New Delhi: There appears to be no let up in the BJP’s offensive in West Bengal, with the party now set to launch massive outreach programmes during the state’s biggest festival — Durga Puja.
The BJP high command has asked its state unit to use the festival to particularly reach out to women. The BJP Mahila Morcha has begun a campaign to put up posters on houses across the state, it will conduct prabhat pheris (morning boat rides) for women on Mahalaya, which falls seven days prior to the start of the festival, and organise sindur khela events in over 10,000 Durga pandals on Vijayadashmi, the last day of the festival.
The Morcha has also decided to set up tea stalls and bookstalls to distribute booklets on the party’s ideology, particularly on Article 370 and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
“From Mahalaya, Bengal will be in a festive mood and our women’s wing will use this opportunity to enhance the party outreach among women,” the BJP women cell chief and and MP, Locket Chatterjee, told ThePrint.
“We have designed a sticker that will be pasted on the door of every house; our mahila karyakartas will visit every house to paste this sticker welcoming Maa Durga.”
Chatterjee added that the party will organise sindur khela events, where married women smear each other with vermilion, at puja pandals. “We will celebrate sindur khela at over 10,000 puja pandals this year,” she said.
The BJP has also instructed all its Bengal MPs to inaugurate as many puja pandals as they can. The party has formed puja committees comprising the local MP, an organisational representative and a member of the local puja pandal panel.
Political mileage during Puja
The party, buoyed by its creditable showing in the Lok Sabha elections, where it won 18 of the 42 seats, is now targeting the 2021 assembly elections in the state. It has already begun an exercise to identify potential candidates for the polls.
This, however, isn’t the first time that the BJP has attempted to gain political mileage during Durga Puja. In 2017, the immersion of idols became a point of confrontation between the BJP and ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) government.
BJP leaders had then accused the state government of delaying the immersion rituals to facilitate Muharram.
Calls for Shah to inaugurate pandals
West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh told ThePrint that unlike in previous years, the party’s leaders are in high demand to inaugurate puja pandals.
“At least 30 big Durga Puja organisers have approached the state BJP leadership requesting us to convince party national president Amit Shah and working president J.P. Nadda to inaugurate their pujas,” Ghosh said.
He added that he has informed the party’s national leadership of the demands. “Most probably Amit Shahji will inaugurate some of the puja pandals on 1 October. The demand is also high for Smriti Irani, Sunny Deol and Gautam Gambhir,” Ghosh said.
The BJP, however, has competition from the TMC during the festivities. The party has not been able to break the TMC’s stranglehold on big pandals in North and Central Kolkata.
The TMC has also announced a sum of Rs 25,000 for all puja committees, up from the Rs 10,000 it handed out in 2018.
“We don’t do politics in the name of religion,” Ghosh said. “It is the TMC that is politicking.”
West Bengal has over 25,000 Durga Puja pandals across the state including nearly 2,000 in Kolkata.