‘Khela Hobe Divas’: Mamata’s ode to Bengal’s love for football, or a crass political war cry for 2024?

While the TMC has maintained that the day is being celebrated to pay respect to football lovers who lost their lives in the 1980 stampede, the BJP has managed to bring a communal twist in the plot.

Mamata Banerjee Khela Hobe Dibas
BJP alleged that the 'Khel Hobe Diwas' is being celebrated on August 16 to promote incidents like 'Great Calcutta Killings'.

Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress today celebrated ‘Khela Hobe Diwas’ across West Bengal by organising football matches. As per the TMC, the event is aimed at promoting sports and as a mark of respect to 16 people who lost their lives in a stampede that occurred during a football match in Kolkata on August 16, 1980. Yet, it’s tough to ignore the uncanny resemblance between the name the TMC has picked for the event and the poll slogan that Mamata Banerjee had used in the West Bengal elections. The slogan ‘Khela Hobe’ (Game On) was the battle cry of the TMC during the high-voltage state assembly polls earlier this year. Riding on the popularity of Banerjee and slogans like ‘Khela Hobe’ and ‘Bangla Nijer Meyekei Chay (Bengal wants its own daughter), TMC had defeated the BJP to retain power in the state. In an effort to increase its national footprint, the TMC today organised similar events in various parts of the country including Tripura where it is eyeing to dethrone the BJP in the assembly elections in 2023.

While the TMC has maintained that the day is being celebrated to pay respect to football lovers who lost their lives in the 1980 stampede, the BJP has managed to bring a communal twist in the plot. Several BJP leaders have criticised the TMC for choosing August 16 as ‘Khela Hobe Diwas’. They claimed that the Muslim League had launched its Direct Action Day and began the Great Calcutta Killings in 1946 on August 16.

Speaking to Financial Express Online, BJP ex-president of West Bengal and ex-National Secretary of the BJP, Rahul Sinha wondered whether the TMC is becoming the new Muslim League.

“This is totally a communal thing. What is so significant about August 16 that she chose the day for ‘Khela Hobe Diwas’? This is a sad day for Bengal. Muslim League had announced Direct Action Day on August 16 in 1946 and over 10 thousand Hindus were killed and many women were raped and this is known as the Great Calcutta Killings. When the day is linked to people’s sentiment, why organise games on this day?” Sinha wondered.

In 1980, a football match was organised between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan on this day. Around 20 spectators lost their lives in a stampede during the match. “When the day is linked to various tragedies, what is the rationale behind organising Khela Hobe Diwas today? This could be organised on any other day. Muslim League is not there in India but is the Muslim League reappearing as Trinamool League in Bengal?” wondered Sinha.

Sinha said that the saffron party has no problem with the ‘Khela Hobe Diwas’ but with the date. “We don’t want to obstruct the games. They can celebrate ‘Khela Hobe Diwas’ but August 16 is linked to communal riots in Bengal. There is another issue with the celebrations of ‘Khela Hobe Diwas’. When there are COVID-19 restrictions in place, Mamata Banerjee herself is breaking the COVID-19 protocols. If any other party organises any program even with a limit of just 50 people, the government prevents that program. Are COVID-19 rules only for the opposition?” said Sinha.

Echoing similar sentiments, BJP Bengal Vice President Dr. Biswapriyo Roy Chowdhury said that Mamata Banerjee is running a dictatorial government in the state. “There is no state of the rule but the rule of the state in Bengal. The TMC regime is completely against democracy. They (TMC) are promoting goonda raj. If there ever was any definition of a dictator, this government has surpassed that. Mamata Banerjee has even left Mussolini behind in her tyrannical regime. The situation is such in Bengal that by 2024, many families will find it hard to survive in Bengal. Either they (TMC workers) kill those opposed to them or force them to flee. This is a worsening trend for the people and culture of Bengal,” said Chowdhury.

He alleged that the TMC government is not ready to listen to anyone. “When we take to the streets to protest against the government, they arrest us. When their people were arrested by the CBI, the CM herself went to the CBI office and staged a sit-in there…No one can say anything (about the government now). Even during British rule, people used to get help from the police. Today, getting help from the police is difficult in Bengal. If the TMC government is angry with someone, it puts him/her behind the bar and slaps NDPS )the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985) case against them. They beat booth level workers to death and hang them to trees terming it a suicide. The situation is very bad here. Since May 2, 38 BJP workers have been killed by the TMC so far,” said Chowdhury.

He alleged that the ‘Khel Hobe Diwas’ is being celebrated on August 16 to promote incidents like ‘Great Calcutta Killings’.

However, the TMC termed the BJP’s claims as senseless. Reacting to Sinha’s remark of the TMC becoming another Muslim League, Kalyan Banerjee, TMC Lok Sabha MP and chief whip of the party said that the BJP is afraid of the TMC now. “These are bogus words. The BJP is afraid of the Trinamool now. Narendra Modi has lost his credibility because of Mamata Banerjee. The BJP is now talking nonsense. Football is very popular in West Bengal and youth play football in every village in the state,” said the TMC MP.

Reacting to the selection of August 16 as ‘Khela Hobe Diwas’, Kalyan Banerjee pointed out that the Narada case hearing is also taking place today. “August 16 has been associated with so many constitutional bench matters in the Supreme Court. How would they link up? There has to be a limit to their (BJP’s) imagination… This is just a day when we are celebrating football in West Bengal,” said the TMC MP.

When asked whether the TMC will celebrate August 16 as ‘Khela Hobe Diwas’ every year, he said he can only comment about today’s event.

While the TMC has moved ahead with ‘Khela Hobe Diwas’ today, the BJP is also observing ‘Paschimbongo Bachao Diwas’ (Save West Bengal Day) today to counter TMC’s narrative. Last month, Mamata Banerjee had made her national ambitions clear and the TMC since then has been actively working to strengthen its support base across the states. ‘Khela Hobe Diwas’ is yet another attempt by Banerjee to mobilise booth-level workers and increase her visibility in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections.

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