“Today, Phase 1 of the West Bengal Assembly elections begin. I would request all those who are voters in the seats polling today to exercise their franchise in record numbers,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted a message on Saturday morning, as the state, and also Assam, went to polls in the first phase. The Prime Minister of India, currently on a visit to Bangladesh, then spent the rest of the morning in the middle of the minority Hindu community of the neighbouring nation.
However, apart from talking about the relationship between the two nations the PM also spoke of the Bharatiya Janata Party led Governments mantra, “sabka saath, sabka vikas and sabka vishwas”, that is often used as an election slogan as well, in a carefully curated speech that sounded that it was aimed at audiences in India, rather than those in Bangladesh. He said that “India and Bangladesh are fighting Covid-19 together” adding that it was “India’s duty that Made in India vaccine reaches Bangladesh citizens”. The vaccine has been another poll issue in the election bound states.
Earlier in the day, PM Modi performed a puja at the Jeshoreshwari Kali Shaktipeeth in Satkhira. According to a statement released by the Prime Minister’s office, the PM offered a handmade gold plated silver crown for the Goddess Kali idol and prayed that Covid-19 end soon.
Feeling blessed after praying at the Jeshoreshwari Kali Temple. pic.twitter.com/8CzSSXt9PS
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 27, 2021
The Prime Minister also announced a “grant for construction of a community hall-cum cyclone shelter attached to the temple”. He said the structure “could be useful even for social, religious and educational events. Most importantly, it could serve as a shelter at the time of disasters like cyclones. The government of India will help in the construction work. I express gratitude to the Bangladesh government that they have wished us well for this. A number of devotees come here during Kaali Puja. So a multi-purpose community hall is needed here, which can become a shelter house during any disaster, especially cyclones. The Indian government will construct a community hall here. I express my gratitude to the Bangladesh government that it has also wished us well for this work.”
According to news reports the temple had been renovated for his visit.
However, it was his visit to Gopalganj’s Orakandi temple that has garnered much interest in India, especially West Bengal, that went to polls in the first phase of Assembly elections today. As has been reported, this temple is sacred to the Vaishnavite Hindu Matua community, most are Namasudras, a Scheduled Caste group. The followers of this sect live on both sides of the Bangladesh-India border. In West Bengal, they have a sizable voting population and are said to be electorally influential in many constituencies. Most Matuas are in the Thakurnagar area of North 24 Parganas, as well as in South 24 Parganas and Nadia. According to a report in the Times of India, the Matua Mahasangha was founded in Orakandi of Bangladesh around 1860, as a religious reformation movement. After the India-Pakistan Partition in 1947, many Matuas migrated to West Bengal in India. It is reported that the next sizable migration happened in 1971 when Bangladesh was created.
The Matua population in West Bengal is estimated at nearly three crore stated news reports. However, as reported by TOI “the question of their citizenship has remained unresolved, although they have been voting in elections and many possess documents like Aadhaar and PAN.” The report cited the law passed in 2003 by the erstwhile NDA government that “virtually closes the doors on all those who entered India after 1971 without valid documents from obtaining citizenship.”
The PM’s speech at Orakandi, delivered in Hindi (and translated simultaneously into Bangla by an official), was perhaps meant to reach the community in India. PM Modi spoke in praise of Harichandra Thakur who founded the Matua community and his son Guruchand Thakur, under whose leadership the community grew and was associated with the Namasudra social protest movement of 1872. The PM offered prayers at the temple dedicated to the two spiritual gurus and said he had been “waiting for this opportunity since many years” adding that when he visited Bangladesh in 2015, he had expressed a desire to visit Orakandi, He said he was now feeling same emotions as felt by Matua community members in India after coming here.”
The PM announced that India will upgrade one middle-school and set up a primary school in the region, and that both India and Bangladesh want “stability, love and peace in place of instability, terror and unrest in the world.”
Later he visited the Bangabandhu Mausoleum Complex, along with Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, and her sister Sheikh Rehana. Prime Minister Modi wrote in the visitor book, “The life of Bangabandhu epitomized the freedom struggle of the people of Bangladesh for their rights, for the preservation of their inclusive culture and their identity.”
Meanwhile, Bangladesh has deployed Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), to maintain security after at least five people were killed and scores injured during anti-Modi protests. The BGB also acts as a reserve paramilitary force to maintain law and order. According to a report in Al Jazeera, the protests began on Friday at the main mosque in the capital, Dhaka, and soon spread to several districts in the country. The protesters in Chittagong were by the Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh, an Islamist group opposed to Modi’s visit stated the report. Out of the eight people injured due to gunshot wounds, four succumbed to their injuries. The protesters were dispersed by police, stated news reports quoting officials, after clashes broke out “between groups of demonstrators” on Friday. Five people were killed in the clashes and many have been reported injured.
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