Distancing from Hindu Mahasabha's Durga Puja and discontinuing its own Puja: Why is BJP shifting its hardline Hindutva in Bengal

Sayantan Ghosh
10 Oct 2022
Distancing from Hindu Mahasabha's Durga Puja and discontinuing its own Puja: Why is BJP shifting its hardline Hindutva in Bengal

Kolkata: The Bharatiya Janata Party started its own Durga Puja in 2020, and the Prime Minister himself officiated at the grand celebration's opening. However, the BJP has stated that this Durga Puja will no longer be held.

Meanwhile, the saffron party strongly condemned the Hindu Mahasabha's attempt to make Asura a look-alike of Mahatma Gandhi at their Durga Puja. These are examples of the new political line of the Bengal BJP before the upcoming rural poll followed by the Lok Sabha elections.

According to the senior members of the BJP, the party is distancing itself from the hardline Hindutva as it has not helped them electorally during the 2021 assembly elections.

According to senior Bengal BJP leaders, a discussion on the Hindutva line was also covered recently during meetings between the Bengal unit office bearers and central leadership.

"Central observer Mangal Pandey and also Sunil Bansal have categorically told us that to win a state it is important to understand the culture of the people," a senior leader of the Bengal BJP unit said to the Newsdrum on the condition of anonymity.

He added that the observations of the leadership show that the aggressive Hindutva push during the Bengal assembly election campaign in 2021 was unsuccessful.

BJP and Hindutva fringes

Looking at the political history of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Bengal it is important to observe that neither the BJP nor the RSS had a mentionable past in the state. However, after the 2014 election victory and Narendra Modi becoming the Prime Minister the BJP and RSS moved their focus towards Bengal.

During the early days of expansion, the RSS very much favoured several fringe Hindutva organisations of the state such as Hindu Jagran Manch, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and others. To understand how the BJP earlier embraced non-BJP Hindutva outfits let's have a look at the background of Dilip Ghosh, former Bengal BJP president and now a national vice president.

Noted author and journalist Snigdhendu Bhattacharya, in his book Mission Bengal: A Saffron Experiment, wrote, "The man behind the microphone speaking Bengali with a slightly Hindi accent was Dilip Ghosh, a name completely unfamiliar in Bengal politics. His name was not very familiar among West Bengal‘s Sangh Parivar either. He was introduced as the organising secretary of Hindu Jagran Manch, an organisation hardly heard of before in the state."

This is the time before Dilip Ghosh was loaned to the Bharatiya Janata Party. Bhattacharya wrote, "The buzz got louder after November 2014, when the RSS deputed its Pracharak, Dilip Ghosh, who had been serving as the organising secretary of Hindu Jagran Manch, to the West Bengal BJP. He was designated as one of the general secretaries of the Bharatiya Janata Party state unit.”

Distancing from Hindutva fringes

The West Bengal Hindu Maha Sabha held its own Durga Puja this year for the first time. Mahatma Gandhi's likeness served as the Mahishasura at this celebration. The Hindu Mahasabha leaders repeatedly attacked Gandhi from the Puja venue. The Hindu Maha Sabha decided to give the Mahishasura hair to change his appearance following the controversy over the Gandhi lookalike. The Bharatiya Janata party swiftly denounced this behaviour.

"I condemn this incident and there is no question that Gandhiji was a great son of India. Gandhiji being portrayed in this way is wholly incorrect, and those responsible should face severe punishment from the police." Bengal BJP President Sukanta Majumdar said.

In a similar vein, the RSS has cut ties with the Hindu Mahasabha. The Hindu Mahasabha is quite different from what it used to be, according to a senior BJP leader. A senior BJP leader who did not want to be identified said, " The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, whose current initiatives include Muslims and Dalits, is the source of the BJP's ideology. The party has frequently made clear where it stands on MK Gandhi and that we are not affiliated with groups like the Hindu Maha Sabha."

The Bengali BJP leaders claim that the party currently has a strong grassroots following. Supporting any fringe Hindutva group at this time will only harm the party's reputation.

The Hindutva of Bengal is very different from the other regions of the country, according to a senior BJP leader who wished to remain unnamed. "We failed to recognise the need for work modelled after Bengal's conception of Hinduism during the most recent elections. Any affiliation with fringe organisations will thwart these initiatives now that we have begun to shift our ideological stance in accordance with the values of the state's people," the leader said.

The party's vote share has increased significantly over the past few years, according to the BJP leaders, and the majority of the party's supporters are Hindus. The leader said, "Trinamool Congress keeps trying to convince people that the BJP is connected to such fringe organisations. Given that the Hindu community supported us and that such extremist elements will only annoy our own voters and not those of the TMC, we will have to maintain our position and keep a distance from these organisations.

No Durga Puja

The Bharatiya Janata Party held its Durga Puja at the EZCC for the third consecutive year. According to Sukanta Majumdar, the president of the Bengal BJP, "The party will not organise Durga Puja from the following year because we spend 15–16 lakhs annually for this celebration, which is difficult to manage."

Sources within the BJP, however, have confirmed that this is not the only factor. The sources claim that the Bengal BJP leaders asked Amit Shah, the home minister, to inaugurate this puja this year. Shah declined the invitation, though. Sources also confirmed that Mithun Chakraborty, the Bengal BJP's poster boy, had been asked by the national leadership not to participate.

The senior BJP official stated, "Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji and home minister Amit Ji themselves agreed to work on pushing aggressive Hindutva as suggested by then BJP leader Mukul Roy (came from TMC and returned after the election) and Kailash Vijayvargiya during the Bengal assembly election campaign in 2021. But the central leadership is aware that this has failed miserably, and they are determined to avoid falling into this trap. We are to concentrate on issues rather than religion, as requested by the central leadership."

The BJP insiders claimed that the discontinuation of the Durga Puja can be considered the biggest message on this new political line of the Bengal BJP.

Liberal image

The Bengal BJP is making a significant effort to position itself as a liberal Hindutva political force. For instance, the Bharatiya Janata Party chose to use a woman priest this year for its Durga Puja. Many BJP insiders expressed their own surprise at the top leadership's decision in this matter, saying that it had taken them by surprise. Some Bengal BJP leaders think that this is a vital component of the party's makeover. Similar to that, another part of the party thinks this is nothing more than a course correction.

Bengal BJP leaders noted that by shifting away from hard-line Hindutva, they are attempting to embrace the liberalism, diversity, religiosity, and uniqueness of Bengal. "We haven't strayed from our religious ideology," said a central BJP leader who has been working on the growth of the organisation in Bengal but didn't want to be identified.

He also said that Mamata Banerjee successfully persuaded the populace that the BJP leaders are outsiders and tried to impose a Hindutava that is common in the Hindi heartland. "We have seen that our approach to reaching out to the Hindus in Bengal has turned out to be contradictory. The majority of the key election campaigners were members of the central leadership who did not speak Bangla, which fueled the entire notion," said the leader.

The graft allegations against the Trinamool Congress and Mamata Banerjee's associates will now be the main focus of the BJP. The party will similarly concentrate on the problems of bad governance, an increase in violent crime, and unemployment.

Read The Next Article