West Bengal elections 2021: Mamata vs Suvendu play on aggressive Hindutva in Nandigram
Nandigram, Mar 12: "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 TMC alleged was a conspiracy to "take her life" and the BJP a "well-scripted drama", the TMC 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 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.
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. Adhikari, who claimed Banerjee recited the 'Chandi Path' incorrectly, called the TMC supremo an "adulterated Hindu who cannot wash away the sins of appeasement politics".
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 TMC over the last decade. Adhikari is eyeing the majority of the rest 70 per cent, escalating the fight for Hindu votes.
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 TMC leaders insisted that her visit to temples was part of the party's "inclusive policies", rival BJP said it was aimed at denting the saffron party's 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 TMC.
"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 TMC MP Saugato Roy told reporters.
Hitting back, 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 reporters.
"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," Adhikari added. A senior TMC 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 TMC sources, the soft Hindutva push by the TMC 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.