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Ahead of Poll Results, Noted Figures of Bengal Intelligentsia Dismayed by Religious Politics in State

FROM Kabir Award winner Yasin Pathan who restored Hindu Mandirs to Japan’s ‘Order of The Rising Sun’ award winner and linguist Pabitra Sarkar — noted activists and intellectuals are appalled at the recent emergence of communally polarised elections in West Bengal.

Rajya Sabha MP and senior advocate Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya opined that the politics of competitive communalism is a burden that would have to be confronted for a long period in the state’s history. Noted playwright Chandan Sen too shared similar observations, echoing his contemporaries who are perturbed about how long it will take for the state to return to communal harmony.

Ahead of the Assembly poll results on May 2, Newsclick spoke to the some of the noted figures and dignitaries in West Bengal regarding the spate of election campaigns in the recent past. Religious politics over things like beef or inter-religious marriages has taken an unprecedented centre stage due to the high-pitched campaign by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the state.

Kabir Award winner (1994) Yasin Pathan is a well-known name for his contribution to Hindu Muslim amity in the state; he single-handedly led a movement in his village in Pathra, West Medinipore, from the 70’s to preserve 34 architectural wonders of Hindu Mandirs which were in a dilapidated state. His long-drawn effort led to the Archaeological Survey of India taking over the 34 mandirs.

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Speaking to Newsclick, Pathan expressed that he was aghast at the spurt of saffronisation in the state.

Underlining a particular incident, he said that recently he went to New Delhi regarding acquisition of land surrounding mandirs in his village. When Pathan went to meet Dilip Ghosh, the state BJP president who is also the Lok Sabha MP from Medinipore, the legislator told him to come another day. The second day Pathan went, Ghosh made him wait for eight hours and not even paid a courtesy visit to him .

According to the temple preserver, who is also a devout Muslim, this treatment meted out to him showed how the Hindutva forces, who were playing the ‘mandir card’, did not care to preserve ancient places of worship. Instead, they aimed to ignite fire among communities in the name of ‘mandir masjid’, he said. “I am appalled at the fact that even an increase of seats of the saffron party will mean communal amity taking a backseat in the state,” he told Newsclick.

Supriyo Tagore, the octogenarian Ashramite of Santiniketan and a descendant of the lineage of Rabindranath Tagore, expressed anguish at the recent changes due to political turmoil in the state. “It is full of sorrow here at Shantiniketan. Tagore’s University (Visva Bharati University) is being decimated. They are changing everything. Tagore’s culture, his values  are in danger,” he said. Slamming the BJP, he said, “The flow of culture stemming from Tagore is being destroyed here by their representatives — the VC and his team.”

Noted linguist and academician Pabitra Sarkar said, “We are in deep shock, dismayed by the polarisation campaign that has been carried out here. I don’t want to say anything now except for expressing my anguish at the events.”

Chandan Senprolific playwright in contemporary Bengali theatre, said that the current condition has not grown out of the blue but has culminated from a growing environment of communalisation of political space.

“Those who say that these are difficult times, to them I say yes it is so, but it is during these difficult times that the cultural mindscape reaches new heights. People will break their silence and poets and authors will bring out the best of themselves in these trying times. Politically facing them (Hindutva forces) is a little difficult now, but these fascist trends will be arrested as time comes knocking at our doors,” Sen said.

Bikas Ranjan Bhattacharya, a well-known name in the legal fraternity of the state, expressed disdain at the saffron party and others who “played competitive communalism” and said they were all equally responsible in dividing peoples’ mind. “They had started this sort of campaign for a long time. Both of them (the ruling Trinamool Congress and the BJP) had appealed religion-wise to the  electorate,” he said.

Senior journalist at the popular news daily Bartaman, Jibanananda Basu said he had not witnessed such communally-tinted election campaign in the state before. “My colleagues and I cannot remember the last time this sort of communally polarising campaign was carried out on such large scale in the state. We are not sure whether what people are actually saying will reflect in the vote box,” Basu said, noting that this kind of politics has not been tested in the state earlier.

“If the BJP has been able to make people digest its religious opium, then it should cross 200 seats, which is not the case as per trends so far,” he said, adding,  “If they have their way, then our state’s pride about different through non-communal thinking will be decimated. When the result is known, it will certainly be a benchmark for elections to follow.”

This article was first published in Newsclick.