Thousands of spectators who attended the opening ceremony of the 28th edition of the Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF) on 15th December were left in awe. A song-dance performance was going on on the stage, which was conceived by the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee. Just then, a picture of Lord Ganesha flashed on the big screen in the background, accompanied by the recitation of the sloka—Vakratunda Mahakaya Suryakoti Samprabha—in Amitabh Bachchan’s well-known soulful voice.
For many who had attended KIFF’s opening ceremonies before, the chanting of a Hindu deity was a first for them. This seemed somewhat odd at an event where retrospectives of films by world-renowned film personalities such as Pier Paolo Pasolini and Mikhail Kakorianis were to be shown. But then it was another sign of the change in political message that the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) has been pushing for more and more aggressively in the state.
TMC has been continuously facing the charge of ‘Muslim appeasement’ by the main opposition party BJP. Then there was the defeat of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the fear of corruption and corruption. Two of its veteran leaders, Partha Chatterjee and Anubrata Mandal, are behind bars on charges of alleged complicity in the scams. TMC had to resort to its own brand of Hindutva to respond to the negative public perception.
From Mamata’s chanting of the Chandi Shloka and her “hardcore Brahmin” background to her decisions to build replicas of Jagannath and Vaishno Devi temples in Bengal and organize Ganga Aarti in Varanasi on the banks of the Hooghly, the Trinamool has been determined to woo Hindus. She is leaving no stone unturned in her desperate efforts. The nearest target is the Panchayat elections to be held soon, but the 2024 Lok Sabha elections have also come to the fore.
The party has reached the present level in a sloppy manner. After storming to power in 2011, the TMC tapped the state’s Muslims, who make up 27 per cent of West Bengal’s population, according to the 2011 census, as a reliable vote bank. In 2012, Mamta’s announcement of monthly allowance for Imams and Muezzins was strongly opposed by BJP, then it was rejected outright.
Throughout the decade, when the BJP was gaining ground in Bengal on the back of its forceful Hindutva, taking out grand Ram Navami processions for instance, the TMC invoked the great liberal, secular and reformist tradition of Bengal to counter it. Thought it best to hug. By criticizing the BJP’s brand of politics, he invited allegations of being ‘anti-Hindu’ and ‘appeasement of minorities’. The 2019 parliamentary election results set off alarm bells when the BJP won 18 out of 42 seats in West Bengal and became the principal opposition party in the state.
The post-election survey of CSDS Lokniti revealed that TMC got only 32 percent of the Hindu votes, while 57 percent went to the BJP’s account. Alleged corruption by TMC leaders and allegations of all-out violence during the 2018 panchayat elections certainly contributed, but it was clear that the BJP’s ploy of religious polarization had worked. Since then the effort to improve the middle path started. In 2019, he promised to give monthly allowance to Hindu priests and completed it before the 2021 assembly elections. In the same year, for the first time, an appeal was also made to the Muslims not to slaughter cows openly taking care of “the sentiments of others”.
This change also appeared to be effective. In the 2021 assembly elections, TMC’s Hindu votes increased by seven percentage points and BJP’s Hindu votes decreased by the same amount. Now when BJP leader of opposition Suvendu Adhikari is leaving no opportunity to taunt Mamata for alleged minority appeasement Yes, TMC is deliberately exaggerating its Hindu credentials. And look how they’re sticking to this new policy!
At the India Today Conclave East in July 2022, when TMC MP Mahua Moitra made a cursory comment about her personal belief in Maa Kali being a “non-vegetarian and alcoholic goddess”, the BJP reportedly attacked her. Wrecked a firestorm. But TMC did not take any time to disassociate itself from Moitra’s views. In a statement, he said, “The party does not approve of Mahua Moitra’s words in any way.”
As the 2024 general elections are drawing closer, the BJP has upped the ante. His supporters are raising slogans of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ at every opportunity to tease the Chief Minister. This is what he did at the time of inauguration of Vande Bharat Express on 30 December. Apart from this, BJP state president Sukant Majumdar and officials are organizing protest rallies.
The BJP also plans to take out chariots across the state. The TMC, though trying its best to distance itself from the saffron party’s alleged aggressive Hindutva, still falls in the fray. Intentions are also demonstrated with statements and symbolic gestures. It is headed by the Chief Minister himself. Right now temples and rituals are at the forefront.
grand race of temples
The government of West Bengal started building new temples and promoting religious tourism from 2020 as a new territory. That year, it allocated Rs 65 crore to build the Rani Rashmoni skywalk connecting the Dakshineswar railway station to the famous Kali temple complex. Similarly, announced the renovation of Tarapeeth Kali Temple in Birbhum and Tadkeshwar Shiva Temple and Hansveshwari Temple in Hooghly. In 2022, Mamta kept Rs 300 crore in the budget for the renovation of Kalighat temple in Kolkata.
