Religion is the opiate of the people, so goes the Communist adage. The Left, especially the CPM, has always criticised religiosity in the society and slammed it as communalism. But, the party, which was once averse to take part in religious festivals, is now banking on "social festival" Durga Puja to reach out to the people and revamp its dwindling mass base in West Bengal politics.
The CPI(M), which is facing a tough time in the state in coping with the ruling Trinamool Congress and the opposition BJP, has allowed its MLAs to take part in inaugural programmes of Durga Puja.
"We can no longer afford to stay away from festivals and social events. We may not believe in religion but there is no harm in participating in festivals and social events," a senior state secretariat member of the CPI(M) admitted. He said that the change of stance of the party was in the backdrop of the "competitive communalism practised by both the BJP and the TMC. If you have to fight them, you have to take part in these festivals as this is one of best opportunities to spread our message."
For decades, CPI(M)'s participation in Durga Puja has been limited to setting up stalls to sell Left literature outside puja pandals across the state. But this time, party MLA Tanmoy Bhattacharya from Dum Dum North Assembly seat will take part in four Durga Puja inaugurations in his constituency. Another MLA Manas Mukherjee too has a busy schedule next week inaugurating several pujas in his constituency.
Bhattacharya said Durga Puja had turned into more of a social festival than a religious one in Bengal, and it would be foolish to stay from such festivities which could be a platform for establishing mass contact. "I personally don't believe in religion, but being a public representative how can I stay away from social festivals," Bhattacharya asked. Mukherjee also echoed the views of Bhattacharya. "I am not attending any religious programme. I am attending a programme where so many people have come together. We also attend marriage ceremonies where several religious customs are followed," Mukherjee said.
The development has brought back memories of an incident in 2006, when late senior CPI(M) leader and Transport Minister Subhas Chakraborty had to face severe criticism within the party for worshipping Kali at Tarapith temple claiming that he was a Hindu, a Brahmin and a Marxist.
At this, a senior state committee leader said, "what Subhas Chakraborty had done and what our present MLAs are doing are different. Our MLAs are neither worshipping nor are offering 'anjali' to deities. They are just participating in inauguration ceremonies and other social events of the festival".