Ram Mandir — the result of a long spiritual and legal struggle — is coming up in all its glory in Ayodhya, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi set to inaugurate it between January 14 and 24 next year.
Cut to West Bengal, this Durga Puja — the state’s single-biggest annual event — will see two life-size Ram Mandirs. Two prominent Durga Puja pandals run by BJP leaders in Kolkata and North Bengal will have Ram Mandir as their theme. What’s more? If all goes well, Union Home Minister Amit Shah may inaugurate both of them.
The first puja is Kolkata’s iconic Santosh Mitra Square puja which is known as Kolkata-based BJP leader Sajal Ghosh’s Durga Puja. Situated in central Kolkata’s Lebutala Park, this Durga Puja is a huge crowd-puller. Last year, a huge Red Fort replica as its pandal along with a glitzy laser show drew such record crowds that Kolkata Police had to briefly halt the laser show fearing a stampede-like situation. This time, this popular Durga Puja committee has decided to showcase Ayodhya’s under-construction Ram Mandir.
“We always prefer to stick to recent themes. Last year, we went with Red Fort as Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav was the theme. This year, it is natural to go with Ram Mandir,” Ghosh told News18.
The puja committee will erect a life-size replica of the Ram Temple with a near-carbon copy imitation and Ghosh has already approached Shah to inaugurate it. “We have received a verbal confirmation from his side. But since the government is preoccupied with events like the G20 Summit right now, a final confirmation can be expected later,” Ghosh added. Last year, the puja was inaugurated by yesteryear Bollywood star-turned-BJP leader Mithun Chakraborty.
If you think this is a one-off incident, think again. Nearly 400 kilometres away from Kolkata, BJP’s state president Sukanta Majumdar’s Lok Sabha constituency Balurghat will also have Ram Mandir as its theme.
“Yes, that is right. We are going to have Ram Mandir as the theme this time. It is the result of a struggle for 800 years. It is remarkable how everyone has come together to support it after the verdict of the Supreme Court, in spite of having a long-standing dispute. Our decision was intended to respect that camaraderie,” he told News18. He added that he will “approach” Shah to inaugurate it in the coming days.
The BJP officially used to conduct a Durga Puja in Kolkata’s Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre which came to an end last year. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had inaugurated it in 2020, a year ahead of the high-voltage West Bengal assembly election in 2021 when BJP gave a clarion call for ‘Abki baar 200 par’.
With no official puja of its own this time, the BJP leadership has instructed all its rank and file to be “actively involved” in “as many Durga Pujas as possible”. It is perceived to be a careful strategy to have two pujas with the same Ram Mandir theme in two different parts of Bengal.
However, the mention of Lord Ram is never devoid of political controversies in West Bengal. No wonder, Majumdar, without naming anyone, was quick to take a dig. “Few are not in favour of Ram. They never were even back then. They were in support of Ravan… Time changes but this eternal fight continues.”
But Ghosh says one should not look for politics in the theme just because he is a BJP leader. “This (Durga Puja as it is celebrated today) is actually called ‘Akal Bodhan’. Who did that puja? Lord Ramchandra himself. So today, when his mandir is being built (in Ayodhya), what would have been more apt than celebrate that?” asks the BJP leader.