WB: Row Over Hindu Mahasabha Showing Gandhi-Like Face as ‘Asura’ in its Puja Pandal
Kolkata: As India celebrated the 153rd birth anniversary of father of the nation, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a Durga Puja pandal set up by a Hindutva group put up an idol of goddess Durga with a Gandhi-like bespectacled face as asura (demon), who is slayed by her to end evil.
The image sparked a controversy as it went viral on social media, inviting a lot of condemnation and outrage.
An FIR was lodged by some advocates against the puja committee near Ruby Crossing in Southwest Kolkata, which is being administered by state committee members of the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha. After widespread outrage and police pressure, the organisers changed the appearance of the idol, saying that the similarities were “just a coincidence”.
However, questions are now being raised by various quarters on how this puja got the administrative sanction and why did police did not take stern steps against the organisers.
This is for the first time that this Durga puja is being organised under the aegis of Hindu Mahasabha. In the mandap of the puja, photos of the Hindutva icons have also been kept, including of Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse, sources said.
Sundargiri Maharaj who claimed to be the president of the West Bengal committee of Hindu Mahasabha told reporters that: “If the face cutting of the asura matches with Gandhiji then this is a good thing.”
To save himself from law, however, he did not admit that they have modelled asura like Gandhi, Nonetheless, he still condemned Gandhi and said that it was the duty of Hindus to condemn him.
Later, on behalf of the organisers, one Chandrachur Goswami said they had received phone calls that if the face of asura was not changed then the puja would be closed down, “Hence we had to make alterations to the face of the asura,” he added.
Speaking with NewsClick, Anjan Bera, author of the book on Gandhi's Beliaghata episode during the freedom movement, said that “The saffron brigade had played an adverse role during the Independence struggle, hence they are against freedom fighters. Gandhiji was an open adversary against the two-nation theory of Savarkar and Jinnah and hence they were not able to dictate the drafting of the Constitution. In 1948, the Hindu Mahasabha played a very nefarious role. They made Godse a patriot and this should be countered by all democratic forces.”
Bera added: “It is a shame that this happened in Kolkata, where Gandhi played a glorious role defending the rights of the minorities as citizens and for secularism. They have spoiled the festive season and this shows that communalism and Hindutva is a political project, not a religious one. They have a hidden plan to pursue their communal hate politics, even denigrating a personality like Mahatma Gandhi during 74th year of Indian Independence.”
Incidentally, Bera’s book on Gandhi in Bengali is selling like hot cakes. The book sheds light on Gandhi's famed struggle during the 26 days of his stay at Hyderi Manjil - now Gandhi Bhawan - during the Indian independence.
Talking with NewsClick, Partha Pratim Nag, a theatre activist and a resident of Kasba Ruby Crossing area where the puja pandal is located, said “through this incident it is now clear that RSS wants to intrude in the space of Durga Puja celebrations in Kolkata and wants to create dangerous precedent by disrespecting iconic freedom fighters. Today it is Gandhiji, tomorrow it can be Netaji. No words are enough to condemn this incident.”
Nag said the police are “primarily responsible for giving permission to this puja pandal which has started from this year. They also cannot escape the consequences if any court cases about this are lodged. In fact, Sayan Banerjee, a noted lawyer, has announced that he will be lodging a case when the court reopens after the puja break in Kolkata.”
Taking a dig at the ruling Trinamool Congress, Nag said: “The incident shows the links of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s closeness to Godse supporters and her administration's stoic silence on the issue has shown that she has completely surrendered to RSS and forces of Hindutva.”
However, TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh was quoted by PTI as saying that if this was really done, it was nothing but sacrilege.
"It is an insult to the Father of Nation. It is an insult to every citizen of the country. What would the BJP say about such an insult? We know the assassin of Gandhiji belonged to which ideological camp," Ghosh added.
West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee president Adhir Choudhury said it was Gandhiji who went on fast in Beliaghata to stop the Kolkata riots. “Iconic figures like Gandhi and his legacy are being decimated in Kolkata, this is a clear message from Hindu Mahasabha. RSS linked organisations are always standing up for Gandhi assassins; they worship Nathuram Godse as their hero and during the death anniversary of Nathuram they had even burned the effigy of Gandhiji in places of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Now they strong enough to do these things in Kolkata too,” he lamented.
Mohd Salim, CPI(M) state secretary, also condemned the incident and said that “Gandhi's role in India's’ freedom struggle is iconic. He was killed at the hands of the Hindutva forces. Now everyday his ideals are being killed. The attempt of the Hindutva forces is to hamper the sensibility of a large section of the population during the autumn festival time and to hurt the social amity that exists in the state during the festive times.”
The state BJP too castigated such a representation.
“If such a move had been made, it is unfortunate. We condemn it. This is in poor taste," BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar told reporters, as per PTI.
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