Green or saffron? In poll-bound Bengal, Holi sees war of colours

The politicisation of colours has been rather profitable for several vendors in Kolkata, especially those who received bulk orders for Holi parties. 
Bengal's Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim seen celebrating Holi.
Bengal's Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim seen celebrating Holi.

Bengalis don’t play Holi, they celebrate Dol Purnima (welcoming spring with colours) which is observed a day prior to the main festival. Although the festival is known for celebrating love and amity, in poll-bound spring, it is a war of colours.

Bengalis have never shied away from wearing their political opinions on their sleeves. Then, why spare colours? This year, the sale of the colour green (used by the ruling Trinamool Congress) has seen a spike in several parts of the state. 

“We play Holi with all the colours, except saffron. We don’t want the colour saffron or the ideologies related to that (BJP) party to exist in Bengal. Also it is poll season so why not use green to play Holi to show our support to Didi (Mamata Banerjee),” said 49-year-old Biplab Basu, a TMC party functionary.

The Model Code of Code (MCC) bars political parties from capitalising on religious sentiments for elections. So, does using the colour “green” in festivals violate the MCC? Certainly not for Nirmal Das, a shopkeeper, who has been in the business for over two decades. 

“This is a routine, every time the election collides with spring, the colour of the ruling party witnesses a sharp rise in sale. Earlier it used to be red, now it is green,” he said.

Violation of code or not, the politicisation of colours has been rather profitable for several vendors in the city, especially those who received bulk orders for Holi parties. 

“Pink and red have been an all-time favourite. But this year, I received four bulk orders, each demanding 5-10 kilograms of green gulaal (dry colour). If the political leaders want to send a message, then let them. It’s only profitable for us," quipped Sumanta Maity, a retailer based in North Kolkata.

However, in places like Central Kolkata, Bhowanipur and Alipur, dominated by the non-Bengali speaking population (mostly Marwaris and migrants from Bihar), the colour saffron remains popular. The non-Bengali speaking citizens make up 12%-15% of the city’s population which doubles as the BJP’s vote bank. 

“Arey Holi mein bhagwa se nahi khela toh kya khela (How does one play Holi without using the colour saffron?). There has been a good sale of gulaal this year. When people play with colours, they don’t distinguish between the ruling party and the Opposition. Having said that, red and saffron were the hot sellers this year,” said Gulam Anwar, a retailer from Bhowanipur.

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