Different wheels: Calcutta cyclists ask to be permitted on roads again
Sir — In a much-needed step, organizations of cyclists and cycling enthusiasts recently wrote to the police commissioner of Calcutta, requesting permission to allow bicycles to ply all roads in the city. Earlier this month, Calcutta police had launched a drive to prevent cyclists from moving in thoroughfares. While law enforcement is right to fear an increase in road accidents if cycles are allowed on all roads, many people post-Covid have opted out of public transportation altogether and solely rely on cycles to get to work. Transport policies should be updated to reflect the needs of the people.
Sir — It is quite unfortunate that the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is hoping to make inroads into Bengal in the upcoming assembly elections, is woefully clueless about the history of the state and its icons (“Alien address”, Dec 11). The official Twitter handle of the state unit of the BJP had recently announced, quite erroneously, that Visva-Bharati and not Jorasanko was the birthplace of Rabindranath Tagore. Although the tweet was later removed, this faux pas is unforgivable.
The ruling Trinamul Congress has rightly asserted that the BJP is ignorant of the rich cultural heritage of Bengal. No matter how much the BJP continues to allude to luminaries like Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore or Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar in its election speeches, the saffron party’s understanding of the history of the state is shallow at best. The BJP’s linkages with the Bharatiya Jana Sangh may enable it to invoke the legacy of Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, but the fact remains that Bengal’s political trajectory has long been progressive rather than ideologically conservative. Citing incorrect facts about revered Bengalis will not yield political dividends either. Regrettably, several TMC leaders, too, have failed to carry forth the political and cultural lineage of Bengal with the dignity it demands.
Sir — As the BJP continues to attempt to invoke the legacy of Rabindranath Tagore to endear itself to the Bengali voter, I am reminded of the quote by Kabiguru where he says, “Patriotism can’t be our final spiritual shelter... I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live”. The BJP has time and again failed to prioritize humanity over patriotic fervour. It is thus surprising that the saffron party would venerate a figure whose ideals stood in complete opposition to those of the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The BJP’s decision to strip Jammu and Kashmir of statehood, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the National Register of Citizens or the arbitrary arrest of civil rights activists would have all been staunchly criticized by Tagore. Unlike the BJP, Tagore’s idea of nationalism was rooted in brotherhood and secularism.
It is of utmost importance that the BJP understands the principles and ideals that Tagore stood for before paying homage to the great man. Whether it was the party president, J.P. Nadda, who had mistakenly referred to Visva-Bharati as Tagore’s birthplace or if it was a slip on the part of the IT cell is ultimately irrelevant. Such mistakes only go on to further strengthen the Opposition’s assertion that the BJP lacks a cultural and political understanding of Bengal.
Sir — Ever since the BJP won 18 seats in West Bengal in the 2019 general elections, it has become evident that the party intends to win the next assembly elections. However, in spite of its ambitions, the party remains unable to grasp the political pulse of Bengal. It must understand that the TMC was able to dethrone the Left owing to a combination of appropriate timing and charismatic leadership. Mamata Banerjee, no matter her shortcomings, is one of the tallest mass leaders to emerge from Bengal. The BJP does not have a figure who can match the chief minister’s popularity. The BJS might have been founded by a Bengali, but that is too flimsy a pretext on which to entice voters in the state. The BJP might succeed in increasing its vote share in the 2021 assembly elections, but it will take much more to truly replace the TMC as the ruling party in Bengal.
Sir — As the campaigning for the 2021 assembly polls heats up, it has become abundantly clear that the BJP is trying to draw the people of Bengal into the larger Hindutva fold. While progressives would like to think that Bengal, which can boast of a long leftist legacy and has been home to secular-humanist icons like Rabindranath Tagore and Lalon Fakir, would be able to ward off the onslaught of rabid Hinduism, it is far from the truth. The growing popularity of the BJP amongst Bengalis indicates that unless the TMC, the Congress and the Left parties come together, the BJP might just win the assembly elections.