TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee
TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee
Screengrab from video

Kolkata: With the prospect of the West Bengal Legislative Assembly Elections, slated for later this year, just around the corner — the ruling TMC and the BJP seem to be engaged in an increasingly vicious cultural war that hinges upon the question of appropriation of Bengal's socio-religious icons for political gains.

Even though the Bengal unit of the BJP on Tuesday took out a colourful rally from Shyambazar to Swami Vivekananda's ancestral residence at Simla Street to mark the monk's 158th birth anniversary, the TMC appears resolute to not let the saffron camp railroad its way in reclaiming Narendranath Dutta's legacy.

Abhishek Banerjee, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's nephew and Member of Parliament from Diamond Harbour, also the favourite target of many a jibe from the saffron camp, on Tuesday took the occasion of the Swami's birth anniversary as an opportunity to lay down a few hefty taunts against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The contention has its roots eleven months back, when US President Donald Trump had, during his visit to India in February last year, slaughtered his homework on desi pronunciations and ended up referring to Swami Vivekananda as "Swami Viveka-mu-nand".

Banerjee, while addressing a TMC youth unit roadshow in Kolkata, said that the Prime Minister should have "snatched the microphone and corrected" Trump when the US President butchered the pronunciation of Swami Vivekananda's name.

"On February 24, 2020, just one year ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited US President Donald Trump, who can't even pronounce Swami Vivekananda's name. The POTUS referred to the monk's name as "Swami Viveka-munda, while Modi, who proclaims himself to be the highest gatekeeper of Hinduism, sat beside clapping," the TMC MP said in Bengali.

"Can there be anything more shameful for a Bengali than this?" he asked the crowd gathered before him, "Did a single BJP leader lodge their protest against this? If the Prime Minister had indeed been a devotee of Swami Vivekananda, he would have snatched the microphone from Trump and asked him to pronounce the monk's name correctly."

Abhishek Banerjee's aforementioned taunts can be clearly heard (if you understand Bengali, that is) in this video clip, from 9:50 onwards, posted on the Trinamool Congress' official Facebook page, :

For the uninitated, Trump had on that day messed up several other names, including those of Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli.

"This is the country where your people cheer on some of the world''s greatest cricket players, from Soo-chin Tendul-kerr to Virot Kohl-ee," Trump had said to the audience during his Motera stadium speech.

The Vedas became "The Vestas", while Trump also called Prime Minister Narendra Modi son of a ''chiwala'' (''Chaiwala'' or tea-seller).

Amused netizens immediately took to Twitter, especially over the mispronunciation of Swami Vivekananda''s name who represented India at the first-ever Parliament of the World''s Religions in Chicago in 1893.

Meanwhile, the war over Bengal's 'saints' only grows more insidious in West Bengal, with both the Trinamool Congress and the BJP claiming to be as ‘pious’ as the saints and followers on the same spiritual path as guided by them.

If performative stage politics was ever the butt of a joke on it being a spectator sport, it definitely is embodied in this moment in West Bengal.

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Free Press Journal