The steady rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in West Bengal has led to the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) taking the path of temple visits to counter the image of “minority appeasement” that the party and its supremo Mamata Banerjee have earned over the last six years. The party is now trying to woo Hindu voters. 

In a recent development in Birbhum district in West Bengal, TMC strongman Anubrata Mandal, along with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, announced a slew of projects to renovate and restore several ancient temples in the district. Not only this, Mandal had also organised a huge programme for Hindu priests in the district where along with several rituals, Bhagavad Gita, shawls and pictures of the saint Sri Ramakrishna and Ma Sarada were distributed.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has also sanctioned the release of funds to the tune of several crores for the development of the Kalighat temple in Kolkata, which is one of the 51 Shakti Peethas. 

Following Congress president Rahul Gandhi visiting temples, Mamata Banerjee visited the ISKCON temple in Mayapur last month. ISCKON temple in Mayapur is one of the most revered temples for followers of Lord Krishna in the state. This was for the first time in her six years of being the CM that Banerjee visited the ISKCON complex in Mayapur. She has also started visiting the Belur Muth temple complex often in the last one year, eyeing the support of devotees of Swami Vivekananda and Ramakrishna Paramhansa. 

However, the BJP says that her new found admiration for temples is to be seen in the context of the increasing vote share of the BJP in the state. This was evident from the byelection results declared earlier last month where the BJP got close to 22% of the total vote share.

The BJP has also accused Mamata Banerjee of taking the path of “pseudo secularism” to calm disgruntled Hindu voters in Bengal. 

Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, Joyprakash Mazumdar, senior BJP leader, said: “Mamata Banerjee has started a dual front by trying to keep a balance as she has realised in the recent past that Hindus have been moving away from her voter base. The people of Bengal have already got an overdose of minority appeasement that she has been indulging in ever since she came to power in the state. Her party has been trying hard to woo Hindu voters by organising Brahmin sabhas, hopping temples, organising Hanuman Jayanti and such activities, but the reality is by now known to the people of Bengal.” 

In West Bengal, a total of 30% of the votes belong to the minority community and in almost 64 of the 295 Assembly constituencies, Muslims are in a majority, while in 76 other Assembly constituencies, minority voters play a major role in deciding the fate of a political party.

The CPM, on the other hand, has describedthe changing political scenario in Bengal as a space for “competitive communalism”. 

Fuad Halim, senior CPM leader from Bengal, told this newspaper, “Mamata Banerjee is an old practitioner of communalism in Bengal. Earlier, she was with the BJP during her days of Opposition, but then she started promoting appeasement of minorities to garner her votes. Now that she is seeing a change, Mamata is trying to strike a balance between the two. But I am sure nothing will change her image from being communal.”

However, a senior TMC leader, who did not wished to be named, said, “There is no question of appeasement. The BJP does not hold the copyright on Hinduism. We were going to temples even earlier, so there is nothing new about it. The Opposition is just trying to divide the state on communal lines.”

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