While the Trinamool Congress government pulled out all the stops for this year’s Durga Puja, with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee leading from the front, the West Bengal BJP has announced that the Puja organised by it at EZCC in Salt Lake, Kolkata, will be the party’s last.
The only official Durga Puja organised by the party – there are smaller ones where its leaders might be involved – is proving to be “too costly” to continue, BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar has said.
However, this is an unusual move by the BJP, which swears by both its religiosity and its intentions to grow in Bengal, irrespective of the pushback from the TMC, and cannot in all seriousness claim a cash crunch. Durga Puja as Bengal’s biggest cultural event is ripe ground for votes, as the TMC has proved.
Majumdar made the announcement regarding the BJP withdrawing from Durga Puja while inaugurating the EZCC festivities on Saturday morning. “The BJP will not organise a Puja from next year. Every year, we spend Rs 15-16 lakh on it, and it is difficult to collect this huge cost,” he said.
The BJP had organised the EZCC Durga Puja for the first time in 2020, a year before the Assembly elections, when it hoped to make a serious dent in the TMC’s majority. At the time, there was huge enthusiasm among party leaders and workers. However, the TMC’s sweep in the 2021 polls had been followed by a marked decline in enthusiasm, speeded along by the defection of many BJP leaders back to the TMC. The Covid curbs also ensured that the Puja festivities in 2020 and 2021 remained low-key.
This year, the bitter iner-faction fights meant that BJP workers were not sure till a month ago whether the party will organise the EZCC Puja or not.
Some senior leaders argued that as per tradition, if anyone hosts a Durga Puja once, they must continue it for at least three successive years. Then they can stop, and hence the BJP can too now.
When the call was finally taken to go ahead with the Puja, the BJP roped in a woman and non-Brahmin priest, Sulata Mondol, to lead the prayers amidst much fanfare, and grandeur. The BJP noted that the resident of Batakuri village in South Dinajpur had been proficient in Shastra knowledge when just 18, and was skilled in Chandi Path.
However, this change of heart when it comes to the Puja was temporary, it seems. A BJP leader said, “We feel our duty is not to organise Durga Puja. A political party should organise movements against the government or on pro-people issues.”
Organising the Puja was the idea of Kailash Vijayvargiya, the BJP general secretary and former in-charge of West Bengal, the leader added. “It was nothing but a gimmick and madness on his part. The 2021 Assembly election results showed that such measures did not help us much. So, it is better to stop.”
Some leaders also said the choice of the venue was wrong from the start. A senior leader said, “The area (EZCC stands for Eastern Zone Cultural Centre, of the Union Ministry of Culture) is owned by the Central government. We should not do Puja in a government area. It is unethical and TMC leaders have targeted us over it.”
BJP sources also point that the central leadership seems to be on board with the idea to not continue with the Puja organisation. They said that Majumdar had initially invited Union Home Minister Amit Shah for the inauguration, but that didn’t happen. Even the reliable fallback option of yesteryear Bollywood star-turned-BJP politician Mithun Chakraborty fell through.
The first edition of the EZCC Puja in 2020, on the contrary, was virtually inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The TMC did not lose any time attacking the BJP over its decision to distance itself from Durga Puja organisation. TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh said, “This shows that the BJP tried to use Durga Puja for political gains ahead of the Assembly elections. But, that did not work. Now, when they have realised that it will not work, they have decided to stop. The outsider BJP basically cannot understand the psyche of Bengalis.”