Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, a name every Bengali has grown up with, has been dragged into the acrimonious and violence-hit national election campaign in West Bengal. A day after a statue of the iconic 19th century reformer was vandalized in clashes following BJP president Amit Shah's roadshow in Kolkata, many Trinamool leaders changed their profile picture on Facebook and Twitter to the image of Vidyasagar.
"BJP goons took sticks and vandalized the statue. Such a big shame," said Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, displaying broken parts of the white bust at Vidyasagar College.
Her party leader Derek O'Brien tweeted: "I do not have words to condemn the incident. I am myself ashamed... that, as people of Bengal, we cannot respect Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar because of these BJP goons."
Other opposition parties joined in condemning the BJP. "Strongly condemn the desecration of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar's statue by BJP goons in Bengal. He was not only an icon for Bengali people but for the entire country. This is an assault to our shared culture and identity," posted Randeep Singh Surjewala, describing Prime Minister Narendra Modi as "power hungry, with no respect for Indian cultures."
The Left also tweeted condemnation. "Not about just a statue, but a systematic attack on Bengal. One of the biggest symbols of the Bengal renaissance is what BJP-RSS have attacked. These obscurantists have always opposed Vidyasagar's ideas. But Bengal will not succumb," said CPM leader Sitaram Yechury.
The BJP, in turn, accused the Trinamool of conspiring to frame the BJP by having the statue broken by her party workers.
Union Minister Babul Supriyo, the BJP candidate from Asansol, tweeted that he was 100 per cent confident that the breaking of the statue was part of Mamata Banerjee's "larger scheme of dirty politics."
"She got it broken! There's no way the BJP supporters could have entered the hostel and reached the statue that was deep inside the premises," Babul Supriyo said.
The Vidyasagar statue is an emotive issue as campaigning winds up for the final round of voting in Bengal; nine of the 42 seats in the state will vote on May 19.
Stories of Vidyasagar, who apparently tied a lock of his hair to a lamp post while studying to avoid falling asleep, are a staple for children in Bengal.
"Vidyasagar is an icon. He gave Bengal its alphabet. He fought for widow remarriage and is a symbol of renaissance in Bengal," said a Kolkata resident. "What happened yesterday is a shock - a clash of cultures and one of the ugliest chapters in Bengal's political history."
Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt also posted: "To attack Pandit Vidya Sagar is to attack Bangla language. To begin with he simplified Bangla for studying through Borno Porichoy (alphabets)."
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