Was Poush Mela politicised to polarise votes in Bengal?

The traditional mela enthusiasts applaud the alternate fair organised to promote the local artists and handicraft of Bolpur

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Kolkata: Visva Bharati University (VBU) while celebrating its centenary year chose to break away from its century-old tradition of hosting the Poush Mela on its university grounds. A move that shocked many in West Bengal and forced a group of culturally aware individuals to even host the ‘alternate’ poush mela called the Poush Parbon on the scheduled date (December 23-25) with intention of upholding Bengal’s secular tradition but also to promote the local trade and artwork.

Lauding the move of the social group Bangla Sanskriti Mancha (BSM), Manisha Banerjee, headmistress of a government high school near Shantiniketan said, “Poush Mela, traditionally has been a secular fair. Unlike hundreds of other religious fairs, this century-old fair flagged off by Debendranath Tagore, father of Rabindranath Tagore promotes not just the local art and traders but also secularism. So, the news of it not being hosted on my alma mater’s campus was a bit disheartening. But thanks to BSM’s Poush Parban, we were able to celebrate a mini poush mela this year.”

The fair, unlike the previous years, was smaller in size, especially as the organisers tried their best to pull it off in the best possible manner even after following the Covid-19 protocols.

Speaking to eNewsroom, Samirul Islam, president of BSM said, “This fair is part of Bengal’s heritage, we just couldn’t let it go. Also, given the fact that the artisans and local trade had suffered a lot due to the pandemic, people were looking forward to this mela to sell their products. With the university deciding to do away with the fair, we planned this alternate Poush Praban to help the local traders and artists.” Islam, along with his team took on the daunting task of having organised the fair in such a short notice.

A must listen song by Baul singer, Basudev Das Baul at Poush Mela

Adding to that Tanmoy Ghosh, secretary of BSM pointed out, “The move of not holding the century-old mela, has its roots in the agenda of outsiders wanting to ruin Bengal’s heritage.  This stems from their monolithic agenda of one nation, one religion and one language. We will resist any attempt being made to tamper with Bengal’s heritage of inclusiveness. This fair is a secular fair that has people of different religions and sects assemble together not just to celebrate the harvesting period but also to do trade.”

He maintained that the already economically hit poor artisans have had to suffer a lot because of this decision of the university. Interestingly, when the artisans were showcasing their art during this three-day event, Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a virtual conference with the university students and officials, requested to help the artisans in selling off their work online.

rabindranath tagore poush mela visva bharati
A stall selling wooden handicrafts at Poush Mela

Reacting to that, Professor Sabuj Koli Sen, former officiating VC of VBU, said, “It’s a good gesture on behalf of the PM but I don’t think that it will be that easy to have it done.” She added, “Poush Mela, is not just a fair for the people of this region, but also their main source of income as people from across the globe come to witness this event.”

While Banerjee further said, “It’s more like damage control. The VC of VBU has been making outrageous comments on poush mela and even Rabindranath Tagore. We need to remember that Tagore and his university stands for diversity and this is a direct attack on him and his idea of education and pluralism.” She added, “With election round the corner all this is being done to polarise the tribal votes by hinduising them, doing away with the mela is just the method to achieve the agenda.”

Meanwhile, Basudev Das Baul, the Baul singer with whom Amit Shah had a meal with, reacting to the entire episode, said, “It’s sad that VBU didn’t host it this year. I am hoping that they will organise it in 2021.” On being asked if he had spoken to Shah regarding the same, he said, “We just had the meal together. I didn’t get a chance to speak to him about it. Poush mela is very important for we performers.” He then added, “I am glad that the alternate mela was hosted by BSM, I have even performed on a Hindu-Muslim unity baul song.”

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