“When Mamata Banerjee doles out honorariums to imams or sops to mosque leaders she may be practicing the Rajiv Gandhi form of secularism which inevitably leads a backlash of religious majoritarianism as may be happening in Bengal.” Sagarika Ghose hits the nail on the head in an effort to explain the gradual but steady rise of BJP in West Bengal.
Though the premise of her opinion piece is broader yet the observation on “silly secularism” is significant because the BJP has scored the maximum marks in the West Bengal by-polls at a time when the part is hit hard in other states. For the first time the BJP will send a legislator to the West Bengal state assembly on its own. It has won the Basirhat constituency but has lost Chowringhee to the TMC. The Left Front and the Congress are nowhere in the fray.
Unfortunately, a specter is haunting West Bengal – the specter of communalism! Quite surprising that the rhetoric applies to a state which was the bastion of communism for a record thirty-four years. What has managed to prompt the unthinkable is the steady rise of the BJP in West Bengal since the 2014 general elections.
The BJP garnered almost 16% vote share in the state and announced its debut on the electoral pitch of West Bengal after years of insignificance on the political sideline. Regular clashes between the TMC and the BJP have now replaced those between the TMC and the Left Front – a definite indicator, besides the by-election result, of who the ascending opposition in West Bengal now is.
Many have already taken to the social media to express alarm at the quick turn of events. But some serious introspection will reveal that the ominous shadow of Hindutva was invited over West Bengal.
West Bengal is not alien to the phenomenon of ‘voting against’ rather than ‘voting for’. The landslide victory of the TMC in 2011 was much due to anti-Left Front voting rather than pro-TMC voting. The unapologetic murder of fourteen people in Nandigram by the police turned voters away from the Left Front.
Thus, their votes landed up in the TMC kitty. The growing support for the BJP in the state also has a similar narrative. The TMC has deployed its cadre to strike terror in the same way that the Left Front did. Rape, murder and violent forms of everyday browbeating have made headlines from West Bengal since ‘poriborton’ apparently happened in 2011.
Coupled with that is the dire straits of the state economy and the Saradha scam which threatens to expose the big fish of TMC. Thus, the BJP under Narendra Modi is the lure of effective law and order and economic revival in West Bengal.
But there is another reason as to why the BJP has gained popularity in West Bengal. Ironically, the Left Front and the TMC have turned secularism into religion – as something that must be upheld without recourse to logic. As Ghose rightly points out, “today this ‘silly secularism is its own cult, with its high priests, its orthodoxy and its intolerance of dissent …
The Hindutva cult seeks to stereotype any dissent as ‘anti-Hindu’ just as the ‘silly secular’ cult seeks to stereotype any alternative viewpoint as ‘communal’. Thus, neither the Left Front nor TMC reacted to the ousting of Taslima Nasreen from the state, the declaration of martyrdom of Osama bin Laden from the Tipu Sultan mosque in Kolkata, the refusal to allow Salman Rushdie attend a literary meet in the state and the organization of a protest in Kolkata against the Shahbag Movement in Bangladesh.
The recent decision of the state government to pay a monthly stipend to clerics across mosques in West Bengal is a warning of communal populism. Fortunately, the decision was nipped in the bud after the Calcutta High Court intervened.
In fact, one news report clearly indicates that the government under the TMC played an important role in not only allowing such fanaticism but also coaxing Islamist groups to undertake such activities. And in the latest, TMC MP and former SIMI activist Hasan Imran is reported to have financial dealings with the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh.
The matter has been notified by Bangladesh High Commission in India. But TMC has downplayed the allegation stating that Imran is being victimized for being Muslim and that such allegations are communally motivated.
There is another influential player in the promotion of such politics and that is the ‘intellectual class’ of West Bengal. This usually vociferous section has chosen to overlook each of these incidents lest that may put their secular credential under suspicion. It has refrained from putting to test the famous ‘cholbe na’ against religious intolerance of the Islamist variety.
The ‘intellectual class’ has also sided with the government to defend illegal migration from Bangladesh in the name of pluralism. One wonders if the ‘intellectual class’ of West Bengal could have stayed away from ‘cholbe na’ had the migration led into their homes. But that has not happened and so the agrarian poor must accommodate illegal migrants on their lands and share the meager yield of it to allow the ‘intellectual class’ the privilege of political correctness.
India is a poor country just like Bangladesh unless the belief is ‘India is shining‘. It makes little sense to allow illegal migration as it is driven not by cultural persecution but by the want of better livelihoods which India cannot provide to its own citizens. The BJP has already put to test this electoral fishing rod in the troubled waters of West Bengal.
BJP President Amit Shah has highlighted the economic loss in his pre by-poll rally in Kolkata where he said that every illegal migrant takes away one job from the Indian youth. The statement seems to have struck an electoral chord as the BJP has won the by-election in Basirhat – an area which is given to illegal migration from Bangladesh.
It is important to note that the BJP has identified the illegal migrants as an economic threat and not raised religious invectives against them as of now. This is perhaps in keeping with the tradition of communal harmony in West Bengal which has had no communal riots after independence.
But it does not take long to turn an economic crisis into a communal one. Thus, the government must clarify the status of illegal migration in the state to avoid any political capitalization.
The BJP is appealing to sentiments of discontent and opacity sowed over years by successive governments in West Bengal. The rapid rise in support for the BJP cannot be explained in terms of any Modi mania. That would simply locate the problem in the distant external.
The problem lies much closer and is internal to the polity of West Bengal. The secular fortune of the state shall remain in very pretentious hands as long as the government and the ‘intellectual class’ desist from calling a spade a spade.
By: Arunoday Majumder
Related articles across the web