West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress and opposition BJP on Monday competed with each other in celebrating Raksha Bandhan, virtually converting the festival of love and duty into a colourful political slugfest replete with high drama.
While Trinamool heavyweights including Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee took part in the festival, the BJP fielded its senior leaders like state chief Dilip Ghosh and women’s wing president Locket Chatterjee in what turned out into a massive public relations exercise for the two political rivals.
Making the political objectives obvious, the leaders of both parties missed no opportunity to pour scorn and take potshots on one another.
A group of women tied the rakhi on Banerjee close to her south Kolkata home. Banerjee then drove to the Raj Bhawan and tied rakhi on Governor K.N. Tripathi. Only a month back, the two had engaged in a series of verbal spats with regard to the communal violence at Basirhat in North 24 Parganas district.
With the state government observing the occasion as Sankriti Divas, a central function was held at the city hub Dharamtala. Sports Minister Arup Biswas, taking a leading part in the programme, said the nation is unitedly celebrating the festival against a few destructive forces trying to divide India.
“There are a few destructive powers who are trying to divide India. They are trying to make the people of different communities clash with each other. The people of the entire nation are celebrating Raksha Bandhan against this divisiveness,” Biswas claimed as India’s leading women’s cricketer Jhulan Goswami tied the rakhi on him.
“We are observing the Raksha Bandhan because we all are Indians and there should be no discrimination among us,” he added.
Echoing Biswas, state Consumer Affairs Minister Sadhan Pande warned people against the forces that are trying to disrupt the environment of harmony.
“Bengal has always maintained a culture of communal harmony and peace. There are a few powers that are disrupting the atmosphere of harmony in the state. We are warning the people against them. No one should fall into their trap.
“We want to stay together with the people of all religions and communities,” he said.
The BJP organised a morning programme at its state headquarters where Chatterjed tied the rakhi on the state president’s wrist.
Other top BJP leaders also received the rakhi from Chatterjee and other women’s wing leaders.
Ghosh then went to the assembly, now in session, and tied the rakhi on Left Front and Trinamool legislators’ wrists. This caused visible discomfort among many of these lawmakers, who gave baffled looks at one another as Ghosh approached them with a rakhi in hand.
In a surprise move, Chatterjee – accompanied by other women leaders – then landed at the gate of the city police headquarters, Lalbazar.
Distinctly tense and shaky, the cops refused the “overtures” from their “sisters” with folded hands.
Some said they were on duty, and so could not take part in the festival. Others said that was against rules.
Chatterjee and her colleagues, however, were persistent. And finally some of them received the rakhi from the BJP leaders, but did not tie those on their wrists.
Chatterjee then tried to get in, but the police personnel blocked their way.
After some “polite arguments”, Chatterjee managed to go in, but could not find any more police men to play sister to. She finally returned after putting some rakhis in an envelope with a letter for Police Commissioner Rajiv Kumar.
“The responsibility of the tortured women of India lies with you,” said the caustic letter.
She also took a dig at the Trinamool leaders for going all out to celebrate the festival.
“You cannot reach out to the masses by hitting the streets only on the day of Raksha Bandhan,” she said.
“And I feel it is unfortunate and sad that the police personnel did not have the courage to accept the rakhis from us. Such is the atmosphere in this state,” she said.