In the massive political row over the vandalism of an Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar statue in clashes at BJP president Amit Shah's rally in Kolkata, the legendary 19th century reformer was seen in the campaign of a BJP candidate today. Or at least, an actor in costume, complete with a faux receding hairline, a dhoti, a brown shawl and a book in one hand.
BJP candidate Anupam Hazra's move to campaign with a Vidyasagar replica was a bold one as passions ran high over the clashes and the vandalism of a beloved symbol of Bengali renaissance. His critics called it a desperate move to counter attacks over the statue desecration.
Actor Krishna Bairagi, who has role-played legends for 20 years, said he had received a phone-call last night saying "you have to be Vidyasagar". He obliged and ended up sweating it out with the candidate on the last day of the campaign for the final voting in the national election.
Mr Bairagi was meant to appear for South Kolkata candidate Chandra Bose; his supporters allegedly kept him in a locked room on Thursday morning. "They hijacked my and didn't let me go," he said. Finally, he was "rescued" and taken by the Jadavpur candidate.
For his effort, he made Rs 150. "It used to be my passion, now it is my bread-and-butter," Mr Bairagi told NDTV.
Anupam Hazra, contesting from Jadavpur, said the Vidyasagar statue was broken as part of a "plan" to malign the BJP using a man revered by every Bengali.
So he justified campaigning with an actor playing Vidyasagar.
"I am trying to show the respect we have for him, my symbolic regards," said the BJP candidate.
On Tuesday evening, clashes broke out at Amit Shah's roadshow in Kolkata when BJP supporters allegedly attacked protesters holding up "Go Back Amit Shah" posters outside the Vidyasagar College and near Calcutta University.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress claims there is video proof that BJP supporters broke the Vidyasagar bust. The BJP, however, says it was the Trinamool that smashed the statue. "They did it to create a negative image of the party," Mr Hazra said.
Earlier today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to install a "grand statue" of Vidyasagar at the same spot.
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