In an interesting political twist, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) finds itself on the receiving end of the puja politics in Bengal while the Trinamool Congress emerges as the champion of the Bengali Hindu cause.
Adding to the BJP’s discomfort, its Hindutva poster boy Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is being hauled in the dock over the controversy, scurrying the BJP state leaders to damage control.
Close on the heels of the West Bengal government giving go-ahead to celebration of Durga Puja in the state, ostensibly to deny the BJP an opportunity to indulge in politics over puja, the UP government on September 29 barred Duga Puja celebration, but gave nod to Ramlila festivities.
The UP government’s decision gave a handle to the TMC and other Bengali organisations to target the BJP accusing it of hurting the “Bengali sentiment.”
The TMC asked the state BJP leadership to spell out its stand on the UP’s government’s decision.
“The Bengal BJP unit should come clean on the issue,” said TMC MP and spokesperson Saugata Roy, adding, “Durga Puja being the biggest festival of Bengalis, it should be allowed with all safety precautions.”
He also did not forget to remind the BJP that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee not only allowed the celebration but also provided financial aid to puja committees.
The West Bengal government announced financial assistance of ₹50,000 each to 37,000 puja committees. Last year, the committees received ₹25,000 each. In addition to that, Banerjee said, this year fire brigade and civic bodies will not levy any charges from the committees and power will be supplied to the marquees at 50 per cent discount.
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“The Constitution of India guarantees every citizen to celebrate his/her own culture, tradition, and religious sentiment. We demand that the public celebration of Durga Puja be allowed adhering to all COVID-19 safety protocols,” said Bangla Pokkho, an organisation accused of promoting Bengali sub-nationalism in the state.
Another such organisation, Jatiya Bangla Sammelan, taking a dig at the BJP, wanted to know whether the Durga Puja ban in UP was part of the programme to build a Hindu Rashtra.
Faced with criticism, senior BJP leader Swapan Dasguta urged the UP government to reconsider its decision, terming the order “unfair and absurd.”
UP Govt’s order that Durga Puja should be done at home is unfair & even absurd. Like the allowances for Ram Lila, Durga Puja should be permitted with harsh but sensible restrictions. Otherwise it is discriminatory. Bengali Hindus in UP appeal to @myogiadityanath to review order
— Swapan Dasgupta (@swapan55) September 29, 2020
“UP Govt’s order that Durga Puja should be done at home is unfair & even absurd. Like the allowances for Ram Lila, Durga Puja should be permitted with harsh but sensible restrictions. Otherwise, it is discriminatory. Bengali Hindus in UP appeal to @myogiadityanath to revieworder (sic),” he had tweeted.
Realising that not giving nod to Durga Puja in Bengal could turn into a major political issue ahead of the next year’s assembly elections, the state government gave a go-ahead to the celebration with certain restrictions.
Many health workers are apprehensive that any reckless celebrations could sharply spike the COVID-19 cases, which is not showing any sign of major decline. The positivity rate in the state continues to be as high as 7.96 per cent.
The Covid Care Network, an organisation of health officials, doctors and those who have recovered from the coronavirus disease, also sent out words of cautions ahead of the celebration.
The network, at a press conference organised on Wednesday, appealed to the people not to go for pandal hopping and avoid crowding.