Ahead of the West Bengal assembly elections in 2021, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying every possible way to reach out to more and more voters in the state, and the Durga Pujas were a perfect opportunity.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to deliver a ‘Puja ki Baat’ speech on October 22 and the BJP is organising a Durga Puja in Kolkata. But according to recent news reports, all is not going according to plan.
Modi’s speech roadblock
PM Modi’s speeches, whether live streamed or in person, usually do attract viewers/crowds. But in Bengal, it seems that Mamata Banerjee’s puja package to several committees in the state is creating a hindrance.
The Telegraph reported that the BJP is still on the lookout for puja pandals in West Bengal to put up screens for the live telecast of Modi’s speech.
The report said that many committees have refused to put up these screens because they have taken a grant of Rs 50,000 from the state government for the Durga Puja. The grant has been given to 36,946 Durga Puja committees in the state.
Banerjee, while announcing the grant in September, had said, “Due to the Covid pandemic, it has been a tough time for all of us. We have decided to provide Rs 50,000 grant to each Durga Puja committee of the state. We have also decided that CESC and the state electricity board will give 50 per cent waiver for the puja committees.”
A plea filed in the Calcutta high court by a CITU leader had argued that the move went against India’s “secular ideals” and that the court should not grant permission for pujas this year due to Covid-19. The court has said that 75% of the grant amount should be spent on “procuring coronavirus protection equipment”.
The report in The Telegraph said that while several BJP leaders inaugurated pujas in 2019, they have not received many invitations this year.
An unnamed BJP worker from Hooghly was quoted by The Telegraph as saying, “We haven’t received a single invitation for inauguration so far this year. It seems the puja organisers are maintaining a distance from us... Against this backdrop, you can imagine how difficult it is for us to convince them to install giant screen or monitors for the PM’s programme.”
However, other BJP members have said that PM’s speech will be telecast at 10 pandals. But the pandals are yet to be finalised.
BJP state vice-president Partap Banerjee told PTI, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji’s address will be streamed live at EZCC ( Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre) as well as 10 other puja pandals across the state. The names of the ten pandals are yet to be finalised.”
BJP’s women’s wing has organised a Durga Puja at Kolkata’s EZCC.
Row over BJP puja
While BJP state president Dilip Ghosh had said last week that the BJP is not organising a puja in Kolkata, it seems that he is not getting his way in the matter.
The Durga Puja at EZCC is the first that is being organised by the BJP in Bengal.
Cricketer Sourav Ganguly’s wife Dona Ganguly and her dance troupe have been invited perform at the the pandal.
The West Bengal government, in its SoP, had said, “No cultural programmes in or near the puja pandal premises will be allowed.”
Reports say that state president Dilip Ghosh and central observer for West Bengal Kailash Vijayvargiya don’t see eye to eye on the matter of the puja.
The Telegraph quoted a BJP source as saying, “The idea to organise a full-fledged Puja came from Kailashji himself, but neither Dilipda (Dilip Ghosh) nor Subratada (Subrata Chatterjee) was consulted for their opinion. All this has made the tussles between the Dilip-Subrata and Kailash-Mukul camps more palpable.”
That Ghosh was not on the same page as Vijayvargiya was made clear when he had told reporters earlier that the BJP was not organising any puja in the state. “The BJP is not organising any Durga Puja. I have no such information. There will be a single day cultural programme for which a symbolic idol might be installed,” Ghosh had said, adding that it wasn’t the party’s job to do so.
Ahead of Durga Puja, it’s the national leaders of the party who have taken centre stage in Bengal. BJP national president JP Nadda will visit Siliguri in North Bengal on Monday.
Even the march to the West Bengal secretariat earlier this month was led by BJP’s Bangalore South MP Tejasvi Surya.