An RSS leader raising poverty, unemployment and rising inequality in India close on the heels of BJP minister Nitin Gadkari’s remark that India is a rich nation where its population is poor and faces starvation, joblessness, inflation, casteism and untouchability is clear evidence that these are issues that are worrying the Sangh Parivar ahead of the 2024 general election. It is also proof that there are doubts within the saffron leadership if the display of gung-ho nationalism and chest thumping oratory that proved such a hit during the 2014 and 2019 elections will see the BJP through this time. RSS general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale at a webinar organised by RSS affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch pointed out that 20 crore people are below the poverty line and as many as 23 crore people earn less than Rs 375 a day while the unemployment rate is at 7.6 per cent. That his pronouncements echoed the issues constantly being raised by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during his ongoing Bharat Jodo Yatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir cannot be a mere coincidence. Gadkari’s observation that the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing is also one of the issues that Rahul Gandhi has consistently flagged. While pointing out that India is the fastest growing economy and currently the fifth largest in the world, Gadkari and Hosabale highlighted economic and social disparity whereby 1 per cent of the population has 20 per cent of the nation’s income while 50 per cent has only 13 per cent of the country’s income. After the Opposition took potshots at the government over Gadkari’s statements, the minister claimed that he had been misquoted but this too follows a pattern where the BJP leader makes candid remarks only to claim that he has been misconstrued.
Though the government has deflected all criticism on rising prices, unemployment, etc., alleging that India has performed better than developed nations on the economic front and citing its widespread welfare measures post Covid, its short-sighted approach may well prove to be disastrous. Serious steps have to be taken to control inflationary trends and Hosabale’s prescription of creating jobs at the rural level must be paid heed to. The Opposition on its part needs to take a leaf out of Rahul Gandhi’s playbook and focus on these key issues that affect the common man instead of being diverted by the BJP’s time-tested strategy of divisive politics. Elections will come and go but economic distress is real and needs to be tackled on a war footing.
Row over UNESCO tag
Kolkata’s Durga Puja was bestowed with a great honour when the UNESCO included it in its Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The illustrious tag also applies to the Kumbh Mela, Buddhist chants, Ramlila, Koodiyattam, etc. With the ten-day Durga Puja celebrations underway, Kolkata should be worshipping the Goddess, an epitome of divine and feminine strength. Instead an ugly controversy has erupted over where credit is due for the UNESCO honour, bypassing historian Tapati Guha-Thakurtha and her team who worked tirelessly to put together the dossier for the UN body She highlighted the creative, cultural and social aspects of the festival which is what UNESCO recognised while adding it in its list saying, “...Durga Puja represents the collective worship of the Hindu Goddess Durga... masterfully designed clay models of the Goddess are worshipped in pandals where communities get together and celebrate.” The symbolism behind this festival, of the victory of good over evil is common to many other Indian festivals but what is unique about the Pujas is that it transcends barriers of caste, creed and class and is a true purveyor of community spirit.
Therefore, the credit war between the Centre and state government over who was responsible for the intangible heritage tag militates against the very ethos of the festival. While the culture ministry, which had commissioned Dr Guha- Thakurtha to prepare the dossier for the UNESCO, claims that it was entirely the efforts of three Central ministries, Culture, Education and External Affairs, and the proactive role of Prime Minster Narendra Modi that got the Kolkata Durga Puja the tag, the Trinamul Congress government of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee held a rally to celebrate the honour. In the midst o this political bickering and one-upmanship, what has been forgotten is the millions of people who work towards making the Puja one of India’s most memorable and endearing festivals. Over the years the craftsmanship and sophistication behind the Pujas has been honed to perfection. It combines the ancient and the modern seamlessly, making it a true representative of the unity in diversity that India symbolises. The Durga Puja is integral to the soul of Kolkata and Bengal. To try to score brownie points over the UNESCO tag for this one-of-a kind festival is political hypocrisy at its worst. Let the honour rest solely with the people of Kolkata.