Ground Report: In Tagore town Bolpur, devta versus daanav play has voters hooked

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I ask Dr Anirban Ganguly how it feels to play god. He laughs a hearty laugh and says it is people who make gods of men. “I am here to serve the people. Whatever they make me, I shall be,” BJP’s Bolpur candidate tells me.

It is a dusty April day in this sleepy town that once housed Bengal’s tallest icon Rabindranath Tagore. The Shantiniketan neighbourhood remains Bolpur’s biggest draw with the sprawling Visva Bharati University campus and memories of the bard who wrote national anthems for both India and Bangladesh.

Bolpur’s voters though are now watching a non-Tagore play, the fight between a devta and a daanav.

Devta versus daanav:

Local BJP workers are projecting the bespectacled, fair-skinned, and controversy-free director of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, Dr Ganguly, who is also a scholar of civilisation, history, politics and culture, as some sort of devta who will restore Bolpur’s old glory. There are no prizes for guessing who the daanav is for BJP supporters in Bolpur. It is Trinamool Congress’ Anubrata Mondal, whose statements make tabloid headlines and actions allegedly make mincemeat of his political rivals. This is his town.

The Trinamool Congress candidate from Bolpur this election is the sitting legislator and fisheries minister Chandranath Sinha. But Sinha has been largely absent from his constituency so far, and it is party strongman Mondal who is tasked with keeping Bolpur voters in Trinamool’s kitty.

Today, the glaring sun has kept residents indoors. But at a temple compound in Rathindra Pally, a posse of BJP workers has gathered to greet Ganguly and walk with him through Bolpur’s lanes and bylanes, spreading the message of the party, chanting Joy Shri Ram.

Before Ganguly’s cavalcade came in, I asked a party worker arranging copies of the BJP manifesto for Bengal in neat stacks, to be distributed among residents they will visit later, how popular Ganguly is. After all, Ganguly has come from Delhi and is not a very old face in Bengal politics. “This is one constituency where the party has selected the right candidate,” he says. So there are constituencies where the BJP has not fielded the right candidates? I quip. “Don’t get me into trouble, dada,” the man smiles. “But Ganguly-da is the answer to Anubrata Mondal’s politics of terror.”

The bohiragoto debate:

Can a bohiragoto (outsider) win the heart of Bolpur? I ask Ganguly as he waves at the crowd of supporters who throng him. “The very concept of bohiragoto is alien to Bengal and especially to Bolpur. Do not forget Tagore invited foreigners to Shantiniketan. So how can Trinamool introduce such an absurd insider-outsider debate?” he tells me.

The other charge against his party of course is that of appropriating icons before elections. “Tagore does not belong to any political party. He is Bengal’s icon, he is India’s and the world’s. Celebrating our greats, honouring them doesn’t mean appropriation.”

As Ganguly vanishes into the crowd, a question lingers. Is he too new and too “cultured” for the rough and tumble of Bengal politics, especially in a constituency that is fully under Anubrata Mondal’s control?

Mamata’s man Mondal:

Not long ago, Bengal BJP went to the Election Commission against Mondal and Trinamool Congress workers for “creating an atmosphere of fear”. There were allegations of the “cold-blooded murder” of a BJP worker. Bapi Ankure was “ruthlessly murdered by TMC goons because of his political affiliation,” the BJP had alleged.

But Anubrata Mondal, the president of the Trinamool’s Birbhum district unit and a confidante of Mamata Banerjee, has long been controversy’s favourite child or daanav, if you go by the BJP. Mondal had once allegedly told supporters to throw bombs on police and set houses of political rivals on fire. In a recent interview with a woman reporter who asks him about the party’s slogan ‘Khela Hobe’ (game on) he tells her anyone can play with anyone, he doesn’t mind playing with her. In the video, the reporter quickly changes the topic.

“Bolpur needs to change the conversation. It is Tagore town after all and all we talk about now are corruption and slothfulness,” Deboshruti Roychowdhury, Dean, Students’ Affairs, Ashoka University, who has a house in Bolpur and flies down every once in a while from Haryana to be with her family tells me. “I am a Bolpur voter and I want an MLA with a clean image who will be present in the constituency. The current MLA Chandranath is hardly here. Visva Bharati University is in a mess, we need healthcare and better electricity and an end to corruption.”

So you need a devta? I ask.

Roychowdhury smiles. “A decent human being will do.”

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