The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in West Bengal is euphoric about its win in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. Now it is daring the state administration by brandishing swords in religious rallies and chanting 'Jai Shri Ram'. So what is the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) doing to take on the BJP? Chanting 'Jai Shri Ram' back, of course!
Over the past few days, TMC supporters were seen chanting the name of Ram and participating in Hanuman Jayanti rallies, trying to send out a message to the BJP that Ram and Hanuman are not theirs alone. Former cricketer and currently minister of state for sports Laxmi Ratan Shukla and Trinamool Congress MLA from Howrah district Vaishali Dalmiya were both seen participating in Hanuman Jayanti rallies on 11 April in their respective constituencies. On the same day, state consumer affairs minister Sadhan Pandey unveiled a statue of Hanuman in Kolkata.
According to Vaishali Dalmiya, "No political party can own a god. Gods and goddesses belong to all. I come from a family where pujas are performed regularly. I offer puja every day and participate in Durga Puja, Kali Puja, Ram Navami, Hanuman Jayanti, Navratri and so on."
Vaishali says that her father — the late Jagmohan Dalmiya, former president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) — would fast twice a week and offer puja at a temple on Kolkata's Elgin Road. "I have been participating in Ram Navami and Durga Puja since childhood," she said, adding that she had participated in Hanuman Jayanti processions last year too. "It was organised by an independent body and they invited me to join. So I did."
The same goes for Laxmi Ratan Shukla, who says, "It was no political rally. The organisers — Hanuman Bhakt Mandal authorities — live in my neighbourhood. Whenever I have been in town, I have joined their Hanuman Jayanti puja and processions."
What is the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) doing to take on the BJP? Chanting 'Jai Shri Ram' back, of course!
Shukla and Dalmiya both insisted there had been no instruction from the party asking them to participate in religious rallies. But, Dalmiya says, "Our party is very liberal, and allows us to participate in all religious pujas and processions."
Police sources say the number of people in rallies and processions for Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti were the largest this year.
While TMC leaders insist there has been no instruction from the top, it is evident there has been a subtle shift in the ruling party's politics in Bengal, in that its leaders are openly participating in such religious programmes in an effort to connect with the local population through such programmes.
In March, during a television interview, chief minister Mamata Banerjee, in her characteristic aggressive tone while countering the BJP's allegations of her soft corner for the religious minorities, had projected herself as a devout Hindu.
She demonstrated how keenly aware she was of Hindu pujas, customs, as someone who had practised and participated in these rituals. Banerjee, who has been organising Kali Puja at her home for years now, even mentioned the names of the several avatars of Goddess Kali during the interview — perhaps to flaunt her knowledge of such details.
Banerjee did not reject the BJP's path of participating in Hindu religious programmes and rallies as a means to win the people's support. It is not surprising that her party leaders are now following a path she has laid down before them. TMC leaders, by no means, want to let the BJP in Bengal to usurp the festivals and the gods, both of which are helping the party unite individuals and groups and connect with them politically. The leadership feels the best way is to take the bull by its horns — to practise Hindu religious festivities with show and pomp.
The leadership feels the best way is to take the bull by its horns — to practise Hindu religious festivities with show and pomp.
But Pandey, who unveiled the statue of Hanuman in Kolkata, said, "It has nothing to do with the BJP. Do not mix politics with religion. We have set up a statue of Bajrangbali for the same reason as we perform Durga Puja." He also insisted that the idea was to also draw strength from the blessings the Bajrangbali showers on the devotees.
Also on HuffPost