How Many Bengali Luminaries Does It Take To Win An Election?

All things and people that are culturally significant in Bengal are waiting to be branded TMC or BJP.

4 min read
How Many Bengali Luminaries Does It Take To Win An Election?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s grey, long-bearded look stands for different things for different people across the country. In Bengal, it is now an undeniable fact that the “new look” has little to do with COVID and everything to do with the West Bengal elections.

While there are right-wing graphics about how “two greats look alike”, there are also memes mocking the same. In the midst of it is the outsider vs insider sub-campaign for the elections which, has drawn in Tagore, Amartya Sen, Vivekananda and many Bengali luminaries.

This week, the political menu in Bengal, with a side dish of press-con-announced-divorces, and Suvendu Adhikari was dominated by Modi’s address at Visva Bharati University on 24 December, close on the heels of Amit Shah’s visit to the same. Both Modi and Shah’s addresses at the University had a theme. There was no name-calling of at Visva Bharati. At least on the face of it.

Both Shah and Modi left that for later, at a press conference and an address to farmers respectively.

At the University, founded by Tagore in 1921, however, he seemed to be the guiding light for everything that the BJP has been doing in recent years.

Tagore and Gujarat: An Untold Story

Both Modi and Shah in their speeches talked about Tagore’s connection to Gujarat. The Prime Minister talked about how “Gurudev” wrote three of his most popular poems while he was in Gujarat. And how a “bahu” of the Tagore household, Jnanadanandini Devi was a woman reformer inspired by Gujarati women. All in a speech peppered with well-rehearsed Tagore quotes.

Shah went on to do the same after remarking that he’s “criticized a lot for being a man from Gujarat in Bengal”.

In retaliation to both Shah and Modi’s speeches, the TMC found some way in which they’ve “insulted” Tagore.

“Jnanadanandini Devi was also inspired by Farsi women, but the PM will not bring the word Farsi to his tongue”, said TMC Minister Bratya Basu.

Through Modi’s speech, we also learnt that Tagore had envisaged an Atmanirbhar Bharat, the Poush Mela is “vocal for local”, and that Visva Bharati was the inspiration for the New Education Policy.

The BJP, after the PM's address, said that CM Mamata Banerjee was the one, who had in fact, insulted Tagore by "skipping" the Visva Bharati event.

In response, Mamata said that she was not invited to the centenary celebrations at Visva Bharati University where Modi made his virtual address. The University was quick to then present a letter saying that the invitation was sent 20 days prior. The letter was then circulated by the BJP.

To bring more steam to the game, the Trinamool brought another Bengali luminary into the rink, to counter Modi’s on-point Bengali. The luminary in question, a Modi critic, Amartya Sen.

Amartya Sen, Sri Aurobindo, Netaji…Who Next?

Responding to Modi’s speech Mamata Banerjee alleged that the BJP was raising questions on the legality of Amartya Sen’s ancestral home in Shantiniketan.

The day after Banerjee wrote a letter to Sen.

“Dear Amartya Da, I write this letter to express my surprise and anguish over some recent developments alluding to your ancestral links in Shantiniketan”, began the letter.

Banerjee went on to say that some “nouveau invaders” in Visva Bharati have started raising baseless allegations about his familial properties and that they shall “overcome”.

The BJP is yet to offer any response to this allegation by Mamata. Neither is it clear what the specific allegations against Sen’s ancestral house are.

It works to the Trinamool’s advantage that the “intellectuals” or the “buddhijibi” as they are called in Bengal, are more aligned to them than to their nemesis.

The BJP, on the other hand, is trying to appropriate the cultural and religious leaders of the state.

Earlier in December, Prime Minister Modi invoked Sri Aurobindo at his Mann Ki Baat speech to talk about Atmanirbhar Bharat.

Earlier there was a controversy when Amit Shah on his visit to Bankura misidentified a statue as that of tribal leader Birsa Munda.

The Trinamool, on the other hand, has written to the Centre to declare Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s birthday, 23 January, a national holiday.

The party had also launched an attack on Modi when at the Namoste Trump event, the US President had mispronounced Swami Vivekananda’s name.

Meanwhile, Baul singer, Basudeb Das, who hosted Amit Shah for lunch while he was in Bolpur on 20 December has now claimed that the Home Minister “did not give him any time”.

"I had a few things to tell to Amit Shah Ji, who is such a big person. I wanted to tell him about the condition of baul artistes and whether something could be done”, said Das.

This statement, however comes after TMC Birbhum District President and a local honcho, Anubrata Mandal offered financial assistance to the folk singer.

This statement, was of course, also made from the TMC office. Das is now expected to be at Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s counter rally in the district on 29 December.

With six months to go, all things culturally significant in Bengal, including people (living and dead) are set to be branded either TMC or BJP. How many luminaries will it take, though, to win the election?

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