(Eds: Adds details) Kolkata, Sep 26 (PTI) West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday paid tribute to Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar on his bicentenary birth anniversary, and seized the occasion to hit out at 'certain outsiders', who, she claimed, had vandalised a bust of the polymath last year.
Banerjee had, on several occasions, referred to the BJP as a 'party of outsiders'.
Rebuffing the charge, BJP MP Locket Chatterjee said the statue was ransacked by TMC workers.
Taking to Twitter in the morning, the chief minister said that the social reformer will be remembered for his crusade against child marriage and polygamy, and his teachings will continue to inspire one and all.
'Remembering great social reformer & educationist Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar on his 200th birth anniversary. He was a pioneer for Bangla language & drafted primer Barnaparichay. Also known as Dayar Sagar, he fought for widow remarriage, banning child marriage & polygamy,' she tweeted.
A bust of Vidyasagar was vandalized at a college here in May 2019, when clashes broke out during a road show led by the then BJP president Amit Shah, ahead of the last phase of Lok Sabha elections. Both the TMC and the saffron party had blamed each other for the incident.
The CM had installed a new bust of the noted reformer in place of the old one, a month later.
'Vidyasagar truly represents the pride of Bengal & serves as an inspiration to us till date. His bust was unfortunately desecrated in 2019 by certain outsiders, which only shows their disregard for Bengal's legacy. However, his teachings are deeply inculcated in our values,' she said.
Taking exception to her remarks, the BJP MP said Banerjee, who is 'paying crores of rupees to an outsider' to manage her party, should not point fingers at others.
'The CM, of all persons, must not talk about outsiders. She should stop indulging in politics to invoke pro-Bengali sentiments. We should not be taught what patriotism is and who our icons are... The TMC had vandalised the bust of Vidyasagar.
'We have seen a bulldozer pulling down one of the gates of Visva Bharati. Also, statues of Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, Vivekananda were smeared with ink. This is not the Bengal we know. Bengal belongs to Vivekananda, Tagore, Ramakrishna. We want that culture to be restored,' she added.
The TMC has hired poll strategist Prashant Kishor and his team to boost its prospects in 2021 assembly elections.
State minister Bratya Basu, however, iterated that the saffron party was against Bengal and the Bengalis.
'They (the BJP) talk about Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, but tell me how many statues of Mookerjee they have erected...
They are anti-Bengal and anti-Bengali,' he said.
Left Front chairman Biman Bose, without taking any name, said those observing the educationist's bicentenary birth anniversary had 'refused to acknowledge' his contributions in the past.
'They did not recognise Vidyasagar's contribution to the country's struggle for freedom all this while. Now they are celebrating his birthday... In a way, this is good. But it would be better if they come out with an explanation as to why they changed their mind,' Bose said.
Earlier in the day, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had paid his homage to the visionary.
'Today marks the 200th birth anniversary of late Sanskrit scholar, writer, educationist, social reformer and philanthropist Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. He was one of the greatest reformers of all times. His contributions to the upliftment & betterment of the society is immense,' he tweeted.
West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar also remembered the 19th century polymath, describing him as 'one of the greatest reformers of all times'.
'Today marks the 200th birth anniversary of late Sanskrit scholar, writer, educationist, social reformer and philanthropist Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. He was one of the greatest reformers of all times. His contributions to the upliftment & betterment of the society is immense,' he added.
Several programmes were organised across the state on Saturday to mark the occasion.
Meanwhile, Bangla Pokkho, an outfit that claims to be fighting for the rights of Bengalis, has written to the prime minister's office (PMO), requesting that the day be declared as 'Rastriya Sikkhok Divas' (National Teachers' Day).
Born on this day in 1820 at Birsingha village in Medinipur, Vidyasagar is widely known for his social reform movements during the mid-19th century. He had also worked for emancipation of women, and made significant contributions to simplify and modernise Bengali language. PTI SCH RMS RMS