Kolkata: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is contesting from Nandigram in East Midnapore district, visited as many as 19 temples and one Muslim shrine in the constituency over the last two days of her tour, before she returned to Kolkata with an injured foot.
As part of her high-pitched election campaign, Banerjee was seen preparing and serving tea in a village — in sync with her party’s official poll theme, Bangla Nijer Meyekei Chai (Bengal wants its own daughter).
Her campaign, which also included participation in Shivratri programmes at Nandigram, was cut short after Banerjee got injured in one of her legs after being allegedly pushed during an event at Birulia Bazar.
The chief minister returned to Kolkata Wednesday evening, and alleged a “conspiracy” as she said group of four-five persons pushed her and slammed a car door on her feet. She has been admitted to the state-owned SSKM hospital and is under observation.
Banerjee reached Nandigram Tuesday around 3 pm and left at 6.30 pm Wednesday after getting injured.
In her trip that lasted around 28 hours, Banerjee started Tuesday with a party workers’ meeting, followed by her visit to 19 local temples and a Muslim shrine Tuesday and Wednesday. She filed her nomination at the SDO’s office Wednesday.
Addressing the workers’ meeting, the chief minister alleged the BJP was trying to “divide people calling for 70:30”, referring to the share of Hindu and Muslim voters in Nandigram.
“I am a Hindu too. Hinduism teaches us to love all. It does not create division. I start my with ‘Chandi-path (reading of mantras invoking Goddess Chandi)’. Should I chant it here now? I am also a Brahmin,” she said and went on to recite the mantras.
The chief minister’s push for soft Hindutva drew flak from the opposition, with the BJP saying “it was too late for her to wash her sin of appeasement politics”. BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari said Banerjee’s Chandi-path was “full of faults”.
The TMC, however, said it wasn’t a “religious campaign” in Nandigram, but an “outreach campaign by her”.
Experts, meanwhile, summed her two-day election campaign in Nandigram as an “effort to stop consolidation of Hindu votes” in favour of the BJP as the party now appears apprehensive of “polarisation”.
The temple tour
Banerjee’s temple run appears to have been triggered by the flak she drew from her protege-turned-bete noire Suvendu Adhikari.
Suvendu, addressing public meetings earlier, had said she chose Nandigram relying on the 63,000 population — the number of Muslims in the area.
According to Swadesh Das, Nandigram’s Trinamool block president, Banerjee visited at least 19 temples since she arrived.
Apart from visiting Shiv, Kali, Krishna and Durga temples across villages, she also visited temples of local deities, worshipped by the villagers, which included Janaki Mata, Manasa Mata and Sitala Mata temples.
Videos of the chief minister performing ‘aarti’ and offering pooja were live streamed from Nandigram. The TMC also posted videos from its official campaign page on Twitter, projecting the CM as ‘Sanatani Mamata’.
— Banglar Gorbo Mamata (@BanglarGorboMB) March 10, 2021
On the CM’s temple tour, Das, who is one of the three official proposers of Banerjee’s name as the candidate, said, “Didi did not start this, it was started by the ‘Mir Jafar‘, Suvendu Adhikari.”
The word, ‘Mir Jafar’, is synonymous with ‘traitor’ as the military commander by that name is known to have helped set the stage for British rule in India after he cheated Bengal’s nawab Siraj ud-Daulah back in the 18th century.
He added: “He (Suvendu) has been spreading canards against Didi alleging she would destroy the Sanatani Dharma. Didi needed to build confidence among the villagers. Don’t look at it as a religious campaign, but this is an outreach campaign by her. In villages, if the leaders go to local temples, she can have maximum public outreach.”
Minister and veteran Trinamool leader Subrata Mukherjee told reporters: “Nandigram is Banerjee’s emotion and not just a place. She has been going to places of all religions. BJP divides people, she tries to stitch them together. She visited Muslim shrine also.”
BJP state president Dilip Ghosh, however, told ThePrint “it is too late to repair the damage she has done to her people”.
“By temple-hopping, she will not be able to wash her sins that she committed by rampant appeasement politics. People are not fools. This act shows her fear,” he said.
Senior Congress leader Adhir Choudhury told reporters: “Mamata ji had to say Hindu, Hindu after Modi ji’s Bengal visit. This is his kaamyaabi (success).”
CPM leader Mohammad Salim said in a statement that Banerjee was “trying to woo Hindus by her temple tours” as she has nothing to show as “developments” in the constituency.
TMC ‘apprehensive about polarisation’
Political experts termed Banerjee’s temple tour as the party’s “apprehension of polarisation”.
“The way the chief minister toured the temples in Nandigram does not seem normal. She, while addressing the workers’ meeting, said her opponent tries to do a 70:30 politics. This is referred to majority v/s minority or Hindu v/s Muslim politics. Her party is apprehensive about polarisation and that is why she is trying to pre-empt the possible consolidation of Hindu votes,” said senior political analyst professor Samir Das.
“We have also noticed that the earlier formats of her banners and posters have been changed. In the last election in 2019, there were hundreds of posters and banners in which the chief minister was seen wrapping a hijab around her head or photos of her namaz offering. These kind posters are not there. Her speeches do not have words like inshallah and adaab.”
“This is a clear and distinctive change in her political policies and election strategies. BJP has perhaps shown her that Hindu votes can be consolidated too. So, she is leaving no stones unturned,” added Das.
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