As West Bengal gears up to celebrate Durga Puja next month, the race to gain political mileage through the annual festival has already started gaining momentum. With the BJP storming Trinamool bastions in the Lok Sabha polls taking its tally to 18 from 2, an all-out jostling for the control of puja committees are underway in some pockets of the state.
To maintain the party’s dominance over puja organisers, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced a fund of Rs 25,000 each for 28,000 puja committees in Bengal. Last year the grant was Rs 10,000.
“The fund has been increased to resist BJP’s attempt to challenge our party’s supremacy in organising Durga Puja. It has been decided the party’s local leaders will display the state government’s success and development works near puja pandals using banners and flexes,’’ said a senior Trinamool leader.
Meanwhile, the saffron party’s deep inroads in Bengal triggered enthusiasm to fill the ‘religious vacuum’. There were about 1,200 Ganesh Chaturthi pandals in 2017 that rose to nearly 2,000 this year.
BJP leaders in Kolkata claimed hundreds of Durga Puja committees contacted them and requesting national leaders like Union Home Minister Amit Shah to inaugurate their pujas. The BJP’s Bengal unit is tight-lipped about the puja organisers who invited the party leaders to be part of their puja committees. BJP leader Tushar Kanti Ghosh,in-charge of the party’s puja related co-ordination, said, “The trend to approach the BJP to inaugurate puja pandals is very high this year.’’
Trinamool heavyweights like MLA Sujit Bose, sports minister Aroop Biswas, rural development minister Subrata Mukherjee and urban development minister Firhad Hakim are closely associated with Kolkata’s biggest Durga Puja clubs.