How Vidyasagar became a political issue in West Bengal

Nearly 128 years after his death, the iconic social reformer and scholar of West Bengal Ishwar Chandra Bandyopadhyay who later earned the title Vidyasagar (Ocean of Knowledge) has suddenly become a bone of contention in West Bengal politics.

It all started on Tuesday evening when a bust of Vidyasagar at Kolkata’s Vidyasagar College was vandalised and broken into pieces by miscreants during BJP president Amit Shah’s roadshow in the city.

As the blame game between the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and BJP continues over the incident, one wonders why a scholar became a burning political issue. The reason lies in Vidyasagar’s stature as a key figure of the Bengal Renaissance.

Born on September 26, 1820, in Birsingha village of West Medinipur district in a poor family, Vidyasagar was shifted to Kolkata by his father Thakurdas Bandyopadhyay at a tender age and was admitted in the Sanskrit College.

His social movement in favour of remarriage of widows forced the British government to pass the Widow Remarriage Act in 1856. Vidyasagar’s textbook of Bengali alphabets Borno Porichoy (Introduction to Alphabet) made him an intrinsic part of childhood memories of almost all Bengali students.

The news of the Vidyasagar’s bust being vandalised spread through the mainstream and social media like wildfire. Alleging that BJP cadres were behind the incident, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee dubbed the saffron party leaders as those who insult the stalwarts of Bengal and the Bengali culture.

Describing the incident as an insult to Vidyasagar, the TMC supremo alleged that it was a “planted criminal conspiracy” of the BJP. Mamata compared the incident with the incident of B R Ambedkar's statue being broken in Uttar Pradesh.

Soon after the incident, the chief minister replaced the profile pictures of her social media accounts with an image of Vidyasagar and several other senior TMC leaders followed suit. The gesture was reciprocated by thousands of common social media users in Bengal.

Although BJP has vehemently opposed Mamata’s allegations, the incident may cause the saffron party dearly in the last phase of the elections in Bengal if TMC is successful in labelling it as 'anti-Bengali'. Among the nine seats in the state which will go to polls on May 19, four are located in urban areas where sentiments regarding Vidyasagar are expected to be intense.

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