In the sleepy town of Pandaveswar, which was hit by communal riots last year, a Ram temple is being jointly built and maintained by Hindus and Muslims with assistance of local TMC leaders to help "heal the scars" of the communal violence.
Targeted by the BJP for alleged Muslim appeasement, the Trinamool Congress is on a temple building spree in Asansol and its surrounding areas in what is seen as its soft Hindutva push to counter the saffron party in this communally sensitive belt in south Bengal in Lok Sabha polls. In the sleepy town of Pandaveswar, which was hit by communal riots last year, a Ram temple is being jointly built and maintained by Hindus and Muslims with assistance of local TMC leaders to help “heal the scars” of the communal violence.
Not just Ram temple, seven other Sun temples are being jointly built by people of different communities including Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs in various parts of Asansol. “The temple has been built by joint efforts of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs living in the area. This temple reflects the brotherhood in our locality.
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“We have been living peacefully for the last several decades except for last year when there was a lot of tension following religious processions,” said Abhijit Saha, a resident of the area and community leader. 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 and has aided in building the Ram temple, which was inaugurated by him on April 23.
Muslims contributed 10,000 bricks, whereas Sikhs and Hindus helped in collecting funds for building the temple. “Our local MLA Jitendra Tiwari has also been active in helping us collecting funds,” Saha said. In addition to increasing outreach among the majority community members, the TMC’s efforts also appear to be guided by its endeavour to endear itself to the migrant Hindi speaking population from Bihar and Jharkhand in the region which has four Lok Sabha constituencies.
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 surprise victory of BJP’s Babul Supriyo. In March-April last year, Asansol in West Burdwan district witnessed communal riots over Ram Navami celebrations.
“This Ram temple is a message for the BJP and RSS, which are trying to divide our society in the name of religion. Hindus and Muslims have been living in harmony for decades the BJP has been trying to create a wedge between the two for last few years to serve its own political purpose,” Tiwari told PTI. He, however, dismissed suggestions by rival parties that it was part of the party’s soft Hindutva agenda to assuage the perceived anger among the Hindus over the last year’s riots.
Hindus account for nearly 70 per cent of the population whereas Muslims are 28 per cent. But local party leaders, on condition of anonymity, concede the temple building spree is an attempt to reach out to the Hindus.
“It is true that a section of Hindus are not very happy with the role of the administration. So we thought of reaching out to them. The BJP has been trying to make an issue out of it to create polarisation in the area,” a TMC leader who did not wish to be named said.
The TMC’s temple building exercise is being seen as its bid to check the growth of the BJP, which has made steady inroads in South Bengal region since Supriyo’s victory and has consistently accused the Mamata Banerjee Government of trying to appease the Muslims for vote bank politics at the cost of rights of Hindus. Union minister and BJP candidate from the Asansol Lok Sabha seat Babul Supriyo said the TMC is trying to compensate for the “sins” it committed during the 2018 riots.
“During the riots, TMC was mute spectators and now they are trying to become the messiah of Hindus by building temples. If they are so keen on making temples why don’t they clear their stand on Ram Mandir issue at Ayodhya,” he said.
Maulana ImdadullahRashidi, the imam of Noorani mosque in Asansol who lost his 16-year-old son during the riots, appealed for peace and said temples and mosques should not be mixed with politics. “Religion has a separate place in society and politics has a separate place. Both should not be mixed and it can cause a lot of problems. I appeal to everybody to maintain peace in the area,” said Rasheedi, who had declared last year that he would move out if anyone retaliated against his son’s death.
The Asansol-Durgapur belt and parts of Birbhum and Purulia, which share its border with Jharkhand, is known as the Hindi heartland of Bengal as majority of the population in the area are migrant labourers from Bihar and Jharkhand who work in factories there. The opposition Congress and CPI(M) have alleged that the TMC is “peddling soft Hindutva” to nullify Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) “pro-Hindu” agenda. Polling in Asansol is scheduled on April 29 in the fourth phase. The election to 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal is being held in seven phases.