Durga Puja: Anger after ‘demon’ in Hindu festival display is replaced with Mahatma Gandhi

Police have registered a complaint after a Durga Puja festival display depicted Mahatma Gandhi as ‘demon’  (Soumyadipta Roy / Twitter)
Police have registered a complaint after a Durga Puja festival display depicted Mahatma Gandhi as ‘demon’ (Soumyadipta Roy / Twitter)

Several political parties in India have criticised the depiction of Mahatma Gandhi as a “demon” in a Durga Puja festival display in West Bengal on Sunday, calling it “distasteful”.

Sunday was also 2 October, the birth anniversary of Gandhi, marked annually with a national holiday in India.

The ruling Hindu nationalist BJP was among the parties which criticised the depiction of Gandhi, which appeared at a festival event organised by a far-right Hindu organisation, the All India Hindu Mahasabha.

And the Kolkata police said a complaint had been filed against the organisers for replacing the figurine traditionally showing the “demon” in a Durga Puja display with an unmistakable depiction of Gandhi.

Politicians and lawmakers from across the political spectrum criticised the festival display. Kunal Ghosh, Trinamool Congress general secretary in West Bengal, said that “this is the real face of [the] BJP”.

“The rest of what they do is drama. Mahatma Gandhi is the father of the nation. The world respects Gandhi and his ideology. Such an insult to Mahatma Gandhi cannot be accepted. We protest strongly.”

The president of the local chapter of the All India Hindu Mahasabha in West Bengal, Chandrachur Goswami, who organised the event, was quoted as saying by the Indian Express that the police told them to cover the head of the Mahatma Gandhi with a wig and give it a moustache so as to minimise the resemblance with the historical figure.

On Monday, the Gandhi lookalike had been covered up with a wig and a moustache.

Mr Goswami claimed that he had received a call from the home ministry, saying that the similarities between the demon and Gandhi were unacceptable.

The opposition Congress party’s spokesperson in the state, Soumya Aich Roy, told the media that the depiction of Gandhi as a “demon” was a shame for the whole world.

The BJP in West Bengal also chastised the organisers for creating a “distasteful” display of Goddess Durga and Gandhi as a demon. The state president of the party, Sukanta Majumdar, said that replacing a demon with Mahatma Gandhi was in poor taste.

BJP spokesman Samik Bhattacharya said: “We do not support such things. Such things are absolutely unacceptable and the administration should take immediate action against the organisers.”

Samik Lahiri, a politician from the CPI-M in West Bengal, blamed the BJP for dividing the nation. He said: “This is the BJP and this is the Sangh Parivar. They only know how to divide the nation. They regard anti-British forces as ‘Asura’ and Britons (colonial British during the pre-independence era) as Maa Durga.”

The All India Hindu Mahasabha – the organisers of the religious event – have a long and complicated history of denigrating the independence leader. Gandhi was assassinated in January 1948 by one of the members of the organisation, Nathuram Godse. To this day the All India Hindu Mahasabha pays tributes to Godse on his birth and death anniversaries.

The group has also promised to erect a statue of Godse using the soil from Haryana’s Ambala Central Jail, where he was hanged to death in 1949.

Mr Goswami of the Hindu Mahasabha was initially defensive about the similarities with Gandhi in the display. He told the Indian Express: “A person with a bald head and glasses does not have to be Gandhi. Notice that the asura [demon] is also holding a dhal (shield). Gandhi never kept a dhal. It is a coincidence that our Asura whom Maa Durga kills looks like Gandhi.’

At the same time, he continued: “Many people said it looks like Gandhi. But it is also true that Gandhi must be criticised.”

Mr Goswami also said that he does not fear criticising Gandhi and that “we want a  Gandhi-mukt Bharatvarsh [Gandhi-free India]”.

Mr Goswami also attempted to direct blame to others. He said that the complaint against the organisation was politically motivated.

Durga Puja is an annual Hindu festival that is celebrated with much pomp and fervour – especially in Kolkata – and according to Hindu mythology celebrates the victory of Goddes Durga over Asura [the demon]. Durga Puja in Kolkata is on the UN’s list of the “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”.