“I am a daughter of a Hindu family”, asserted Mamata Banerjee and went on to recite ”Chandi Path”, an ode to Goddess Durga, as she treaded the path of “soft Hindutva” to court the majority Hindus in communally cleaved Nandigram on Wednesday.
By the time she got immobilised and confined to a hospital bed in Kolkata following a mishap at the hustings which the Trinamool alleged was a conspiracy to “take her life” and the BJP a “well-scripted drama”, the Trinamool boss had visited 12 temples in two days.
Nandigram, which first grabbed national headlines in the mid-2000s because of the anti-land acquisition agitation led by Ms Banerjee, is back in news again after the West Bengal chief minister decided to take on her former protege Suvendu Adhikari, who joined the BJP in December, on his home turf.
Ms Banerjee visited 12 temples and a mazaar, Islamic mausoleum, during her campaign in Nandigram this week which had to be cut short after she got injured.
Mr Adhikari, who claimed Ms Banerjee recited the ”Chandi Path” incorrectly, called the Trinamool chief an “adulterated Hindu who cannot wash away the sins of appeasement politics”.
Ms Banerjee’s temple-hopping and chanting shlokas at an election rally are being seen as an effort to counter the BJP’s strong Hindutva push, as also an attempt to blunt the criticism over her alleged Muslim bias.
“Don’t play the Hindu card with me,” she declared at the rally on Tuesday.
Nandigram has over 30 per cent Muslim population, which has stood solidly behind the Trinamool over the last decade.
Mr Adhikari is eyeing the majority of the rest 70 per cent, escalating the fight for Hindu votes.
Mr Adhikari has often told his election rallies that he has complete faith in the “70 per cent electorate and is not worried about the rest 30 per cent”.
Although senior Trinamool leaders insisted that her visit to temples was part of the party’s “inclusive policies”, rival BJP said it was aimed at denting their burgeoning Hindu support base as she had realised that only the Muslim votes were not sufficient to see her through.
Initially, Furfura Sharif cleric Abbas Siddiqui’s ISF was to field a candidate for the seat as part of the Left-led grand alliance, a move that could have divided a significant chunk of the Muslim votes. However, later the alliance agreed to leave the seat for the CPI(M) which fielded its youth wing DYFI’s state president Minakshi Mukherjee, much to the relief of the Trinamool.
“We don’t believe in communal politics, unlike the BJP. Suvendu is a traitor and has forgotten all the ideals that he had learnt in the Congress and TMC. That is why he is trying to make it a fight between the Hindus and Muslims. We have no religious agenda,” senior Trinamool MP Saugato Roy told PTI.
Hitting back, Mr Adhikari questioned the need for the chief minister to visit so many temples. “She decided to contest from the seat due to the 30 per cent population of a specific community. You see the leaders who are moving around with her in Nandigram and you will understand,” he told PTI.
“I am a Hindu, and I don’t want to divide communities. It is the TMC which is trying to drive a wedge between them with its appeasement politics,” Mr Adhikari added.
A senior Trinamool leader in the district conceded that only the Muslim votes can’t ensure the party’s victory in the seat.
“If Suvendu manages to consolidate Hindu votes given the communally charged atmosphere in Nandigram, things might get difficult (for TMC),” he said.
According to Trinamool sources, the soft Hindutva push by the party may be a new thing in Nandigram, but it has been the party’s strategy following the electoral reverses in the 2019
Lok Sabha elections.
The party’s decision to organise ”Brahmin Sammelan”, give allowances to Sanatan Brahmins and extend financial assistance to Durga Puja committees were all part of that carefully planned strategy, they said.
Elections in Bengal will be held in eight phases, beginning with polling for 30 seats on March 27. Votes will be counted on May 2.
The Trinamool leadership countered Mr Adhikari’s claim, saying Ms Banerjee’s temple visits were nothing new. Her government, the party said, has been helping Durga Puja committees in the state with generous financial assistance for years, with the chief minister personally inaugurating many pandals.
“Both the TMC and BJP are trying to communally polarise the voters of the state. We will resist it and fight for the rights of the masses,” CPI(M)’s Purba Medinipur district secretary Niranjan Sihi said.
Both Trinamool and BJP leaders admit that Nandigram stands communally polarised.
The shoots first appeared after the 2013 panchayat polls when elected Muslim members were given prominent roles in Zilla Parishads and the ruling party’s district unit, they said.
A massive Ram Navami procession in the area in 2016, in which many Trinamool workers participated, widened the crack.
The BJP, which hardly had any presence in the area, made massive inroads by bagging over 1.96 lakh votes in the 2016 by-elections to the Tamluk Lok Sabha seat under which the Nandigram assembly segment falls.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the BJP further consolidated its position, cinching over 5.34 lakh votes.
Local BJP leader Sabuj Pradhan claimed, “Nandigram is sitting on a tinderbox, and only the TMC’s appeasement politics is responsible for it. If you deny the majority community its rights, you will have to face the consequences.”
Sheikh Sufiyan, deputy chairman of the Zilla Parishad and Ms Banerjee’s election agent, described the charge of Hindus being denied government benefits as a “disinformation and divisive” campaign by the BJP.
Nandigram Block 1 Trinamool president Swadesh Das said the BJP will be taught a lesson in secularism in Nandigram.
“If the BJP thinks it will get the entire Hindu votes, they are living in a fool’s paradise,” he said.
Political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty feels the BJP has, in a way, already become successful by making the Trinamool toe its line.
“The BJP may win or lose Nandigram but it has been successful in forcing the ruling TMC to follow its Hindutva line for votes,” he said.