KOLKATA: The bicentenary celebrations of Bengal Renaissance icon Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar were to begin in a few months time. By a strange twist of fate, the social reformer and educationist has suddenly become a key poll issue in Kolkata.
Three days after the vandalism of Vidyasagar’s bust during BJP chief Amit Shah’s roadshow, the BJP and Trinamool continue to trade barbs.
The Left has rejoined the battle expecting wounded Bengali sentiment to turn in its favour.
The electors with multiple political affiliations in Kolkata’s five Lok Sabha constituencies, which go to polls on May 19, are polarised into two — those who speak Bengali and those who don’t.
The vandalism has resulted in a negative impact among Bengalis. There is a sense of hurt. The five LS constituencies comprise urban voters. A majority, irrespective of their class and political opinion, have condemned the incident at Vidyasagar College, which lists alumni such as Swami Vivekananda and Prafulla Chandra Roy. “What depth of degradation is left to be reached? I don’t have words to condemn the incident,’’ said renowned poet and Jnanpith awardee Sankha Ghosh. Echoing him, academic Pabitra Sarkar said, “The degradation of politics will force a repeat of such events. The attackers are not aware of Bengal’s cultural ethos.’’
A section of BJP leaders in Kolkata admitted the vandalism has damaged the party’s image. Since Tuesday’s vandalism, there has been a flurry of posts on social media, mostly in Bengali, recalling the liberal heritage Vidyasagar left behind. Realising the damage, both Trinamool and BJP are trying to woo Bengali sentiment. When Modi on Thursday announced Vidyasagar’s bust would be rebuilt, Bengal CM refused to accept his offer. The TMC plans to rebuild Vidyasagar’s bust and set up a museum.
BJP is eyeing victory from Kolkata Uttar and Kolkata Dakshin as it houses more than 40% percent non-Bengali voters. In both constituencies, BJP had made inroads five years ago. In Kolkata Uttar, from where TNC veteran Parliamentarian Sudip Bandopadhyay is contesting against BJP’s Rahul Sinha, the saffron party’s vote share has risen to 25.88% from 4.22% in 2014. Bandopadhyay is banking on his experience as a lawmaker while Sinha is eyeing victory on the basis of increasing vote bank.
“What happened was sad. But the Trinamool is trying to ride a sympathy wave and cash in on Vidyasagar’s legacy. A broken statue can’t sway public sentiment,’’ said a non-Bengali trader in Burrabazar.
The constituency houses the city’s largest business district, Burrabazar-Posta, where traders are unhappy with the state administration. Bandopadhyay, however, is sure of a third term.
The Bengali’s wounded sentiment has also caused discomfort for BJP in Kolkata Dakshin constituency despite the fact that it had defeated Trinamool in one of the most important Assembly segments, five years ago. The CM is a voter in Bhowanipore, the Assembly segment where her party had trailed BJP. In 2014 the BJP secured 34.83% of the total votes, a shade higher than Trinamool’s candidate who got 34.70%.
BJP’s vote share increased by 21.33% in this constituency and it as now fielded Netaji’s grand nephew Chandra Kumar Bose to take on Trinamool’s Mala Roy. Bose joined BJP in 2016 and insiders said he might be projected as chief ministerial candidate in 2021.