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PM Modi May Join Kolkata 'Gita' Recital by Those Behind Controversial Bengal Kumbh 'Revival'

Hindutva organisations under apolitical banners are working in tandem with the Sangh Parivar to spread ‘religiousness’ across Bengal.
PM Narendra Modi with the 'Bhagvad Gita' recital organisers in November. Photo: Shared on Facebook by organisers.

Kolkata: Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to attend an event in Kolkata’s Brigade Parade Ground where 1 lakh people are set to be mobilised to recite from the Bhagvad Gita on December 24.

Curiously, however, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its associated organisations belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) family, or the Sangh Parivar, are not in the forefront. It is being organised by a team of three apparently apolitical platforms and many of the key organisers are also the ones who were behind the controversial ‘Kumbh Mela’ in West Bengal’s Tribeni. The event is sometimes spelt ‘Kumbho’.

“The Prime Minister is expected to arrive at 11.15 am and leave around 1.30-2 pm,” Manas Bhattacharya, the main organiser of the Gita recital event, told The Wire.

He serves as the state secretary of the little-known Akhil Bharatiya Sanskrit Parishad, which is organising the event in association with Sanatan Sanskriti Sansad, an organisation of monks formed last year, and Matilal Bharat Tirtha Seva Mission, an NGO engaged in social work in the education sector.

The BJP’s state unit president, Lok Sabha MP Sukanta Majumdar, said that the PM has given a “verbal assurance” but any written communication was yet to come. In November, Majumdar had taken the organisers of the event, including Bhattacharya and monks, to PM Modi to invite him.

Sadanand Saraswati, the Sankaracharya of Gujarat’s Dwaraka Sharda Peetham, and Bengal governor C.V. Ananda Bose have consented to be present, Bhattacharya said. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee is yet to respond to their invitation.

A praise and a dubious history

Last year, PM Modi praised the “revival” of Tribeni Kumbh Mela in Hooghly district “after 700 years”. The fair allegedly stopped seven centuries ago due to “Muslim aggression.” However, it was later revealed that the revival was a concocted story based on the doctoring of an Oxford University PhD thesis from the 1970s. In reality, there is no evidence of record of any Kumbh Mela happening in Tribeni, or West Bengal, in the past.

Also read: My Thesis Was Doctored to Suit the Goals of Hindu Supremacists, Says Canadian Researcher

After the doctoring was exposed, Alan Morinis, the Canadian anthropologist who wrote the thesis, told The Wire that the morphing of his thesis was intended to carry out a communal campaign against Muslims. The morphed part was circulated widely as a justification for “reviving” a major Hindu pilgrimage at Tribeni.

The organisers then said that “someone sent” them the thesis in its doctored shape.

Notably, it was Bhattacharya who had announced from a press conference in Tribeni in February 2022 that the Tribeni Kumbh Mela was being “revived” after 700 years based on information given by ‘an Oxford thesis’. Of course, he was citing the doctored version of Morinis’ thesis.

Last week, chief minister Mamata Banerjee told journalists that she had received an invite for the event but had not decided on attending, as little was known about the organisers.

The Wire, however, has learned that the organisers are mostly followers of the late firebrand Hindutva leader Tapan Ghosh, who had founded the far-right Hindu Samhati in 2008 after leaving the RSS, which he served as a pracharak or wholetimer for over two decades.

Over the past few months, these organisers, including Bengal BJP’s former youth wing chief Debjit Sarkar, gathered in a room decked with Ghosh’s photo to discuss organising of the event.

The organisation split once in 2018 and then again after Ghosh died in 2020. Of the three factions, the one named Hindu Samhati is led by Debtanu Bhattacharya, another named Singha Vahini led by Devdutta Maji and a third named Rashtriya Samhati is led by Samir Guha Roy.

While Bhattacharya and Maji have joined the BJP and contested the 2021 election on the party’s ticket – though they both lost – those involved with Rashtriya Samhati are working under apolitical banners, though in coordination with various Sangh Parivar organisations. Samir Guha Roy is one of the key organisers of both Tribeni Kumbh and the Gita recital event.

Bhattacharya said that RSS-affiliated organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad have come forward to support the December 24 event.

“We have urged all Hindutva organisations and religious Math and Ashram to join and support the event and the VHP is among organisations that have responded,” he told The Wire.

It is learned that to maintain the ‘apolitical’ facade of the event, only monks would be present on the dais, apart from Modi and Governor Bose, and the chief minister, in the unlikely case of her arrival.

Low Key Organisers of the Hindutva spread 

After the first year’s Kumbh Mela in Tribeni in 2022, Bhattacharya left the organising committee in 2023 – apparently over an internal feud. He teamed up with Pradiptananda, a firebrand monk who heads the Bharat Sevashram Sangha’s Beldanga unit, and launched another Kumbh Mela on the opposite bank of river Hooghly (Ganges), at Kalyani, naming it Banga Kumbh Mela under the banner of Sanatan Sanskriti Sansad. So, in 2023, there were two Kumbh Melas on two banks of the river.

Pradiptananda is the president of Sanatan Sanskriti Sansad and also the president of the Gita recital organising committee, in which monks Nirgunannanda Bramhachari and Bandhugourab Bramhachari serve as vice-presidents and Bhattacharya as ‘organiser’. Basant Sethia, who served as a vice-president of the BJP’s South 24-Parganas (East) district, is the general secretary of the organising committee.

Pradiptananda has in the past attended numerous events organised by Hindutva outfits like Hindu Samhati and also Sangh Parivar organisations. He attended the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Rashtra Adiveshan in Goa, organised by the far-right Sanatan Sanstha, in 2012 and 2014.

Pradiptananda has invited BJP leaders like Anirban Ganguly, who heads the Delhi-based BJP think-tank, Syama Prasad Mookerjee Search Foundation, to deliver lectures, and jointly led delegations to former Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, who is now the Vice-President of India, to complaint against the state government.

Bandhugourab Bramhachari, too, is known to work in close coordination with Hindu Samhati and the Sangh Parivar.

The Tribeni Kumbh mela was organised in a similar model of keeping some monks in the front and letting the RSS cultural wing, Sanskar Bharati, dominate the dias for cultural events.

For the Gita recital event, according to Bhattacharya, the Akhil Bharatiya Sanskrit Parishad is looking after mass mobilisation, while Satanan Sanskriti Sansad is entrusted with mobilising monks from different parts of the state and Matilal Bharat Tirtha Seba Mission (MBTSMA) is working on mobilising students and teachers.

Manoj Mandal, a schoolteacher and founder-secretary of MTBTSA, which works in association with Vedanta Vidyashram, a school for students up to class 4, is also a follower of Ghosh with worked with the undivided Hindu Samhati.

The MBTSMA, based in Pathar Pratima of South 24-Parganas district, is doing most of the formal work, as it is registered under the Registration under Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act and eligible for receiving foreign donations. They have called upon “Sanatanis” – a name for Hindus that the Hindu right prefers – around the world to contribute.

The mass mobilisation is happening through various ashrams and small temples in different parts of the state with which Hindutva organisations have a good rapport. For example, Hindutva activist Nimai Guchhait, who is the president of the Bagnan Ashram in Howrah district and the key persons behind the Hanuman temple at the crossing near Bagnan Library, has been enlisting local residents to attend the event.

Mobilisation is also taking place at the political level. BJP state unit secretary Deepanjan Guha, Hooghly district unit leader Subir Nag and party youth wing’s state unit spokesperson Achintya Mandal attended a meeting in Hooghly district.

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