The smashing of a bust of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the 19th century educationist, social reformer and a key figure of the Bengali Renaissance who championed women’s education and widow remarriage, has led to collective shock and outrage among people in Bengal.
The act of vandalism by a group of men who, as video clips show — were dressed in saffron shirts and were part of a big roadshow of BJP president Amit Shah -- has perhaps given a handle to Trinamool Congress chief and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to play the “Bengali card” to the hilt with two days left for the crucial and final seventh round of Lok Sabha elections when polling will be held for nine seats in the
Vidyasagar’s bust was installed in the Vidyasagar College at least 20 years ago. It was inside a glass case in the college’s main office. During Tuesday’s violence, the glass case was smashed and Vidyasagar’s bust beheaded.
Vidyasagar – which means the ocean of education -- is revered and respected by all Bengalis. The act of vandalising his statue has not only seen social media flooded with angry posts against the act, it has also become a major point of discussion among people in ‘para addas’ - or neighbourhood gatherings, and among commuters in buses and metros in the city.
Talk is around how the Bengali icon had championed widow remarriage, and advocated education for all–-especially women–-and how he worked hard for raising of the marriageable age of girls and how he campaigned against polygamy.
“The pride of Bengal has been hurt,” is what most commuters were heard saying as they discussed about Vidyasagar’s ‘Barna Parichay’ — the book that standardized the Bengali alphabets and a must-study book for Bengali beginners.
While political parties, city intellectuals and human rights organizations staged demonstrations and protest rallies on Wednesday condemning the act, no Bengal BJP leader however came out to publicly condemn the desecration of the statute.
Both the Trinamool Congress and BJP have angrily blamed each other for the violence that erupted as workers of both sides fought pitched battles on the streets of the central Calcutta neighbourhood during Shah’s roadshow on Tuesday evening. While the BJP has accused Banerjee’s party with orchestrating attacks on Shah's roadshow, the Trinamool says it has the right to protest democratically.
Banerjee, who visited Vidyasagar College after the violence, questioned whether Amit Shah was “God” that no one can protest against him?
Addressing a rally in the city, Banerjee said: “If they — the perpetrators -- were people from Bengal, will they not know who Vidyasagar, Rabindranath Tagore and Netaji Subash Chandra Bose are?”
“They don’t know about Bengal, about Bengali culture, its rich history. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar holds a high place in every Bengali’s heart…Bengal will never forgive them,” said Banerjee, who led a huge protest rally on Wednesday evening starting from Beliaghata in East Calcutta to Shyambazaar Five-point crossing in North Calcutta.
Electorally, West Bengal is an important state as it sends 42 MPs to the Lok Sabha and has a large Hindu refugee population.
The BJP government, which introduced the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Parliament and is eyeing this Hindu refugee constituency, has been pitching the National Register of Citizens (NRC) as a strong step against infiltrators and illegal immigrants in the state.
In 2014, the BJP won only two Lok Sabha seats in the state, and is keen to further entrench itself in Bengal where it has worked hard to get a foothold.
The aggressive campaign mounted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his lieutenant and BJP chief Amit Shah against the Trinamool Congress in the state, has made it one of the most bitter contests the current Lok Sabha elections has witnessed. Incidents of violence marred the preceding six phases of polls too during which BJP and Trinamool party workers clashed outside polling booths.
In the seventh phase on May 19, nine constituencies -- four in South 24 Parganas, three in North 24-Parganas and two in Kolkata -- will vote.
The nine seats are Kolkata North, Kolkata South, Dum Dum, Barasat, Jadavpur, Diamond Harbour, Joynagar, Mathurapur and Basirhat. The BJP is hoping to make major gains in the five constituencies of Dum Dum, Basirhat, Kolkata North, Mathurapur and Diamond Harbour where both Modi and Shah have addressed rallies.
But who will gain and who will not from the politics of violence in Bengal? The answer will be known once the results are out on May 23.