In 2019-20, Mamta decided to build a Jagannath temple on 10 acres of land in Digha, situated on the beach, and set aside Rs 500 crore for it in the budget of 2022-23. This decision was taken soon after the emergence of the BJP as the main opposition party, but there is another interesting story behind it.
During a visit to the Jagannath temple in Puri in 2017, Mamata was confronted by angry priests, who accused her of supporting the consumption of beef. It is said that angry Mamta tied the knot of building her own Jagannath temple in Bengal. The land in Digha was arranged by the Digha-Shankarpur Development Authority (DSDA), the nodal agency for infrastructure development. Economic revival has been planned around the temple and shops and stalls are being sold for lakhs of rupees.
Another replica of Vaishno Devi temple is being made, the construction of which has been completed. It is built on one acre of land in Behala, Kolkata. In this entire area, there are now eight temples of those deities who have well-known dedicated temples in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, be it Jean Mata, or Rani Sati, Devi Sitala, Bhairon Nath, Khatu Shyam ji or Radha-Krishna. TMC’s Council-Mayor Tarak Singh is raising funds by bringing in donors. Singh, who hails from Uttar Pradesh, has also been entrusted with the responsibility of recreating the famous Ganga Aarti of Varanasi at several ghats of the Hooghly river. Mamta had gone to Dashashwamedh Ghat in Varanasi in March 2022 and the experience there aroused in her the desire to perform the same aarti.
This year also TMC government is building five new temples at Gangasagar pilgrimage site, Sagar Island, Bay of Bengal. Demarcating an area of 4,000 square feet for the construction of temples, it has been named ‘Temples of Bengal: A Spiritual Journey’. This area would be similar to Kalighat, Tarapith, Jahura Kali of Malda, Dakshineswar and Tadkeshwar. The TMC and the district administration have kept their mouth shut about the cost, but more than one crore is easily being spent.
The government has also got rooms constructed for the priests of Kapil Muni temple by spending 65 lakh rupees. Mamta justifies all the expenditure by saying, “The Center doesn’t give us anything, not even 10 paise for toffee.” She also says that in contrast, the Kumbh Mela is overburdened with central funds. This year, at the Gangasagar fair, he tried hard to show the difference between his Hindu spread and that of the BJP. He said, “We believe in the Hindu religion whose path was shown by Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Swami Vivekananda.”
Dilip Ghosh, BJP MP and the party’s national vice-president, says, “It is not the job of political parties to build temples. People are getting the construction of Ram Mandir done in which the Prime Minister was the invited guest. Hindu society is angry with Trinamool, so they are copying us. CPI(M) state secretary Mohammad Salim says, “The Trinamool and the BJP complement each other…
Instead of looking after governance or people’s basic needs—employment, education, connectivity—the government is engaged in activities that are the responsibility of religious trusts.” Salim also says, “On one hand the government is performing the Ganga Aarti, While Adi Ganga (once the main stream of Hooghly) is rotting behind Mamta Banerjee’s house. This is not piety, it is hypocrisy.
State Tourism and IT Minister Babul Supriyo points out the difference between the ideologies of the TMC and the BJP, saying, “There is a very general difference. BJP is a right-wing party which claims that it is only interested in 70 to 80 percent of the majority voters, thus excluding a very important part from its plans. The government of Bengal believes in inclusion.” So far, inclusion in governance and government-sponsored projects has been Mamata’s declared intention. By emphasizing on Hindutva, however, the Chief Minister is now stepping into uncharted territory. It remains to be seen whether their intended beneficiaries will fall for this government righteousness.
TMC in its defense says that unlike BJP’s aggressive Hindutva, their Hindutva is inclusive
Kapil Muni Temple in Gangasagar, West Bengal
expensive for tmc
To rebuild the Kalighat Temple in Kolkata
Jagannath Temple in Digha
Development and beautification of Shaktipeeths in Bengal
Kangla in Baghmar Kangla Manjhi Sarkar Manjhi Sarkar in Baghmar
Rs 1 crore more than
Five new temples Kalighat, Tarapith, Johura Kali, Dakshineswar and Tadkeshwar temple in Gangasagar.