Jaydeb-Kenduli Baul fair The current battle ground for the TMC and BJP
news Sunday, January 17, 2016 - 11:18

By Siddharthya Roy

Every year thousands of Bauls, fakirs and other folk artists from both West Bengal and Bangladesh, converge at the time of Makara Sankranthi on the banks of the Ajay river at a small hamlet around 30 km from Bolpur. The hamlet, birthplace of legendary poet saint Jaydeb, has now become a pilgrimage of sorts for many hundred thousand folk music lovers who descend upon this place. What ensues is three full days of non-stop music. While the days are taken up by Kirtaniyas, the nights are up for the Bauls and fakirs who sing and dance till dawn.

The Baul fakir community is known for its stubborn refusal to endorse political parties and individual politicians. But 2016 being election year – one that will decide the fate for both Mamata Banerjee and her poriborton and for Modi and his wave in this state – like every event big and small, this fair too has taken on political colours and has become a ground on which political shadow wars are being waged.

For her part, Mamata Banerjee has chosen the 18th of January, the last day of the fair, to distribute pension and welfare scheme cards to folk artists. The entire area has been pasted over with her posters and the roads leading up to the venue lined with her party flags.

The BJP in the meanwhile, has been desperately trying to get a toehold into the fair by trying to latch onto the spirituality factor.

BJP workers had put up banners and stalls by the side of the road, welcoming fair goers. But the district administration pulled them down citing security issues. This act led to raised political tensions. Speaking to the media, agitated members of BJP district unit said that the move was “vindictive politics on the part of Mamata Banerjee as knew she was losing ground”.

The Birbhum district magistrate who directed the clearing drive brushed off the remarks saying it was just part of routine security drills done to ensure security to the CM's convoy. The DM's anodyne responses are echoed by other officials interviewed for this report.

However, with the fair coming close on the heels of the riotous episode of Malda, the district administration is very apprehensive of possible communal flare ups and possible terrorist attacks.

Unprecedented security measures have been taken at the fair including a three-tiered parking lot segregating heavy, medium and light motor vehicles that have to be mandatorily parked a good distance away from the main fair centre. For the first time a police watchtower with searchlights has been erected on the river embankment looking out on to both the river and the fair grounds. The entire embankment has been fenced and lit up. Round-the-clock vigil by over 2000 civil and police personnel and an undisclosed number of plainclothes men was visible at all times.

The administration refused to confirm or deny, but mobile phone usage was severely restricted, possibly by the use of jammers in the fair grounds. People had to move up to the river or go beyond the parking lots to get functional networks.

Identifying himself only as 'Samir' and speaking to this reporter a local Trinamool Congress organiser known for his proximity to strongman Anubrata Mandal and personally heading a volunteer team at the fair said "BJP is trying to portray the Jaydeb-Kenduli mela as a Hindu program. They are desperately seeking some sort of trouble and will highlight any sort of mismanagement or lack of infrastructure as an attack on a Hindu program. They think just because this festival has people in saffron clothes and they sing of spirituality they can do their Gujarat model and communalise this".

This tactic of the BJP, if true, would indeed be a very difficult line to execute mainly because the Baul-Fakir tradition on which the mela runs, is a very syncretic one drawing not just from Hindu and Muslim texts, but from all liberal theological texts from Sikhism to Vaishnavites and Christianity. And they are doggedly opposed to organised religion and religious politics. Their bohemian ways have earned them the wrath of conservatives and fundamentalists of all hues.

Also the hamlet itself, has a significantly large Muslim population and they've participated in the fair since the very inception.

Fire

Incidentally a fire broke out at the tent of the Sadanand Ashram at around 11 am on the 15th of Jan, when the holy dip in the Ajay was in progress.

The fire started in the kitchen section and soon after a gas cylinder exploded and the entire tent was burnt down soon after.

But members of the ashram, volunteers and the fire brigade personnel responded quickly and stopped the fire from spreading to other tents.

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