Mamata as Durga earns all-round disapproval

The first Durga puja after Trinamool Congress sweeping electoral victory has not only obliterated the dividing line between religion and politics in Bengal, but has also involved the goddess herself in the state’s fiercely competitive politics. After a full-fledged image of chief minister Mamata Banerjee being worshipped as Durga in Nadia, another community puja has come to light in Bhawanipore – her own constituency – where the devi is seen blessing her with the asura bearing resemblance with CPI(M) state secretary Suryakanta Mishra.

“We are not saying anything. It’s for the people to find out the similarity. We are only trying to depict that the goddess is trying to bless a symbol of woman power and therefore we have added an extra idol to depict it,” said local councillor Ashim Basu, who is the president of Bhawanipore Durgotsav committee puja that is celebrating its 51 year.

Read: In this Nadia club puja, meet Mamata as Durga

“To us Mamata Banerjee is the goddess in human form. So we have thought about this idol,” said Soumitra Bhattacharya, secretary of the club in Chakdah in Nadia that is worshipping a 10-handed goddess.

In Bengal both politics and Durga puja trigger a lot of enthusiasm and gusto, but seldom have puja organisers incorporated political leaders directly into the deities. But after the steamrolling of the opposition in the assembly elections by Trinamool Congress and the fulfilling of the chief minister’s promise to return the Singur land to the farmers a month before the pujas, the Mamata Banerjee’s stature rose to an all-time high.

Bhawanipore Durgotsav samiti Durga Puja that depicted a woman resembling the chief minister being blessed by the goddess and the asura resembling the CPI(M) state secretary Suryakanta Mishra came in for sharp criticism. (Ramkrishna Samanta)

“It is certainly not desirable. It does credit to neither religion, nor politics,” Andre Beteille, veteran sociologist told HT from Delhi.

Significantly, the Bhawanipore pandal is just in front of the house of the former CPI(M) councillor (2005-2010) Asha Mehta Banerjee. “I was never involved with this puja and I have nothing to say. Each will act according to his own taste,” she remarked.

Read: Just before Durga puja, Mamata turns into a living goddess

Interestingly, the chief minister’s family members, too, did not seem to support this over enthusiasm.

“The chief minister is contributing to the development of the state and she should be allowed to pursue her agenda. I personally feel some over zealous followers are indulging in these activities that are somehow tarnishing her efforts,” said Kartik Banerjee, younger brother of the chief minister.

Former Presidency College principal and famous teacher of political science, Amal Kumar Mukhopadhyay, also criticised the move in strong words. “It is a shame. The ruling party, and over-enthusiastic supporters of it, should remember that democracy also means autonomy of the society, and not merely winning by popular mandate. The act of worshipping the chief minister’s image in full rituals is not acceptable,” said Mukhopadhyay.

“Some over-enthusiastic supporters are acting like fools and people don’t accept these. They trigger unnecessary criticism, said Swarnakamal Sahar, Trinamool Congress MLA from Entally.

Beteille, however, said such acts are not unprecedented in the country with the Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa’s fans going to incredible extents to display their support.

Read: Celebrating the unsung heroes of Durga Puja

Apart from these, there were innumerable pujas where huge cutouts of the chief minister adorned the pandal premises. At quite a few spots including Ekdalia Evergreen patronised by the senior most minister Subrata Mukherjee, there were many hoardings featuring portraits of Mamata (sister) and Teresa (mother).

The Trinamool chief is also identified with the culture of projecting the individual to larger than life extents in politics. Cutouts of the leader three to four storeys high were put up by her party since 2011 assembly elections – something that was totally absent during the 34-year old Left rule that gave precedence to policies and not individuals.