Early in September, Sukanya Dasgupta, a 62-year-old who teaches in a private school in the Tollygunge area of south Kolkata, received a WhatsApp message pertaining to celebrations of the upcoming Durga Puja, West Bengal’s biggest annual festival. The festival commenced on 22 October this year. The message listed a series of stringent restrictions, including curfew at night, to be imposed during the festivities, purportedly issued by the state government. She thought the government had done the right thing given the COVID-19 pandemic. The same day, her husband, Bappa Dasgupta, a 64-year-old retired businessman, received the same message but from a different source. Bappa, however, told me that after going through the whole text he realised that the contents of the message had not been issued by the Trinamool Congress state government.
He said that he watches political developments very closely, and that he “knew right away that it was the work of the government’s opponent with the aim of blaming the chief minister for restricting a Hindu festival.” It turned out that most of the restrictions listed in that message had actually been announced by the government of Tripura, which is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party. A few days later, on 9 September, the chief minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee called the messages “fake,” and said that the source of the messages was the “IT cell of a party.”
In the last week of September, social media in Bengal was flooded with news reports on how two other BJP-ruled states, Uttar Pradesh and Assam, had imposed similar restrictions on the Durga Puja festivities. This caused so much of an uproar that Swapan Dasgupta, a Rajya Sabha member of the BJP, in a rare instance, criticised his own party and condemned the UP government headed by Adityanath. Concurrently, on 24 September, Banerjee released her government’s set of guidelines for the festivities—the restrictions listed were far more lenient than those described in the Whatsapp messages, and allowed rituals which had been forbidden in the other BJP states.