When it comes to inaugurating Durga puja pandals, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has left her political opponents far behind by managing to visit over a dozen each day since Mahalaya. The Opposition called the inaugartion spree a “gimmick” to appease the Hindus in the state.
The chief minister’s Kalighat residence has received over 10,000 invitations from community pujas in different parts of the state, including the far-flung northern districts and tribal-dominated Jangalmahal, sources said. On Mahalaya day, Mamata, who had returned from north Bengal, headed straight to the Sreebhumi Sporting Club in Kolkata — helmed by TMC MLA Sujit Bose. Since, then she has been to several pandals in both north and south Kolkata.
“I wish, I could visit all of them, but that’s not possible,” she said at Ekdalia Evergreen Durga Puja, another community Durga puja in the state capital. On Wednesday she inaugurated another one through video-conferencing. At Sreebhumi, Suruchi Sangha, Ekdalia Evergreen, Baghbazar Sarbojanin, Tridhara, Chetla Agrani and others, the chief minister not only inaugurated pujas, but also interacted with the public, sang hymns, gave impromptu speeches, drew sketches and also offered some advise to the organisers.
“She is often absorbed in the puja and is very attentive to detail. She will tell you if there is something wrong with your pandal or if there is something missing,” said state Minister Firhad Hakim, who heads the Chetla Agrani Durga Puja committee.
On Wednesday, at the Falguni Sangh Puja pandal, when the crowd requested her to draw something, Mamata immediately picked up pencil and paper. “She has always advocated communal harmony at the time of festivals…Since 2015, she has been penning the theme song of our Durga puja. This year, she not only wrote the song, but also composed it,” said state Minister Aroop Biswas, who is president of the Suruchi Sangha puja.
The chief minister also highlighted her government’s work at some of the pandals. In one which had handlooms as its theme, she was heard saying that her government has given out over one lakh handloom machines to artisans.
At a South Kolkata puja on Thursday, she was seen asking organisers to make the entry and exit routes broader so mishaps could be avoided.
Opposition parties claimed this was the TMC chief’s way of trying to reach out to the people before the crucial Lok Sabha polls next year. “People of Bengal have a clear understanding of her brand of politics. These are gimmicks aimed at appeasing the Hindu community after doing the same with Muslims during other festivals,” said BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha.
“She had appeased Muslims earlier and now she is trying to reach out to Hindus. This is the reason she announced Rs 10,000 grant for each of the 28,000 Durga puja committees across the state,” said CPM leader Samik Lahiri.