West Bengal celebrated the 'Khela Hobe Divas' yesterday much to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) chagrin. However, the saffron party taking up cudgels against West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for observing the day on August 16 has become so loaded with irony that it’s a wonder that the party is not overcome with embarrassment.
But then, embarrassment is not a quality that politicians display too often.
Consider the facts of the matter. The BJP, which is still smarting from a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and its firebrand leader in the state Assembly election earlier this year, alleged that Mamata’s announcement that August 16 would be celebrated as ‘Khela Hobe Divas’ is reminiscent of Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s call for “Direct Action” on August 16, 1946 — a day which sparked horrific communal riots in Kolkata (then Calcutta) and claimed thousands of lives.
Khela Hobe Was a Battle Cry
‘Khela Hobe (game on)’ is, of course, the famous battle cry with which Mamata took on the might of the BJP in the election, and emerged victorious. And she claimed that ‘Khela Hobe Divas’ is dedicated to sports lovers in the state, since on August 16, 1980, several people died in a stampede in Kolkata’s Eden Gardens after violent clashes broke out between the supporters of East Bengal and Mohun Bagan football clubs.
The conflating of ‘Khela Hobe Divas’ with the infamous Direct Action Day and the communal savagery it sparked, is bizarre, to say the least. However, it is consistent with the BJP's relentless messaging in the run-up to the Assembly election that Mamata is communal, and that she practises the politics of Muslim appeasement at the cost of the Hindu (majority) citizens of West Bengal. It is, in fact, one more attempt to associate Mamata not just with the minority community but also with violence and mayhem, which the BJP says she unleashes on her political opponents in the state.
Once Swapan Dasgupta, the BJP MP in the Rajya Sabha (who lost badly in the Assembly polls), had tweeted that the choice of the date for ‘Khela Hobe Divas’ was “interesting”, given that August 16 was the anniversary of Direct Action Day, the BJP’s state leadership erupted in cries of righteous wrath at the supposedly sinister motive behind the decision.
Ironic and Amusing
Suvendu Adhikari, Mamata’s onetime sidekick who jumped ship to the BJP before the election and is now the leader of the Opposition in West Bengal, led a delegation of Sanatan Dharma monks to Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar to urge him to intervene in the matter and persuade the state government to change the date of ‘Khela Hobe Divas.’
And he tweeted, “… any celebration on this day would only make the Bengalis relive the pain of the gory past”.
What does Mr Adhikari make of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement days later that 14 August would be observed as “Partition Horrors Remembrance Day”? Would celebrating such a day not make Indians “relive the pain of the gory past” and rekindle memories of communal hatred, of killings and rioting, of loved ones lost in the brutality of the moment?
Indeed, the Prime Minister’s open call to unpack the wounds of Partition with a “Partition Horrors Remembrance Day” makes any protest against Mamata’s choice of the date for ‘Khela Hobe Divas’ not just ironic, but downright amusing. It remains to be seen whether Adhikari and his cohorts in the West Bengal BJP will quietly drop their protest or continue on a line of argument torpedoed by their own boss, ie, the PM.
For the BJP, There are Other Reasons To Worry
Two things emerge from this seemingly minor kerfuffle over ‘Khela Hobe Divas’. First, that the BJP will never lose an opportunity to try and rake up communal issues in West Bengal. Though that strategy failed to produce results in the elections earlier this year, it’s an agenda that the party is firmly sticking to.
Second, Mamata is as adept as Modi in coining slogans, announcing celebratory days, and so on, in order to rally the masses. One does not know if ‘Direct Action Day’ was on her mind when she decided on August 16 as ‘Khela Hobe Divas’; what one does know for certain, however, is that by naming the day thus, she wants to keep alive her immensely popular, emotive and challenging battle cry, “Khela hobe”, in the mindspace of the people of West Bengal.
Modi, who understands that Indians respond to an emotive “nara” (catchphrase) no matter what debacles the country is going through, seems to have met his match in Mamata in this regard.
Didi, the charismatic mass leader, has an equal talent for engaging with and energising people with her rousing slogans.
What should really irk the BJP is that the ‘Khela Hobe Divas’ is meant to remind people that Mamata won the first round of her tussle with the ruling party, that the game is still on, and that she might triumph again — this time in the general election.
(Shuma Raha is a journalist and author. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)