The farmers’ protest against three contentious farm laws has become the theme of Durga Puja pandals in Kolkata, drawing criticism from BJP leaders who fear the portrayal of the Narendra Modi government’s alleged anti-peasant move could harm the party.
Dum Dum Park Bharat Chakra’s Puja theme showcases the evolution of the farmers’ movement in the country and the attacks the protesters had to face, including recent killings of four peasants allegedly by the son of BJP leader and junior Union home minister Ajay Mishra Teni at Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh.
Pratik Choudhury, one of the members of the organising committee, said the theme — Dhaan deybo na, Maan deybo na (Won’t give our crops, won’t give our pride) — was their way to pay tributes to all farmers’ movements that had taken place in India. “The theme depicts the peasant protests of Tebhaga and Telengana, along with others. However, it would have been incomplete if the story of the ongoing farmers’ protest was not depicted.”
One of the sidewalks leading to the pandal is adorned by a sketch of a car running over a farmer. The picture is accompanied by the words — Motorgaari uraaye dhulo, pishey morey chaashigulo (A motorcar leaves a smoke of dust, the farmers are run over). Despite the image’s eerie resemblance to the recent incident at Lakhimpur Kheri, the sketch was actually drawn at least a week before the incident took place.
The organisers claimed that the resemblance between the sketch and the Lakhimpur Kheri incident that killed four farmers and a journalist was purely coincidental. However, one of the many posters adorning the pandal does mention the Lakhimpur Kheri deaths.
As the farmers’ protest keeps gaining support ever since the movement started on the borders of Delhi last year, the BJP has been making desperate attempts to hide its embarrassment. The Puja theme has also visibly left the party embarrassed. As the party did not want to be seen ruffling feathers of the farmers, it has hence tried calling out the authorities of Bharat Chakra for “insulting the sentiments of Hindus”.
On Friday, several Bengal BJP leaders, including its media cell chief Saptarshi Chowdhury, lashed out at the organisers on social media for using “slippers and chappals” as motifs in the pandal.
“This is where hymns will be read, people will offer prayers and you use slippers to decorate that place?” Saptarshi wrote. He also alleged that the organisers were politically motivated.
The state unit’s chief spokesperson, Samik Bhattacharya, said the BJP found the use of shoes to decorate a Puja pandal “inappropriate”.
Taking on the comments made by BJP leaders, Pratik said: “The slippers symbolise the numerous farmers who have walked the paths in several peasants’ protests in India. There is no political connotation here. Moreover, the slippers have been kept at least 70 feet away from the idol. Don’t we leave our shoes outside when we enter temples?”
When the BJP took to attacking the organisers for obvious political reasons, the committee’s decision to portray the struggle of farmers found support from Sanjukta Kisan Morcha leader and CPM politburo member Hannan Mollah.
The leader of the Morcha, which is spearheading the peasants’ struggle against the three farm laws, said adopting farmers’ protest as a Puja theme was a positive sign and reflected people’s support for the movement. “The BJP and the RSS are clearly scared and embarrassed. That is why they are bringing in Hindutva and raising unfounded cha-rges of politicisation of Durga Puja,” Mollah said, expressing the fear that the puja might be attacked to side with the peasantry.