Kolkata may go saffron this Durga puja, Trinamool could lose ground

Durga Puja - The Federal
With the BJP accusing Mamata Banerjee of minority appeasement, Trinamool may lose control of Durga puja organising committees in Kolkata this year. Photo - PTI

In West Bengal, Durga Puja is one event that every Bengali looks forward to. It is that time of the year when mighty idols of ‘Maa Durga’ adorn corners of every street, pandals reverberate with the sound of conches, bells and cymbals and ‘bhog’ is served to devotees queueing for darshan.

Trying to tap into this essence of ‘Bengali fervour’ is the BJP, which after an overwhelming mandate in the recent Lok Sabha elections, is eyeing to actively involve itself in the organisation of puja — mostly patronised by the ruling party Trinamool Congress — across city pandals of  Kolkata, which still remains out of its electoral reach.

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In Kolkata, a majority of clubs that organise Durga Puja are patronised by political parties. Most committees with bigger budgets are directly controlled by the ruling Trinamool Congress. Earlier, a similar trend existed when the Congress ruled the state before the Left took over. The Left government, however, chose to stay away from religious functions during its 34-year rule. Now, the BJP, banking on its growing presence in the state, will try to take control of a few puja committees, in a bid to boost its ‘pro-Bengali’ image.

For starters, almost 40 puja committees have sought the party’s support for the festival this year, as claimed by BJP state general secretary Sayantan Basu. “Around 40 committees from Kolkata itself have approached us so far. They want security from shelling out extortion and ‘cut money’ to politicians. In a way, this shows that people want us to stand beside them,” Basu said.

For years, it has been a ritual for puja committees to invite prominent politicians to the pandals. While such appearances ensure a good crowd at pandals, it provides the much-needed political mileage to the invited guest, strengthening the goodwill for his/her party among people. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been a regular attendee to such events in the past years.

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While rumuors had it that the BJP would ape the people-pleasing ploy of Trinamool Congress by inviting guests like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah to pandals handled by the party, Basu refuted such plans.

Just ahead of Durga Puja last year, the Trinamool Congress announced that it would distribute ₹10,000 and waive the licence fee of 28,000 puja committees across the state. Of these, around 3,000 committees in the city received the government grant and the move cost the exchequer about ₹28 crore. That the attempt to buy the loyalty of these communities failed for the Trinamool Congress was evident from the party’s poor performance in the Lok Sabha elections.

What may have riled people the most was when Mamata Banerjee restricted the immersion procession of Durga idols, as the festival coincided with Muharram last year. The row may not have been seen as having impacted the polls, but with the BJP accusing Mamata of minority appeasement, Trinamool may lose control of puja organising committees in the capital this year.