BJP urges Durga puja organisers to project central schemes, promises govt fund
Bengal BJP chief spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said that central ministries may bear their cost of decorations and themes if they are based on social welfare and development projects undertaken by the Modi government
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in West Bengal has promised central government funds for community Durga puja organisers if they project central schemes at the state’s biggest festival to be held between October 20 and 24, inviting sharp reactions from the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), which accused the saffron party of spending central funds for political gains.
Bengal BJP chief spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said, “Community clubs that organise pujas have been told that central ministries may bear their cost of decorations and themes if they are based on social welfare and development projects undertaken by the (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi government.”
“Our leaders have been told to be associated with as many Durga pujas as possible. They will coordinate with the Union ministries if any club comes up with decorations and themes that project central schemes. The ministries have allocated budget for advertisements,” he added.
The move invited a sharp reaction from the TMC as it comes during the run-up to the crucial 2024 Lok Sabha polls. It also comes at a time when the TMC is demanding release of funds for various social welfare schemes that Union ministries have suspended citing either corruption or mismanagement.
TMC Rajya Sabha member Santanu Sen said the saffron camp should not forget that it is because of the chief minister’s efforts that UNESCO added Durga Puja in Kolkata to its 2021 list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, giving international recognition to the festival.
“There was a time when BJP used to say that Mamata Banerjee does not allow people to hold Durga Puja in Bengal. And now it is ready to spend central funds for political gains. I will urge the clubs to take the money and ensure that people vote for TMC,” said Sen.
The TMC also sees the BJP’s new move as an outreach exercise to counter chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s decision to hike the state’s financial assistance to the clubs to ₹70,000 each this year. The amount was ₹60,000 in 2022. In 2018, when Banerjee started the assistance scheme, the amount was ₹10,000.
Opposition parties, including the BJP, had earlier criticised Banerjee for this monetary grant saying tax-payer’s money is being spent for political gains.
Banerjee also announced in August that the clubs will have to pay only one-third of the electricity bills and the rest will be waived by the state.
Around 40,000 community Durga pujas are held in Bengal, with Kolkata and its surrounding areas accounting for around 3,000.
For the clubs, especially those having big budgets, themes provide an opportunity to bag awards offered by corporate houses and media groups. The themes mostly focus on current issues or events.
Durga puja in Bengal had traditionally witnessed sections of political leaders reaching out to the masses by associating themselves with community pujas, offering prayers and taking part in cultural events.
The picture radically changed after TMC overthrew the Left regime in 2011 and BJP rose to become Bengal’s second largest party.
In 2020, Narendra Modi virtually joined the commencement of the first Durga Puja the state BJP organised at the Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre (EZCC) campus in Salt Lake on eastern outskirts of Kolkata. No other prime minister had inaugurated Durga Puja in Bengal till then.
In his speech, Modi invoked the goddess in Bengali and talked of female empowerment, laws to curb crime, Jan Dhan accounts for women and central schemes such as Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (save and educate the girl child). The speech was streamed live by the party to its supporters at all 294 assembly constituencies.
However, in 2021 the party won only 75 of Bengal’s 294 assembly seats.
Themes created by puja organisers often send out strong messages on raging political issues. 2021 was no exception.
The theme of a puja in Kolkata depicted the farmers’ long march in Maharashtra in 2018 and 2019, movements against the controversial farm laws and the killing of farmers at Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh. It drew the ire of the saffron camp.
Last year, Bengal BJP president Sukanta Majumdar inaugurated the party’s third Durga puja at EZCC and said it was the last one.
“We started the puja in 2020 and held it for three consecutive years, as customs mandates. It is an expensive exercise that now costs around ₹5-6 lakh. There will be no puja in 2023,” Majumdar said in October 2022.
BJP wrested 18 of Bengal’s 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2019 and has set a target of winning at least 35 in 2024.