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Festival of Politics: Modi's 'Puja Ki Baat' Is BJP's Answer To Mamata's Grip Over Durga Puja Organisers

File photo of Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee and PM Narendra Modi.

File photo of Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee and PM Narendra Modi.

The BJP is evidently brainstorming on means to invade and usurp not just physical political spaces, but even the virtual ones which were previously occupied by Mamata Banerjee.

Sougata Mukhopadhyay

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to address the nation on the eve of Durga Puja via a special webcast called 'Puja Ki Baat' on 22 October is, indeed, a first.

It also shows that the BJP is all chips in to make use of every available opportunity to knock on the hearts and minds of the people of West Bengal in the run-up to the high stakes 2021 state polls.

The party is evidently brainstorming on ways and means to invade and usurp not just physical political spaces, which it is anyway continuously pushing for, but even the virtual ones which were previously occupied by Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee.

Inaugurating Durga Puja pandals in Kolkata has been Banerjee’s forte for many years now. Her pandal inauguration spree in some of the preceding years started even before the Mahalaya, clearly to accommodate ever increasing requests from puja organisers from across Kolkata, and went on till Panchami, the eve of the big puja days. Banerjee chanting the Chandi Mantra from puja platforms before a milling crowd is by now a familiar spectacle during the season.

Many believe that Banerjee’s use of puja platforms to reach out to the carnivalesque masses is also her not-so-subtle means of establishing her footing in the traditional Hindu culture and rituals which Durga Puja embodies. Constantly accused by the BJP of “minority appeasement”, Banerjee praying with folded hands before the Goddess or climbing elevated platforms to paint the third eye of the Divine Mother certainly made the most impressionable counter optics.

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic has forced the Trinamool Congress chief to stay physically away from inaugurating pandals this year and instead complete the formalities in a virtual mode from the state secretariat, Nabanna. She has earmarked 15-17 October for this purpose.

Indeed, what Banerjee seems to have lost out in terms of physical presence in pandals, she may have more than made up in the slew of sops she doled out to community puja committees this year.

Her announcement of doubling the once-a-year grant from Rs 25,000 last year to Rs 50,000 this year to 37,000 puja committees across the state was greeted with loud cheers from participants at the Netaji Indoor Stadium meeting with puja committee representatives. That was quickly followed up by announcements of complete waiver of municipal taxes and a 50 per cent waiver of electricity bills for the gladly accepting committee members.

It is a straight hit of nearly Rs 200 crore to the public exchequer in a cash-strapped state which is crying hoarse over its dues from Centre over GST share and Amphan relief. But few doubt the political efficacy of such a move in an election-bound state.

It is this space that the BJP wants to sink its teeth in. It is no surprise therefore that the state unit of the party decided to send a proposal to the PMO to have Modi make a special address to the people on Sasthi morning when most citizens of Bengal would be inclined to temporarily push the Pandemic distress in the backburner and look forward to the five days of festivities.

All ears, therefore, on what PM Modi has to say to capture popular imagination.


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