Kolkata: The opening day of the Durga Puja in West Bengal Monday presented a stark contrast to last year — there was no virtual address from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to BJP workers, no visit by senior central leaders to Kolkata, and the party’s state unit seemed to have gone silent on this most high-decibel social, cultural and religious event.
Last year, six months before the assembly elections, the BJP had celebrated Durga Sasthi with fanfare, coining slogans like ‘No Durga Puja without Kamal (lotus, the party’s symbol)’ and having representation in several puja organising committees in the capital city as well as other districts.
Modi had addressed party workers virtually, opening his speech in Bangla and wearing Bengali dhoti-kurta, before inaugurating a Durga Puja organised by the party at the Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre at Salt Lake. The puja included a cultural programme, with performances from celebrities.
But now, five months after receiving a drubbing at the hands of Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress, the BJP seems to have barely anything to do with Maa Durga, and puja celebrations appear muted.
Contrast this with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s puja-inauguration spree — in the last five days, she has inaugurated over a hundred pandals across Kolkata, said Trinamool sources.
Senior BJP leaders claim the Trinamool has “converted Durga Puja into a party event”, and that’s the reason their own celebrations are muted. But the ruling party’s leaders hit back at this claim, saying the BJP never understood Bengal’s Durga Puja and its culture — that its fervor for the festival was just a way to satisfy its “vested electoral interest”.
‘Avoiding for the sake of workers’ safety’
The BJP has organised the EZCC puja this year too, and it was inaugurated by newly appointed Bengal unit chief and MP Sukanta Majumdar. But outside of that, the party hardly has any representation in puja committees, and what’s more, many of the leaders who had filled these roles last year, such as former Trinamool leaders Sabyasachi Dutta and Mukul Roy, have returned to Mamata Banerjee’s camp.
Some top leaders said puja organisers were “intimidated” by the ruling party and asked to not involve BJP karyakartas in their events.
Kailash Vijayvargiya, BJP’s national general secretary in-charge of Bengal, said leaders are deliberately avoiding active involvement in the Durga Puja for the sake of their karyakartas.
“We are getting calls from some areas including Nadia and Kolkata. But I avoided it. If any of us go and attend such pujas, the organisers will have to face torture later. Our workers are anyway demoralised due the post-poll violence. We do not want any more ‘danga’ (rioting) there by Trinamool. We want our people to stay safe for the time being. We will go when the right time comes,” he told ThePrint.
Former Bengal BJP chief and national vice-president Dilip Ghosh accused the Trinamool of turning the puja into a political programme.
“Durga Puja in Bengal is not a religious or a social festival anymore. The state government distributes financial assistance of Rs 50,000 to puja organisers. Trinamool also does branding for many pujas. Last year, every puja committee was asked to put a big cut out of the chief minister at the pandal premises. This year, they were asked to bring up themes criticising the BJP government at the Centre. Durga Puja in the state has now become a state government-sponsored ruling party programme,” he claimed.
Amit Malviya, the BJP’s co-in-charge of Bengal, alleged: “The kind of retributive post-poll violence Bengal has seen, it is natural the organisers and puja committees have no other option but to portray the Centre and its policies in dim light, just to ingratiate themselves to the ruling Trinamool Congress and Mamata Banerjee. It is unfortunate that a festive socio-religious occasion like Durga Puja is being used to make political statements. Bengal, today, lives under the dark shadow of fear and an oppressive police state.”
However, other BJP leaders said the party decided to keep puja arrangements and activities low-profile owing to the pandemic and complying with the Calcutta High Court order dated 1 October. Six days later, the court relaxed some of the restrictions.
“We are complying with the high court order. We are still in the pandemic. But in Bengal, there is and was no pandemic. People died, but none cared. This year, the CM encouraged people to go pandal-hopping by relaxing all restrictions,” said a senior leader who did not wish to be named.
‘BJP had no love for Durga Puja’
Responding to the BJP leaders’ allegations and claims, Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy said the BJP failed to understand Durga Puja, and the sentiments attached to it by Bengalis.
“Durga Puja is primarily a Bengali festival. Last year, BJP tried to play it up in a big way, involving PM Modi and other senior leaders. But after the elections, they were disappointed and lost interest. They could never connect to the Bengali psyche. There was no love for Durga Puja; it was a political event for them,” the Lok Sabha MP from Dum Dum said.
Kunal Ghosh, Trinamool’s state general secretary, also rubbished the BJP’s claims on Trinamool taking over the Durga Puja celebrations.
“People of Bengal have seen Maa Durga in Didi (Mamata Banerjee). She has protected them from the fascist force called BJP. They trust Didi more than anyone. So, they are calling her to inaugurate their pujas. Why did BJP fail to build such a connection with the people? Where is their top leader? I assume he (Modi) does not have time for Bengal and Bengalis now,” Ghosh claimed.
“They are vote pakhi (seasonal birds who only come when they want votes). Their Hindutva and their love for Maa Durga, all are political and for votes. Last year, they had some organisers and clubs, but now all of them are back to the Trinamool fold. So what will they do? They will accuse Trinamool, just for optics,” he added.
(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)