By Kunal Chatterjee

BJP, which emerged as a serious contender to Trinamool Congress in the Lok Sabha election is making deeper inroads into West Bengal by patronizing Durga Puja celebrations.

Union Home Minister and BJP national president Amit Shah and party’s working president JP Nadda visited Bengal ahead of Durga Puja to look into the organisational aspects and propagate about abolition of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. Interestingly, Shah also inaugurated puja pandals in the city. Two of the most prestigious pujas in the city, Lake Terrace and Salt Lake ED Block were inaugurated by him.

Nadda visited Bengal on September 27, to address a programme on the abrogation of Article 370 that gave Jammu and Kashmir its special status. On September 28, the day of Mahalaya, that marks the beginning of the Durga puja festival, he offered ‘tarpan’ (offering water to god) in the name of BJP workers killed in political violence in Bengal over the last few years, Sayantan Basu, the general secretary of state BJP said.

Shah’s two-day visit was scheduled to begin on October 1. “After inaugurating puja pandals, he will address a party organisational meeting in the city,” the BJP leader said. The state party leadership had applied for a no-objection certificate from the government to hold the meeting at Netaji Indoor Stadium. After a lot of ifs and buts, permission for the venue was granted.

A number of puja organisers have reportedly expressed their desire to have Shah inaugurate the festivities. “We have informed Shahji about it and he has promised to look into the requests. Nothing has been finalized except for the two,” said BJP state president Dilip Ghosh.

The announcement of Shah and Nadda’s visit came at a time when West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee had gone to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the national capital.

This is Shah’s first visit to Kolkata after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and after becoming the Union Home Minister. Sources said, the BJP leadership has decided to go all out to capitalise on the state’s festivities and has accordingly planned the upcoming events. Shah has reportedly told the state leadership to intensify its ‘jan sampark’ efforts during the festive season to highlight the Centre’s achievements.

According to the BJP sources, during his visit, Nadda will also take stock of the organisational matter of the state unit and also ground-level political situation in Bengal. “We have been organising programmes and seminars across the country to sensitize people about our decision to abolish Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. As part of it, we have been holding programmes in Bengal too. On September 27, there was a programme on the abolition of Article 370. Naddaji had addressed it”, Ghosh said.

“Our party leadership has big plans for Bengal. After our stupendous success in the last Lok Sabha polls and in our recent membership drive when we clocked nearly 80 lakh members in the state, Bengal is one of the focus states of the party,” a source said.
With an eye on the upcoming Assembly elections, political camps especially the saffron brigade and the ruling TMC, are leaving no stones unturned to reach out to people during the festive season.

Bengal has more than 25,000 Durga pujas of which about 2,000 are held in Kolkata. In most of the puja committees, organisers are divided politically, something that was not seen before Mamata Banerjee came to power in 2011. The concept gained further prominence after Narendra Modi became Prime Minister in 2014 and decided to reorganise the party with specific attention to some states, including Bengal.

Over the last few years, the BJP has made deep inroads in Bengal and has come up as the main challenger of TMC, by pushing the traditional Congress and Left Front to a distant third and a fourth position, respectively.

The BJP in 2019 parliamentary elections bagged 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state, just four less than the ruling TMC. The TMC’s tally has come down from 34 in 2014 to 22 seats in this election.

Durga Puja, scheduled to take place in the first week of October, is likely to become a bone of contention between the (BJP) and the Trinamool Congress (TMC)-led West Bengal government with senior BJP leaders planning to use the festival to reach out to people in the state.

BJP leaders plan to talk, during the 10 days of the festival, about the crucial decisions taken by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to uplift the poor and strengthen the security of the country.
The West Bengal unit of the BJP has decided to request senior leaders and Union ministers to visit the puja pandals in West Bengal during the puja. “Members of the BJP will be part of at least 1,200 puja samitis in the state this time. Last time we were only part of 400 puja samitis. The number can increase as the time of the puja comes near,” said a senior BJP leader.

The party has decided to focus on organizing Durga Puja in rural areas of the state instead of in big cities and state capital Kolkata. “The idea is to organize several small Durga pujas in villages with the help of villagers rather than one big puja in cities, so that we can reach out to a greater number of people. There will be puja pandals in cities also,” said the leader quoted above.

“We are getting requests from various puja samitis and state unit members who want home minister and BJP president Amit Shah, working president J.P. Nadda and Union minister Smriti Irani to visit puja pandals as special guests. The maximum number of requests are for these three leaders. We have forwarded these requests to our central leadership and they will decide on the tour plan of senior leaders and Union ministers during the puja. We want several Union ministers to be present in West Bengal at the time of puja,” said a second BJP leader.

“Every senior party leader of the state is getting at least 10 requests to become a chief guest at a puja pandal. We are collecting information from all the leaders to have a final count of the number of requests. Another problem that the puja samitis are facing is that the state government is denying them permission if the samiti is inviting BJP leaders. The state government under chief minister Mamata Banerjee is creating difficulties for puja samitis who are inviting BJP leaders,” the Sayantan Basu said.

TMC leaders, however, remain unfazed. “The BJP can try to influence puja samitis but I do not think there will many takers for the plan. It is for the organizers to decide who to invite but there may not be many takers,” said Sougata Roy, senior Trinamul Congress leader and a member of Parliament.

During the 2017 Durga Puja, the immersion of the statues of the goddess had become a point of confrontation between the BJP and West Bengal government. BJP leaders had accused the state government of delaying the immersion rituals to facilitate Muharram. In 2018, the TMC had announced a sum of Rs 10,000 for all the 28,000 puja samitis across the state.

Blurb 2: Shah has reportedly told the state leadership to intensify its ‘jan sampark’ efforts during the festive season to highlight the Centre’s achievements.