West Bengal: Can massive Bhagavad Gita event help BJP push Hindutva?
West Bengal BJP leaders hope the prime minister's image joining chorus to recite Gita with lakhs of people would resonate with Hindu masses
“Hindutva never loses. It wins or learns,” wrote senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh functionary Ram Madhav after the BJP lost the Karnataka elections in May this year.
The lesson for it in the party’s series of electoral debacles in Bengal is that strident Hindutva typified by the aggressive Jai Shri Ram slogan is not making much impact here. Thus, the need for an alternative has allegedly made the BJP to join hands with a group of Hindu organisations to consider making the Bhagvad Gita a new fulcrum of the Hindutva project in the state.
A mega event called ‘Lokkho Kanthe Gita Path’ (chanting of Gita by lakhs of people in unison) is planned for December 24, the Christmas eve, at Kolkata’s iconic Brigade Parade Ground to “resonate the virtues of Sanatana Dharma”, to quote the BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar. The mass programme is being officially organised by the Akhil Bharatiya Sanskrit Parishad, Sanatan Sanskrit Parishad, and Motilal Bharat Tirtha Seba Mission Ashram. But it has the backing of the BJP.
Majumdar accompanied the organisers when they called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week to invite him to attend the event. “The prime minister instantly agreed to grace the occasion,” Majumdar told the media on his return to Kolkata.
The organisers claimed that 1.5 lakh people have already registered for the event in which they expect a gathering of four to five lakh people. The organising committee and Majumdar insisted that the event is apolitical.
“Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and all other members of the Bengal legislative assembly will be invited,” Majumdar claimed. “I accompanied the organisers because they sought my help to meet the PM as they did not know anyone in the PMO.”
The BJP has nothing to do with the event, reiterated Manas Bhattacharya of the organising committee. The committee claimed that many non-Hindus are likely to attend the programme to be presided over by Dwarka peeth Shankaracharya Swami Sadanand Saraswati. Many monks and holy men from across the country are expected to attend the first-of-its kind Gita recitation.
The programme will start with blowing of conch and rendition of Kazi Nazrul Islam’s famous Bengali composition, Hey Partha Sarathi, bajao bajao Panchajanya shanka (O charioteer of Arjuna, blow, blow your conch Panchajanya).
The organiser claimed to have selected Nazrul’s song for the event to depict the state’s inclusive culture. The timing of the event just ahead of inauguration of Ram temple in Ayodhya and parliamentary elections and the state-wide mobilisation being done for the event raise doubt about it being apolitical.
Already, about 500 preparatory meetings have been organised in various parts of the state. Rehearsals are also being conducted in various schools and ashrams across the state.
Trinamool Congress leader Jaiprakash Majumdar wondered whether it would remain a mere religious event and also questioned the timing of the programme coinciding with the Christmas eve.
Jadavpur University professor and political commentator Manojit Mandal said had the intention of the organisers been apolitical, then they would not have tried to showboat a “solemn ritual like Gita chanting and that too on the eve of Christmas”.
“Since the BJP’s version of Lord Ram did not find many takers in Bengal, it is desperately trying to appropriate another symbol of Hinduism to whip up religious sentiment in the state. Even this will not work,” Mandal said.
BJP leaders, however, exude confidence in private about the political benefit of the event for the party. The image of the prime minister joining the chorus to recite Gita with lakhs of people would resonate with Hindu masses, they hoped.
Moreover, they feel that the “Hindu awakening” through any such mass mobilisation would benefit the party in the long run by helping shift the socio-political topography of the state towards the right.