NEARLY 128 years after his death, Bengali cultural icon Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar has become the focal point of Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal after his bust was targetted during clashes between TMC and BJP workers during a roadshow by BJP president Amit Shah in Kolkata on Tuesday.
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On Wednesday, a day after the bust inside Vidyasagar College was vandalised, the TMC held more than 10 rallies in the state with pictures and T-shirts bearing images of Vidyasagar, the Left Front staged a rally in Kolkata, and BJP leaders sat on a dharna and accused the Trinamool of “orchestrating the attack” on Shah’s roadshow to malign their party’s image.
With the last phase of voting scheduled on Sunday, the political firestorm over Vidyasagar also shifted the election discourse from the narrative of BJP’s Hindutva versus TMC’s secularism. On Wednesday, TMC chief and West Bengal Chief Minister publicly paid tributes to Vidyasagar during a public meeting at Agarpara and claimed that “Bengal is under attack” from outsiders brought in by the BJP.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who addressed two public meetings in Bashirhat and Diamond Harbour, did not refer to Vidyasagar in his speeches but alleged that the TMC had attacked Shah’s rally.
Banerjee led a protest rally in North Kolkata to condemn the violence. “It was a planned criminal and communal conspiracy, and Bengal is under attack. They were outsiders. Had they been anyone from Bengal, wouldn’t they have identified the bust of Vidyasagar? They were hired goons of the BJP who carried out the attack and beat up college students. They should be ashamed,” she said.
Banerjee also led a padayatra (march), which included members of the civil society, from Gandhi Bhawan to Shyambazar, with hundreds of TMC workers holding images of Vidyasagar and banners that read “Shame BJP”. The padayatra began with Banerjee paying tribute to Mahatma Gandhi’s statue and ended with her placing flowers before the statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
Midway, she stopped at Swami Vivekananda’s ancestral house to pay tribute. Taking the fight to social media, Banerjee changed her profile picture to an image of Vidyasagar, which was followed by many Trinamool leaders on WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook. The TMC also staged rallies in Hooghly, Howrah, Bankura and West Burdwan districts.
The party’s secretary general Partha Chatterjee accused Amit Shah of trying to “save his face” by putting the blame on the TMC for Tuesday’s incident. “But the people of the entire country saw who broke the bust of Vidyasagar. The video footage is enough to unmask them. The state education department will restore the bust,” Chatterjee said.
The Left Front, too, took out a rally from Vidyasagar Udyan at College Square to Hedua Park in North Kolkata and held both the TMC and the BJP responsible for the incident, which CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury described as a “scar in the history of Bengal”.
Yechury said: “Vidyasagar was an important part of Bengal’s renaissance. His social contributions changed the course of national movement and ensured that India became free. It is a very dismal show by both political parties…both of them are acting completely against that.”
State BJP leaders sat on a dharna in front of Gandhi Statue on Mayo Road in Kolkata to protest “TMC attack” on Shah’s roadshow.
At the state BJP headquarters, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath hit out at Banerjee for claiming that the BJP brought outsiders into West Bengal to create trouble. “The Bengal BJP has enough workers. We don’t need outsiders to come here and take part in roadshows. The TMC is nervous and puzzled by the BJP’s imminent victory, which is why its leaders are making such irresponsible comments,” he said.
One of Bengal’s towering cultural icons, and among the greatest personalities of the Bengal Renaissance, Vidyasagar was a polymath who reconstructed the modern Bengali alphabet and initiated pathbreaking reform in traditional upper caste Hindu society.
The focus of his social reform was to ensure an end to the practice of child marriage and initiate widow remarriage. Vidyasagar’s Bengali primer, Borno Porichoy, remains the introduction to the alphabet for nearly all Bengali children.