Turfs in Mind, How TMC-BJP are Striving to Dominate Puja Committees in Bengal, Busy Opening Pandals
Kolkata: As the festival season sets in, the race to gain political mileage in Bengal gains momentum with the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) working hard to outdo each other.
Be it Eid, Rakshabandhan, Ganesh Chaturthi or Durga Puja — leaders of the both the parties are silently trying to gain control of the puja committees/organisers as these religious platforms work best as far as turf wars ahead of the state and municipal elections are concerned.
The trend has become prominent since 2014 when the BJP came to power at the Centre and the party's leadership aimed at filling up the opposition vacuum in Bengal and improving its nascent presence. Over the last few years, religious events like Ram Navami, Hanuman Jayanti, Janmashtami and Ganesh Chaturthi have become popular in the state that prides itself in its Durga Puja festivities.
As presence of the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC is more prominent in the Durga Puja committees, the BJP has found an opportunity to promote Ram Navami, Hanuman Jayanti, Janmashtami and Ganesh Chaturthi and create a mass connect.
Over the years, as the enthusiasm of the saffron brigade to fill in the 'religious vacuum' grew, so did the number of Ganesh Chaturthi pandals. There were about 1,200 of them in 2016 that rose to nearly 1,700 this year.
On the other hand, TMC heavyweights like MLA Sujit Bose, Sports Minister Aroop Biswas, Panchayats and Rural Development Minister Subrata Mukherjee and Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim are closely associated with some of the biggest Durga Puja clubs in Kolkata.
While BJP leaders have been making a beeline to inaugurate Ganesh Puja pandals in the city for some time, this year, the ruling party too started taking an active role in Chaturthi celebrations, especially in places like Lake Town, Kankurgachhi (north Kolkata), Kalighat and Rash Bihari (south Kolkata).
Recently, the Sanghashree Durga Puja Committee, close to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's Kalighat residence, landed in a controversy after a section of the committee members announced that the BJP's Sayantan Basu was appointed as its president. Later, a clarification was issued by the members stating that Basu has not been made the president of the committee.
'We don't do politics in the name of religion. It is the TMC that has been doing it. We have gained strength in Bengal and people are calling us to inaugurate their pandals. I am the party president and it's my duty to be a part of this social festival. On Sunday, I inaugurated four Ganesh Puja pandals, and today (Monday) I will open four more. Similar engagements are there during Durga Puja,' state BJP president Dilip Ghosh told News18.
More than 25,000 Durga Pujas are held across the state with about 2,000 of them being organised in Kolkata alone. In most of the puja committees, organisers are divided on political lines, something that was non-existent before the TMC came to power in 2011 defeating the Left Front that had ruled the state for 34 years.
Senior TMC leader Subrata Mukherjee and a key organiser of a famous Durga Puja club in south Kolkata said, 'We never do politics in the name of Durga Puja. It's the BJP leaders who started it in Bengal. But I would like to tell you that they would not be able to succeed in this. Public in Bengal don't like politics in the name of any puja.'
BJP leader Tushar Kanti Ghosh, who is in-charge of all the party's puja related co-ordination in Bengal, said, 'The BJP has gained a lot of strength and popularity in Bengal and therefore, several Durga and Ganesh puja organisers are in touch with us. We are also associated with several pujas as it is a social festival.'
'So far, we have received more than 22 inaugural requests for Ganesh Puja and some of our of senior leaders like Kailash Vijayvargiyaji, Dilip Ghoshji, Arvind Menonji and Mukul Royji have already done the needful.'
Regarding opening of Durga Puja pandals, he said requests have come from 20 committees, but refused to reveal their identities. 'Last year, after we announced their names, the organisers faced a lot of problems. All I can say that the trend to approach the BJP to inaugurate puja pandals is very high this year, something not seen even in the last two years.'
A member of the organising committee of Maitree Sangha in Salt Lake where the BJP's Mukul Roy and Arvind Menon visited to inaugurate the Ganesh Puja, on condition of anonymity, said, 'We have decided to invite BJP leaders to inaugurate our pandal because we feel that our country is growing under the leadership Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Besides, it is an individual choice.'
Another organiser of Shatadal Ganesh Puja Samity at Jagatpur in North 24-Parganas said, 'It is true that we have not invited anyone from the ruling party to inaugurate our pandals, because people in our Assembly constituency believe the BJP is the only option that will restore Bengal lost glory. One should not see much politics in this.'