Business Standard

LS polls: The Mamata-Modi battle turns into a fight for Bengali pride

5 of the 9 seats going to the polls on May 19 predominantly comprise the Bengali middle class, which doesn't take kindly to insult to its icons

Ishita Ayan Dutt  |  Kolkata 

TMC supporters blow conch shells near a portrait of Bengali writer and philosopher Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, during an election roadshow, in Kolkata on Thursday	| Photo: PTI
TMC supporters blow conch shells near a portrait of Bengali writer and philosopher Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, during an election roadshow, in Kolkata on Thursday | Photo: PTI

Ahead of the last phase of voting, the Mamata-Modi battle has turned into a fight for the Bengali pride, abetted by the vandalising of the bust of iconic social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. While the desecration of the Vidyasagar bust remains an intriguing "whodunnit", the has blamed the Trinamool Congress (TMC) squarely for the incident. The TMC, however, is projecting the incident as the BJP's insult to West Bengal.

Immediately after the incident, Chief Minister and top leaders changed their display pictures on Facebook and Twitter accounts with a photo of Vidyasagar.

The party's communication — visual and verbal — has been clear: Whether it's the vandalism or the Election Commission action to end campaigning a day earlier in Bengal, this is an onslaught on Bengal and its icons. The CM has urged people of the state to respond accordingly.

Historically, Bengal doesn't take kindly to the desecration of its icons, pointed out political commentator Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury. It had happened during the Naxal period and they were totally isolated, said CPM leader Mohammed Salim.

In the early 1970s, the Naxals went on a statue-smashing spree as part of a "cultural revolution”. Then too, the bust of Vidyasagar at College Square had been desecrated, as were those of Ram Mohan Roy, Rabindranath Tagore. Fifty years later, former Naxal leader Ashim Chatterjee conceded that statue-smashing was wrong.

"We believed that true icons should be linked to the agrarian struggle. It was a unidimensional perspective. Whether they contributed to the agrarian struggle or not, they had contributed immen­sely to social reforms. That was overlooked," said Chatterjee.

Salim said that the demolition of the Vidyasagar bust was an attack on what it represents. A Sanskrit scholar, Vidyasagar compelled the British to bring in the Widow Remarriage Act, besides he fought against Hindu orthodoxy for women's education.

The desecration of the bust has, therefore, rekindled the Bengali sentiment. It is now the hottest issue in the final phase of voting in Bengal. Of the nine constituencies that go to the polls on May 19, five — Kolkata North, Kolkata South, Jadavpur, Barasat and Dum Dum -- predominantly comprise the Bengali middle class.

Basu Ray Chaudhury said: "It's the educated Bengali middle class that will vote in the last phase. Politics in Bengal is dominated by the Bengali middle class or the bhadralok."

Historically, urban areas have voted in favour of the Left Front. "Even when the shift happened, the upper middle class didn't lean towards the They either voted for the Congress or to a lesser extent to the BJP, especially the new middle class. The lower middle class has stayed with the TMC," Basu Ray Chaudhury said.

A huge influence on the middle class, particularly the upper middle class, is the Bengal intelligentsia that has been conspicuous by its absence this election. It was the Bengal intelligentsia that had campaigned for a change in government in 2011.

Basu Ray Chaudhury said one of the reasons why the intelligentsia is not seen is that they are largely divided between the and the Left. The is yet to break that barrier in Bengal.

First Published: Thu, May 16 2019. 23:11 IST