Kolkata: The BJP-TMC turf war in Bengal has intensified this festive season, with the two parties leaving no stone unturned to outsmart each other in controlling the city’s big-ticket Durga pujas and reach out to as many people as possible during the five-day gala.
The saffron party has decided to set up more than 10,000 stalls outside puja pandals to display books on its ideologies and educate masses on the contentious issues of National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.
Buoyed by its stupendous performance in the Lok Sabha polls, it is now at the forefront in challenging the decade- long hegemony of the Trinamool Congress in Bengal’s annual extravaganza often compared to the Rio De Janerio carnival.
The five-day fest in Bengal is no longer just about art, culture and celebrations, as parties race to stake claim over puja committees – considered a key factor in ensuring victory in local body elections.
In the last decade, several top ministers and leaders of the ruling TMC have been seen patronising the major puja pandals across the state.
The BJP now is taking the same route to push its own agenda, albeit with moderate success.
According to sources, the party had targeted 14,000 out of 28,000 puja committees in the state, but managed to get hold of only 6000, mostly in semi-urban areas.
The Bharatiya Janata Party leaders have faced stiff resistance from the TMC, which continues to have an iron fist control over these puja committees.
“The TMC doesn’t allow leaders of any other political parties to be part of the puja committees. The reason is both political and financial. But still we have managed to take part in several pujas as locals are keen on having BJP leaders in the committees,” state BJP leader Pratap Banerjee told PTI.
Asked the reason that makes the Durga Puja committees so lucrative, TMC leaders, who did not wish to be named, said, the party, since coming to power in 2011, has been taking control of various unions, school panels, clubs, village committees, by filling the organisations with their own men.
“Although the Left Front never actively participated in Durga Puja, its leaders had firm control over the committees. They functioned like local-level extensions of the party, which ensured connect with the masses.
“In order to increase our mass base, our first target was to get hold of all these committees. In this endeavour, doles by the state government to Durga Puja committees came handy,” said a senior TMC leader.
The TMC government, which had initially doled out Rs 10,000 to each of the 28,000 committees in the state, has increased the amount to Rs 25,000 this year.
Local clubs also receive an annual sponsorship of Rs 2 lakh from the Mamata Banerjee government.
Presently, the TMC controls nearly 80 per cent of the puja committees.
“In order to ensure they get the doles, most of the clubs have a local influential TMC leader in their committees.
If you don’t have a TMC leader, you won’t get Rs 2 lakh, the message is clear,” a member of a local club in North 24 Parganas district said.
But the Lok Sabha polls results earlier this year have changed several equations.
According to state BJP sources, the saffron camp with its deep pockets and growing public support has been partially successful in denting TMC’s influence on these committees.
Claiming that around 1,000 puja committees in Kolkata and other parts of the state are keen on having senior BJP leaders inaugurate their pujas, the party’s state president, Dilip Ghosh, asserted that the “TMC’s grip over the festival is fast loosening and the day is not far when the BJP will be in full control…”.
Union home minister and the BJP national president Amit Shah, who was here on Tuesday to address a seminar on NRC, also inaugurated a puja pandal in Salt Lake, on the eastern fringes of the city.
Apart from Ghosh, Union ministers Babul Supriyo and Debasree Chaudhuri, and other senior leaders such as Rahul Sinha and Mukul Roy have been invited for pandal inauguration across Bengal.
The TMC leadership, however, asserted that the BJP, being a “north Indian” party, hardly understands the culture of Bengalis and the emotions involved with Durga Puja.
“The BJP was trying to use money power to make some inroads, but it failed to do so,” TMC secretary general Partha Chatterjee said.
With not less than 10,000 invitations from Durga Puja organisers, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is far ahead of any other politician when it comes to popularity among the masses, Chatterjee said.
According to TMC sources, Banerjee is likely to inaugurate around 100 pujas.
Senior BJP leaders said the party, in its bid to counter the ruling dispensation in the state, will distribute five lakh pamphlets on the achievements of the Modi government, including Article 370 abrogation in Jammu and Kashmir and triple talaq ban.
“We will also have book stalls outside puja pandals, with locals leaders and workers manning it. We would propagate our ideology and educate the masses on NRC and Citizenship (Amendment) Bill,” state BJP general secretary Sayantan Basu stated.
The party would set up tea stalls outside some of the major puja pandals and distribute the beverage for free as part of its public connect programme – ‘Chai pe Charcha’, Basu added. (PTI)