mamata Banerjee.
Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee. (AP photo)
         

“We worship Ma Durga. They worship Ram. Remember, Ram himself worshipped Ma Durga.”

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee was fond of saying this. In fact, she kept repeating it in public meetings in 2017 and 2018 in an effort to prove that the state worshipped the goddess whom even Lord Ram tried to please.

The political equations the Trinamool Congress chief tried to drive home were evident – Bengalis need not worry about the Bharatiya Janata Party, who she said, turned Lord Ram as their ‘agent’, since they (Bengalis) had Trinamool Congress (banking on Ma Durga) on their side.

About three years since Mamata Banerjee began articulating this in public, the BJP has not only gained ground in West Bengal – a state where it always remained in the fringes – but also achieved a degree of penetration and polarisation that has encouraged them to claim they will win the assembly elections in 2021 or even if they are held earlier.

The numbers tell the story. In 2018, Ram Navami celebrations were organised in 450 places in the state. The number rose to more than 700 in 2019, claim Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leaders. Hanuman Jayanti was held in 80 places last year and about 70,000 participated in it. The number rose to 200 and 200,000 respectively this year.

Janmashtami was observed in 700 places where 200 processions were organised. This year, the numbers jumped to 1,500 places and more than 500 processions respectively.

In 2017, Ram Navami processions were held with weapons on the streets for the first time in Kolkata triggering controversy and condemnation from Trinamool leaders. But from the next year, a number of ruling party leaders organised the celebrations in their locality.

While the BJP said these celebrations were meant for uniting the Hindus, TMC leaders including the chief minister argued they were designed to divide the society.

VHP leaders said this year they doubled the number of Janmashtami celebrations in West Bengal to popularise it the way Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti were pushed in the state over the past two years. During the three-days of Janmashtami celebrations from August 23, the VHP also undertook an awareness campaign on driving out infiltrators from West Bengal.

Udayan Bandyopadhyay, professor of political science of Bangabasi College, thinks that Mamata Banerjee did not guard her flanks well, and also made the cardinal mistake of trying to play the game on the BJP’s turf.

If someone decides to assert his Hindu identity, it is more likely that he will move closer to the celebrations the Sangh Parivar are promoting.

Maidul Islam, who teaches political science in Kolkata’s Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, also thinks that the ruling party made a mistake in trying to first criticise the efforts of the Sangh Parivar to organise Ram Navami processions and then to hold their own celebrations from the next year.

So does former Presidency College principal Amal Mukhopadhyay. According to Mukhopadhyay, the VHP had a big role in the rise of the BJP’s Lok Sabha tally from two seats in 2014 to 18 this year in the state.

The political content lacing the Janmashtami celebrations was also quite clear.

“Infiltration in West Bengal has not only created an existential crisis for the Hindus but also a national security threat. We will campaign for the identification and expulsion of the infiltrators and demand citizenship for the refugees from every platform, including Janmashtami celebration,” VHP’s all India assistant secretary Sachindranath Singha said on August 14.

VHP leaders have also said it is important that ‘anti-Hindu’ and anti-national’ Mamata Banerjee must be removed from power.