Pride ride

By the time West Bengal goes to the polls, Prime Minister Modi’s thick, white beard

PTI20-12-2020_000161A Soft target: Amit Shah visiting the house of Baul singer Basudeb Das in Birbhum | PTI

By the time West Bengal goes to the polls, Prime Minister Modi’s thick, white beard would have grown a few more inches. He would start to look like Rabindranath Tagore, say some of his party men.

It may sound like a joke, but the BJP’s sudden attachment to the cultural heritage of Bengal is no laughing matter. As the Trinamool Congress has labelled the BJP a “party of outsiders” and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee refuses to acknowledge Bharatiya Jana Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee as a BJP icon, the party is now wearing Bengali pride on its sleeve.

On December 20, Home Minister Amit Shah began his first roadshow in the state from the Visva Bharati University in Santiniketan. He toured the huge campus and enjoyed Rabindra Sangeet and dance performances. He then went to a Baul singer’s home and enjoyed folk music and lunch. He was seen tapping his fingers on his chair to the rhythm of the songs.

The BJP seems to have learnt that the way to a Bengali’s heart is through his culture. Last year, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat called on legendary classical musician Ustad Rashid Khan. That he met a Muslim musician had come as a surprise. In the past three years, Bhagwat has visited Bengal more than a dozen times.

Shah followed up the Santiniketan visit by paying tribute to Swami Vivekananda at his birthplace in Kolkata. He then visited the house of Khudiram Bose, perhaps the youngest martyr of the independence movement, in Midnapore.

BJP sources said that such gestures would continue till Modi takes centre-stage as the key campaigner closer to the elections. Every BJP leader visiting the state has been advised to visit homes of Bengali idols.

Modi has also formed a high-level committee to celebrate the 125th birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, starting January 23.

Some see all this as a way to make up for the flak the BJP copped last year: A statue of social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was destroyed in the violence that erupted during Shah’s roadshow in Kolkata. The BJP could not win even one of the nine seats in the last phase of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, which took place days after the statue was broken.

The BJP denied allegations that its cadres destroyed it, but the stigma remains. To erase this, the BJP has embarked on a journey to highlight its Bengali pride, and to link it to Indian nationalism.

After all, pride does come before a poll.