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Amit Shah’s evocative ‘Vidyasagar ji’

The Union home minister was not setting the record straight on the vandalism of the bust last year but tweeting four minutes after Mamata had paid a tribute to the icon
Mamata Banjeree
Mamata Banjeree
File picture

Meghdeep Bhattacharyya   |   Calcutta   |   Published 27.09.20, 02:28 AM

“Vidyasagar ji”, “Vidyasagar ji”, “Vidyasagar ji”, “Vidyasagar Mahashay”.

Amit Shah was not setting the record straight on the vandalism of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar’s bust that coincided with the close of the BJP leader’s road show in Calcutta last year but tweeting four minutes after Mamata Banjeree had paid a bicentenary tribute to the Bengal renaissance icon on Saturday.


The thoughtful and respectful “ji” was a gracious addition but it did end up reaffirming suggestions that the BJP continues to be unfamiliar with the cultural values of Bengal.

“Vidyasagar ji” carries a ring of unfamiliarity to many in Bengal where the social reformer is referred to as “Vidyasagar”, which in itself is a mark of admiration and not a surname. Ishwarchandra Bandyopadhyay came to be known as Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar (Ocean of Knowledge) because of his scholarship.

“Outsiders” and “their disregard for Bengal’s legacy” formed part of the chief minister’s homage, which referred to the May 14, 2019, defacement that is believed to have cost the BJP in the last lap of the general election in Bengal, somewhat spoiling its outstanding overall performance.

“Remembering great social reformer and educationist Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar on his 200th birth anniversary. He was a pioneer for Bangla language and drafted primer Barnaparichay. Also known as ‘Dayar Sagar’, he fought for widow remarriage, banning child marriage and polygamy,” Mamata tweeted in the morning of Vidyasagar’s 200th birth anniversary. Vidyasagar was born on September 26, 1820.

“Vidyasagar truly represents the pride of Bengal and serves as an inspiration to us till date. His bust was unfortunately desecrated in 2019 by certain outsiders, which only shows their disregard for Bengal’s legacy. However, his teachings are deeply inculcated in our values,” Mamata added.

Vidyasagar’s bust was smashed at a north Calcutta college named after him, allegedly by participants from Shah’s road show.

Four minutes after Mamata’s statement on Saturday, Shah posted tweets in English and Bengali.

“I bow to the legendary Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar ji on his birth anniversary. As a distinguished social reformer, educationist and philosopher, he brought a huge transformation and revolution in the society through his far-reaching ideas and reforms in various fields,” he wrote.

“Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar ji championed for women rights, he campaigned relentlessly for the widow remarriage act and towards their empowerment. Vidyasagar ji’s towering and immortal legacy will always continue to be a source of inspiration for millions across the world.”

The Bengali tweet by Shah stuck to “Vidyasagar”, except in one sentence where it was “Vidyasagar Mahashay”.

After the vandalism, which had come with just the last phase of the Lok Sabha polls remaining, the BJP had not done much to address the issue other than try to shift the blame for the act on Trinamul.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had taken two days to end his silence on the matter. The legacy of Vidyasagar, with his inclusive, reformist vision of secular humanism, had not been a priority with the saffron camp.

But after the results showed a BJP rout in the final phase of an election it had till then unexpectedly dominated in the state, the vandalism came to be viewed widely as a turning point in the Bengal chapter of the polls.

The BJP had bettered Trinamul or gone neck and neck with it through the first six phases, winning 18 of the 33 seats, before drawing a blank in the nine-seat final phase.

Those nine Lok Sabha seats make up 63 of the state’s 294 Assembly segments, including 35 crucial urban seats in Calcutta and North and South 24-Parganas. Of these 35, the BJP secured leads in only 5, while leading from 116 of the remaining 231 Assembly segments in the state.

Since the results, the BJP has been tripping over itself to declare its respect for Vidyasagar.

On Saturday, state BJP chief Dilip Ghosh, too, posted tweets.

Ghosh’s initial tribute did not mention the vandalism. But 42 minutes later -- and over 90 minutes after Mamata’s statement -- he posted another tweet, tagging May 14, 2019, as a “Black Day”.

“The people of Bengal won’t forget… the day the statue of this great icon of the Bengali Renaissance was destroyed by miscreants inspired by Didi’s philosophy. If the BJP comes to power, it will reinstate the heritage of Vidyasagar and the incident will be investigated,” Ghosh wrote.

Hooghly MP and BJP politician Locket Chatterjee, who garlanded the Vidyasagar statue at College Square with much fanfare on Saturday, too insisted that the May 2019 vandalism had been the handiwork of “goons of Trinamul”.

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