This Year, It’s Pujo With Politics In West Bengal
The state’s 25,000 Durga Puja committees have become a bone of contention between the TMC and the BJP.
Video Editor: Varun Sharma
We are nearing the most exciting time of the year in Bengal.
Yes, of course! I’m talking about Durga Pujo.
But this time, Durga Maa’s grand home-coming will have more-than-usual influence from something else Bengalis get really excited about – politics.
This year, the BJP is planning to rain on Mamata’s parade.
The ownership of the roughly 25,000 Durga Puja committees across Bengal, has become a bone of contention between the BJP and the TMC. Especially since this is going to be the BJP’s first Durga Puja since its impressive performance in Bengal in the Lok Sabha elections.
An instance that really dominated the local headlines was that of Sanghashree Durga Puja in Kolkata’s Kalighat.
Now, Kalighat also happens to be Mamata Banerjee’s para (locality).
This puja committee was embroiled in controversy in recent weeks after a section of its members declared that a BJP state unit general secretary named Sayantan Basu will be made president of the committee.
Well, because he promised to get none other than Amit Shah to inaugurate the event.
In fact, BJP sources say that Amit Shah, JP Nadda and Smriti Irani are the most sought after leaders this puja season with the party getting “hundreds” of requests daily to get these leaders to various Pujas.
For the time being, however, the TMC seems to have won this round with some members of the club now declaring that no politician from the BJP was approached to inaugurate the puja. A non-BJP person has also been appointed president.
‘Puja Jijia Tax’ Attacks Mamata
In the midst of all this Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool alleged that the BJP was sending income tax notices to different Puja committees to intimidate them. She called this the ‘Puja Jijia Tax’, invoking the medieval Jiziya tax associated with the Delhi Sultanate.
The Trinamool women’s wing even held a day-long demonstration to oppose the same. The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) quickly denied this, though, saying that:
“the department had been getting information that several contractors who were doing work for the Puja committees were not paying due taxes, therefore notices under Section 133(6) of the Income Tax Act, 1961 were issued in December 2018 to about 30 puja committees, calling for details of tax deducted at source…”
In what almost seemed like a response, Mamata Banerjee has now announced a 25,000 rupees financial aid for each puja committee in the state, up 60 percent from 10,000 rupees last year.
She further announced an additional 5,000 rupees for pujas organised by women, apart from a 25 percent rebate for electricity, and other sops. This whole exercise will cost the exchequer 70 crore rupees, and the BJP a few bruised egos.
Durga Puja Always A Political Affair In West Bengal
Durga Puja has always been a very political event in Bengal, especially since the end of the Left era.
Some of the biggest pujos are headed and funded by politicians, and the footfall in each of their pandals, the number of awards they receive and their general opulence, is often seen as reflecting the popularity of the leaders themselves.
In fact, many say that since 2011, the largesse surrounding Durga Puja increased as state investment in the event increased too. The Communists always stayed away from the Puja committees, and in the late 90s and early 2000s, a growing Trinamool swooped in.
What started as an expansion strategy for the party, soon became an event that came under the auspices of the state after the Trinamool came to power in 2011.
And now in 2019, the BJP is trying to use Didi’s trick to get the better of her.
With still some time to go for the festival to start, one can expect some more fireworks. Until then – Dugga! Dugga!
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