Kolkata, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) working president J.P. Nadda here on Saturday performed a mass prayer — tarpan, a Hindu ritual — for 80 party activists and supporters killed in violence in the recent years in a significant multi-pronged strategy to pander to Hundutva and Bengali sentiments while pushing the narrative of political violence being perpetrated against the saffron camp in West Bengal.
All senior state BJP leaders gathered at the age-old Bagbazar Ghat of the Hooghly river, a distributary of the Ganges, in north Kolkata, for the prayers. The family members of slain activists also took part in the rituals.
Amid chanting of slokas (Sanskrit verses) by priests, male relatives with their heads shaved performed the rituals. Some females, many of whom had tears in their eyes, also took part.
“My brother was shot at by miscreants backed by Trinamool Congress (TMC) on September 6. He died two days later. I have came here to pray for the peace of his soul, and for punishment to the culprits,” said brother of Swarup Gorai, a Birbhum district BJP worker.
Ahead of the rituals, soil from the spots where they were killed was brought to the ghat in a procession christened “asthikalas yatra”. The BJP workers then carried the soil on their shoulders to the ‘tarpan’ spot.
Nadda offered the holy water and took part in the sankalp (vow), assisted by a priest and party general secretary in charge of Bengal Kailash Vijayvargiya. Family members of each 80 ‘martyrs’ interacted with Nadda, who assured them that the party was with them.
As the half-an-hour programme concluded, Nadda hit out at the Mamata Banerjee government alleging West Bengal was in the grip of “jungle raj” and “state terrorism” with democracy rendered non-functional through “physical liquidation of political opponents”.
Those opposed to the ruling TMC ideology were being eliminated, he alleged.
The presence of most senior party leader and the significance the BJP accorded to the event was not lost on political observers. The foremost was the message to the party rank and file the huge respect the BJP bestows upon those who “make the supreme sacrifice” for it.
Also, holding the event on Banerjee’s turf is the BJP’s way of throwing a challenge to the firebrand leader to boost the moral of grass-root workers.
“It’s part of the BJP efforts to push the narrative of being the victim of political violence in Bengal and portray itself as an alternative to the forces of violence. Besides, ‘tarpan’ — a ritual of love, respect and remembrance — is in tune with the traditional Indian thought process. It has a message of peace, which stands in contrast to the violence in the state,” political analyst Bimal Shankar Nanda told IANS.
With the 2021 Assembly polls just 20 months away, the BJP has been trying to shake off its image in the state as a party of traders and Hindi-speaking Hindus.
Towards that end, the event afforded a big opportunity to the BJP to strike an emotional chord with Bengalis, to whom performing ‘tarpan’ on the occasion of the Mahalaya is an age-old custom.
“This is part of the BJP plans to relate to events and cultures symbolic of Bengalis. Like this year they are also trying to get involved in the state’s biggest festival — Durga Puja.
And definitely, there is an inherent message of Hindutva in the BJP’s national working president performing the ‘tarpan’ for the party workers. “Tarpan is after all a traditional Hindu custom,” said Nanda.
The other reason could be to ensure a place in the society at large by showcasing the right wing ideology.
“The Left Front had a distinct ideology, and that helped it to hold on to power for 34 years (1977-2011). But the ruling TMC seems to be losing the plot as it lacks an ideology. Mamata has definitely a social presence, but the TMC as a party hardly has a social presence. Without a place in the society you can’t succeed politically for long,” said Nanda.
In contrast, the Sangh Parivar, especially its patriarch Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has a social presence. “Thus, the Hindutva forces are now trying to increase their social presence,” he said.