Vandalised statue of a tribal icon triggers BJP-TMC tug of war ahead of Bengal polls

The arrest of a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) worker in connection with the breaking of a statue of Kanhu Murmu, one of the four leaders of the 1855 Santhal rebellion against the British and local landlords, has triggered political tension in Bengal’s Purulia district.

The Trinamool Congress (TMC) lost the Purulia Lok Sabha seat to the BJP in 2019. The panchayat polls in Purulia were marked by violence in 2018.

The alleged vandalism on July 7 took place at the village of Sandhya Rani Tudu, a TMC tribal leader and minister of state for backward classes’ welfare. The village is located in the Manbazar assembly constituency that Tudu represents.

The statue was installed on a school ground on June 30 to mark the Hool festival observed by the Santhal community. The local fair committee accused Baidyanath Mandi, a BJP worker, in its police complaint.

Mandi, a local resident, was arrested on Wednesday, said Partha Bhunia, officer-in-charge of Manbazar police station.

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TMC has targeted the BJP, comparing the incident to the vandalism of the bust of 19th century educationist and social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar at a college in Kolkata during a poll rally by BJP leader Amit Shah in May 2019. It became a raging issue in the Lok Sabha polls but the BJP managed to win 18 of the state’s 42 seats, marking its best ever performance in Bengal.

“@BJP4Bengal has sworn to attack and destroy every grain of Bengal’s cultural heritage. First, they vandalized Vidyasagar’s statue and now they have vandalized the statue of revered tribal hero Kanho Murmu in Purulia. We strongly condemn such acts of iconoclasm,” TMC tweeted on Thursday.

“Our workers will visit door-to-door across households in Purulia and collect soil from their homes to reconstruct and reinstate the statue of the tribal icon to pay our respects and immortalize his contributions in the district,” TMC said in another tweet.

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BJP has alleged that the vandalism is a conspiracy to malign it as TMC is fast losing ground in the state’s tribal belts before the 2021 assembly polls.

“BJP has risen exponentially in the tribal belts and won the Lok Sabha seats of Purulia, Bishnupur and Midnapore where tribals constitute a sizable section of the voting population. The ruling party made tall promises in these regions but delivered nothing in nine years,” Khagen Murmu, BJP Lok Sabha member from the Malda North seat and president of the party’s scheduled tribe front in Bengal, told HT.

“We will not tolerate this and start an agitation not only in Purulia but in other districts. TMC knows that its days are numbered. Hence, it is trying to rake up an issue by staging an act of vandalism. No tribal will ever touch a statue of Kanhu Murmu,” Murmu added.

“Mandi is known to be an honest man and he takes part in our party programmes. It is not possible for one man to dismantle the statue from its foundation. Also, it is not possible to evade detection as policemen are always around since the minister and her family lives in the village,” said BJP Purulia district unit president Bidyasagar Chakraborty.

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