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TMC-BJP violence in Kolkata: Why is Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar so important to Mamata? It's Bengal identity politics at play

A bust of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in the Vidyasagar College and the University of Calcutta was vandalised by unidentified men on Tuesday. According to a report, a statue of Vidyasagar, who was a renowned philosopher and is one of the key leaders leading the Bengali Renaissance in the 19th Century, was desecrated by "a group of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters tailing party president Amit Shah's decorated truck".

The destruction of the bust took place after violence erupted between TMC and BJP workers in the wake of Shah's roadshow in Kolkata.

The statue was installed at least 20 years ago. The bust was inside a glass case in the college’s main office that houses an Internal Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC) and an administrative counter, The Telegraph reported.

What followed was a pitched battle between the Trinamool Congress and the BJP on the streets of Kolkata because both the parties blamed each other for the bloody violence. Both the parties have been blaming each other for the act of vandalism.

Parts of the city plunged into a welter of violence as Shah's convoy was attacked with stones by alleged TMC supporters from inside the hostel of Vidyasagar College, triggering a clash between supporters of the two parties, officials said. The BJP chief was campaigning in the state on Tuesday.

Addressing a press conference on Wednesday, ruling TMC leader Derek O'Brien said, "This is the saddest press conference we are doing. The sadness of those of us who have been in those colleges is tinged with shock and anger at what the BJP president with his hired goons did (sic)."

Wiping away a tear, O'Brien added, "Biddashagor (Vidyasagar) is an emotion in Bengal."

 TMC-BJP violence in Kolkata: Why is Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar so important to Mamata? Its Bengal identity politics at play




Born in 1820, Vidyasagar is one of the key figures of the Bengal Renaissance and one that most Bengalis revere almost every day in their lives. His standardised alphabet is used to write the Bengali language even today. Vidyasagar was a key motivator behind the Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act of 1856.

Vidyasagar, like Subhash Chandra Bose and Rabindra Nath Tagore, is a tall figure in the history of Bengal and is the symbol of Bengali pride and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her party members did not waste any time to push the nativity line after the attacks were reported on Tuesday. TMC painted itself as the Bengali party and BJP as the "bunch of outsiders who hire goons". At a rally, Mamata alleged that BJP was "hiring people from Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. Do you, the goonda leaders of Delhi, know who Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was?"

"If they really attacked Vidyasagar, then I am forced to call Amit Shah a goonda," Mamata added.

Meanwhile, Shah has refuted the allegations by the TMC, observing at a press conference, "The gates were shut, our roadshow was outside, our workers were outside, the bust was inside a room, which would have presumably been locked. The keys must have been with the college management. How can we break the statue?"

BJP has, by far, been viewed or rather been painted as the "outsider party" in West Bengal. Trinamool, especially, has taken up the narrative in Lok Sabha election 2019 and used it to browbeat the national party in the state. Apart from cancelling several rallies by BJP leaders, Mamata has been vociferously critical of the Modi government at the Centre and with a single-minded stubbornness has criticised the prime minister and the ruling BJP.

While the TMC has alleged that the BJP and Narendra Modi have targeted Mamata and her ministers (and some of her aides) because they are critical of the Centre, BJP has tried to shift the narrative to the fact that Mamata is scared of the prime minister and hence tries to keep BJP and Modi out of Bengal. The Mamata Banerjee-led Bengal government has cancelled and denied permission to several rallies by senior BJP leaders, including Modi, Shah and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath.

Mamata, while laying claim to the Bengali identity narrative, tried to discredit BJP's Hindutva narrative by saying, "Hindutva is a political ideology but Hinduism is a way of life. I am also a Hindu by birth. I worship God. Hinduism is inherently a very liberal religion. If you don’t pray every day even then you are a Hindu. They have made ‘Jai Shri Ram’ a political slogan, but Ram does not just belong to the BJP. Thakur Shri Ramakrishna was not just a strong devotee of Kali, but also Ram. Just by displaying the gada (mace), Hanuman’s weapon, on the road, you are a Hindu? This is an insult to Bengal. Bengali Hindus are good Hindus with a good soul. It doesn’t depend on how many rituals you follow."

Vidyasagar, like Tagore, is crucial to every Bengali and there is no surprise that Trinamool is making it an issue of Bengali pride and identity, which every Bengali will relate to. But as this article argues, Mamata's ploy might backfire. "Mamata has sought to counter BJP's growing clout in the state in two ways. One, 'otherisation' of BJP as a party of "outsiders" who are alien to the state's "Bengali" culture and ethos. Two, using the state administration to scuttle BJP's campaign strategy by denying permission."

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Updated Date: May 15, 2019 21:39:01 IST