A notice board hanging on the entrance gate to the house of the great Hindu reformer Swami Vivekanand house in Kolkata has a stern warning: “Conducting political meetings in front of Swami’s statue is prohibited”.
Just inside stands a huge metal statue of the Hindu monk, under which a marble inscription says, “Swami Vivekanand was born in this house on 12 January 1863”.
Swami Vivekanand, who propounded the theory of Vedantic Humanism and spoke against casteism, was the first among Bengali icons to be appropriated by the RSS-BJP to propagate their Hindutva ideology.
However, this Hindutva ideology has failed to garner any traction in the area where Vivekanand was born in Kolkata in the Assembly polls underway in West Bengal.
The locality, called Maniktala, comes under the Jorasanko Assembly seat which has been a TMC stronghold since 2001. Despite tremendous effort, the BJP has so far failed to make any inroads here.
An RSS supporter who is a businessman complained about the ‘division of Hindu votes’. Saying that Hindus are not united in the area, he contended, “Hindu votes are divided among three parties – BJP, TMC and Left-Congress – while Muslim voters are united.”
Though the Assembly seat has a mixed population comprising of people who have migrated from Bihar, Rajasthan and Marwaris, data shows that Hindus here give priority to their political ideology over religious identity when it comes to choosing their representative for the state Assembly.
That is why, perhaps, to try and stop Hindu votes from being split, the BJP fielded a Marwari, Meena Purohit. However, the TMC fielded Vivek Gupta, who is also a Marwari and a respected businessman, potentially spoiling the BJP’s chance.
Gupta, who owns ‘Sanmarg’, one of the oldest Hindi newspapers published from Kolkata, is said to have an edge over the BJP candidate because of support from the Muslim community, perceived to be favouring the TMC.
The owner of a grocery shop adjacent to Vivekanand’s house said the BJP was finding it hard to get any support as people in the locality had been living together for ages. “Hindus here celebrate Muslim festivals and Muslims do not hesitate to perform Hindu rituals. During the Left regime, emphasis was laid on cultural assimilation,” he said.
Another young man who had come to visit Vivekanand’s house said, “Swami Vivekanand is regarded as a saint, spiritual leader and revolutionary reformer, not as a representative of political Hindutva.”
Another person, Prasoon Kant, who runs a book shop on College Street, said that in his opinion, West Bengal needed a Left government, but “this was unlikely to happen in this election”.
He also contended that support for the BJP was not due to Hindutva politics but anti-incumbency against the TMC government. “The Mamata government is fighting a tough battle this time due to allegations of corruption and nepotism against it,” he said.
Jorasanko was traditionally a Congress bastion, except when Vishnu Kant Shastri, former governor of Uttar Pradesh, won the seat for Janata Party in 1977.
This Story first appeared on nationalheraldindia.com