Durga Pujo and West Bengal are synonymous. The mesmerising efflorescence of creativity that is on stunning display in the State during the festival is unmatched. And it seems to get more so with every passing year. Most strikingly, it is as inclusive a celebration as can possibly be contemplated, any place, any time, with all communities joining in. No majority-minority conundrum here. Little wonder that everything comes to a grinding halt to allow everyone to simply luxuriate in its enveloping glow. Government daftars included. Nowhere else do public servants get ten days straight off, pre-Pujo excitement and post-Pujo pangs and gripes included. Pujo is a most readily accepted reason for less or no work, no grudges experienced. This has been so for ages and there is hardly a recollection of another autumnal scenario.
In this joyous cacophony of blissful chaos, Didi – as the State’s Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, has long been fondly referred to – threw in the stunner a month back that immersion of Durga idols or protimas would not be allowed for a specified period after Doshomi on 30th September, so as not to clash with Muharram processions. The sanitised official version for the patently unpopular and clearly appeasement-drenched decision, as well as the CM’s defensive public declarations on it, had to do with avoidance of potential communal tension. For a Government of the day to have to air its evident inability to manage a situation, neither rare or unanticipated by any account, was obviously not bought by most sections, being so tattered in its conviction-quotient. It was correctly deciphered as a crass accentuation of creeping, dubious efforts to draw lines of suspicion, doubt and antipathy between communities, where very few or none existed previously, with an eye to reaping the proverbial electoral and political dividends. Afterall, the 27 percent minority vote was considered far more important than antagonising the majority. Political arithmetic trumped, as it invariably does in our flawed, undeservedly lionised democracy. This was clearly not a one-off whimsical firman and therefore not taken as one.
It was left to the judiciary to salvage the situation and provide a lesson or two in governance and communal harmony. Unsurprisingly, the Government refused to take the lessons. It has insisted on granting, or withholding permissions, for the immersion on the days in question. In other words, things have not changed at all. As in the past, the Chief Minister came out, rhetoric blazing, about being more than ready to have her “gola” (throat) slit in defence of peace and tranquility. A more intriguing twist and spin could not have been thought of by a lesser politico!
Commentators have gone to town about how people’s pulse has not been gauged accurately and how the saffron carpet is being rolled out in the State for a splintered, squabbling, weak, yet ambitious BJP, by none other than the ruling Trinamool Party itself, to Mamata Banerjee’s characteristically strident orchestration. The quintessential self-destruct, in slow-mo mode.
While the obvious interpretation is weighty and must be taken seriously, the related question needs to be flagged. This has to do with why Didi is so confidently playing with fire. History, of the pre-Partition days sobs its searing, blood soaked story most painfully in this part of the country. The past is very much alive in the present. Ignoring it is either plain old fashioned hubris or cussed denial of the dark writing on the contemporary wall. It defies comprehension that a charismatic leader – who will always be lauded for having single-handedly uprooted the Left bastion after its four-decade stranglehold of the State – would run such a risk of alienating vast swathes of the electorate. There is little doubt that it will boomerang, sooner or later, depending on the preparedness of the as yet utterly fragile and slender opposition to pick up the gauntlet. That may take a while and it may convey a false sense of invincibility, making it that much more dangerous. The fissures in mindsets and perceptions wreak their own havoc and do not always wait for netas and netris to show the way. To be the architect of these pernicious fissures, wittingly or unwittingly, is a huge disservice. It can – and should – erase all the stellar contributions of the past of any leadership, however high we may have placed them on our collective pedestals.
Driving down the streets of Kolkata to strains of Hindu-Muslim confrontation wafting from street corner meetings is eerie and disconcerting, to put it very mildly.
If we are really to honour the Constitution, as we never fail to rant, let us deliver on its spirit.
Mamata Banerjee, after 2011, was hailed as Maa Durga, as was rather appropriate at that time. Let this latest resolve of hers not signal her downward spin.
The author, Dr. Tuktuk Ghosh, is a retired IAS Officer and one-time academic. She retains a keen interest in promoting excellence and equity in all spheres of our public life.
Tweet at Dr. Ghosh: @tghoshk
For more articles, like and follow Indus Dictum on