The Trinamool Congress is mulling construction of 10 Sun temples in Asansol area of south Bengal to peddle its “soft Hindutva” brand and take the wind out of the BJP’s sails in the state ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Senior Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader and Mayor of Asansol Municipal Corporation, Jitendra Kumar Tiwari is at the forefront of construction of the temples in his area which is likely to be completed before next year’s ‘Chhath’ puja.
In addition to increasing outreach among the majority community members, the TMC’s efforts also appear to be guided by its endeavour to further endear itself with the migrant Hindi speaking population from Bihar and Jharkhand in the region which has five Lok Sabha constituencies.
“In this area of Durgapur-Asansol, there is a huge Hindi speaking population. Every year, we witness large number of devotees during Chhath Puja. In order to cater to them, we have decided to build 10 sun temples in the area,” Mr Tiwari, who is also the chairman of Chhath Puja Coordination Committee, told PTI.
The designs of the temples would be ready by December and the construction will cost around Rs 2 crore, Mr Tiwari, who is also a TMC MLA from the West Burdwan district, said.
“We have already started mobilizing funds from the locals for the construction of the temples. We have formed temple committees in different areas to raise funds. The Asansol Municipal Corporation will provide infrastructure support such as roads and electricity,” he said.
Asansol-Durgapur belt has been one of the most politically and communally volatile regions in the state since 2014 Lok Sabha polls, which witnessed a surprising victory of BJP’s Babul Supriyo.
Earlier, in March-April of this year, Asansol in West Burdwan district witnessed communal riots over Ram Navami celebrations.
The TMC’s temple building exercise is being seen as its bid to check the saffron party’s growth, which has made steady inroads in the region since Mr Supriyo’s victory.
The decision to construct the temples comes at a time when the BJP has registered phenomenal growth in Bengal politics by championing the cause of Hindus and labelling TMC as a party more “keen on appeasing Muslims”.
The BJP, which has fixed a target to win 22 seats in Bengal, is also set to start its three ‘rath yatras’ in Bengal from December 7 covering all the 42 Lok Sabha seats of the state.
However, a senior TMC leader and MP, on the condition of anonymity said, the party and the state government works for every caste and religion.
“We are aware that 10 sun temples are coming up in Asansol. The allegations of TMC practising soft Hindutva are completely baseless. We respect each and every religion. We don’t believe in communal politics of BJP,” the TMC leader told PTI.
TMC sources admitted that the temples would endear the party to the Hindi speaking migrants in the region as Chhath festival– to worship sun god– is close to their hearts.
The Asansol-Durgapur belt and parts of Birbhum and Purulia, which share its border with Jharkhand, is known as the Hindi heartland of Bengal due to presence of considerable Hindi speaking population.
A majority of the population in the area are migrant labourers from Bihar and Jharkhand who work in factories there.
Despite Mr Tiwari maintaining that the temples had nothing to do with elections or politics, TMC insiders said the initiative would have a “positive” impact on the 2019 polls.
“BJP has been trying to increase its footprint in the area by trying to pitch themselves as champions of Hindutva and saviours of Hindus. So we want to reach out to the masses of the area, especially Hindi speaking people, with the message that we respect all religions,” said a senior TMC leader.
The construction of temples in the areas will send out a strong message to the majority population in the adjoining districts and also tribal areas, which comprises nearly 5-6 Lok Sabha seats that the BJP is eyeing in next Lok Sabha polls, said another TMC leader.
However, the opposition Congress and CPI(M) alleged that the TMC was “peddling soft hindutva” to nullify Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) “pro-Hindu” agenda.
From organising ‘purohit sammelan’ (congregation of Hindu priests) to Haunuman Jayanti, Ram Navami celebrations and more recently providing Rs 10,000 each to 28,000 Durga puja pandals across the state, the TMC has been charting a course of “soft Hindutva” to take the wind out of BJP’s sails, said CPI(M) central committee member Sujan Chakraborty.
State Congress president Somen Mitra went on to blame TMC’s communal politics as the main reason for the rise of the BJP and its mentor the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in Bengal.
However, the BJP said that it was due to the “fear psychosis” of the saffron party, that the TMC was forced to shift its stance from “Muslim appeasement to temple construction”.
“It is really good to see that the TMC has changed its political strategy from minority appeasement to construction of temples due to the fear of BJP. The TMC is doing it with an eye on next year’s Lok Sabha polls,” local MP and Union Minister of State for Heavy Industries, Babul Supriyo said.
BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha said if the TMC was so keen on building temples, then it should come out with a clear stand on the issue of construction of Ram Temple in Ayodha.