Past, Present and Future

Communal Politics and West Bengal

Asis Ranjan Sengupta

West Bengal, which is well known for its secular credentials, and harbour of progressive ideology, is experiencing a phase of communal disturbances in different parts recently. The border districts of the subcontinent, Punjab and Bengal were victims of communalism during the last phase of the British Raj, resulting in Partition post colonial period. Of the two, Bengal being far away from the newly born Nation's Capital, since 1911, was the worst victim of these riots, prior to and post partition. One thing, that must be made clear at the very outset, is that such suicidal riots, never happen, or never happened, in History, always, and without exception, they are tailor-made to happen, to serve the purpose of the vested interest of the rulers.

The British, being confronted with the fierce resistance of the masses in the great revolt of 1857, preceded by the great rebellions of the tribal population of Santhals, under leadership of Sidho or Kanhoo, and Ulugulan of the Mundas under Birsa Munda, decided to devise methods of creating divisions among the so-called natives, and the Indian National Congress was born in 1885. But the leadership was dominated by the higher caste Hindus. So, the doctrine of 'two nations' within the people of India. One important thing about this theory is that originally this concept was launched by Western Historians like, Maxmuller, Marshal, and Olcot, and of course Macaulay. The Hindutwa doctrine advocated by stalwarts like, Savarkar or Golwalkar, failed to capture considerable space among the Indian psyche, but the concept of separate entity of Indian Muslims, promoted by Sayeed Ahmed Hussain, Iqbal and Jinnah, succeeded in creation of impact on a section of the Muslims. And Muslim League successfully played in the hands of the imperialists to create communal unrest, finally resulting in the partition of the Punjab and Bengal. Resultant blood thirsty riots of Noakhali, Sylhet, and the 'Great Calcutta Killings' of 1946, are History.

But, unfortunately though, the partition, which was originally mooted to put an end to the communal tension among the two communities, failed to produce any lasting solutions. On the contrary, the partition, effected on the basis of the stated 'Radcliffe Line' drawn arbitrarily, gave birth to unending problems.

The new born state of West Bengal saw the endless flow of Hindu refugees, who were mercilessly driven out of the motherland, and dispossessed of their ancestral properties, and that continued, without any sign of respite. But curiously, the victims of such communal crisis, never took the course of violent retaliation, or planned to take revenge on the members of the minority community, who had opted not to embrace East Pakistan, as their new homeland, and stayed back in their original homeland. On the contrary, the evictees mostly embraced socialist ideology and Communist organisations mobilised them effectively, in a totally non-communal politics. Even though, the influx of East Bengal refugees continued, and they were being deported to the difficult terrains of Dandakaranya, or the most unfriendly island shores Andaman, or the likes inside the mainland, the people in this part of Bengal, mostly lodged the fight, and channelled their anger against the Congress Regime of Delhi. Immediately in the wake of the Partition, West Bengal witnessed the historic Peasant uprising, known as the 'Tebhaga Movement', in assertion of the poor peasants' right in the share of the crops, long denied to them by the oppressive Landlords.

During the 30-year-long Congress rule, mostly under Dr B C Roy, and thereafter, West Bengal remained indifferent to provocations of the persecution of the Hindu minorities in East Bengal. Towards the end of this regime people of India, and the world, witnessed firstly the war of people of the other part of Bengal for liberation, and the birth of the new neighbour Nation came to be known as Bangladesh. During this Liberation war of Bengalees, people belonging to both parts of Bengal displayed unique example of solidarity with each other, and the second one was the Historic Naxalbari uprising, which was basically a Peasant revolt, that rocked the seat of Indian Feudal and Comprador state power. The 34 years of left rule was totally free from any communal tension. In 2011 West Bengal saw the end of this long Left regime, and the capture of power by Mamata Banerjee led TMC Government, which, again gained ground by the Singur and Nandigram movements of the Landless, Marginal farmers and share croppers of the rural base. All this past history is necessary to understand the present situation.

What is the Indian scenario as a whole? With the demolition of Babri Mosqe, the Central, North, and parts of Western India experienced coming back of communal violence and clashes. It had repercussions in Bangladesh, but West Bengal remained unperturbed.

The same regions of India, witnessed the notorious Gujarat mass massacre of 2002, and the capture of state power by BJP under A B Vajpayee, in 1999. But Vajpayee, as an experienced person in all India politics, kept the RSS elements at bay, though, he also played the anti-Pakistan card to provoke patriotism. After the exit of BJP in 2004, the RSS wave failed to gather further momentum. But during all this period from 2004 to 2014, it was marked by the border disturbances, and Pakistan sponsored terrorist activism in the Indian soil. And that provided the opportunity to the pseudo Nationalists, to promote the popular sentiment against Pakistan and the people of Kashmir. Capitalising this popular feeling and dissatisfaction with the corrupt UPA regime, along with false promises of economic rejuvenation, RSS led by Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. This is the first RSS Government in the history of India, since 1947. The difference between the Vajpayee government and the Modi dispensation is that, while the former was a BJP Government, where the RSS was but an offshoot, and in of case the latter, it is a RSS government, led by the personal cherished charisma of an individual, where BJP does not exist, or exists on sign board.

For the first time, their long cherished dream of establishing a 'Hindu Rasthra' became a realisable phenomenon. As RSS-BJP nexus always plays and relies on the polarisation politics based on religion and communities and castes. This temporary phase of transformation, was preceded and followed by communal riots, like Muzaffarnagar and elsewhere. After May 2014, countrymen passed through the communal and caste atrocities, on beef eating, against Dalits and minorities and the student community, or the free thinkers. The people of Kashmir faced the ordeal of unprecedented torture in the name of endangered Indian Nationalism. A large number of heroic soldiers laid down their lives to fan the flame of 'surgical strike' against Pakistan.

The same time the situation in West Bengal was different. In a frenzied bid to put, the leftists in a tight corner in the electoral battle of 2014 and 2016, Mamata Banerjee virtually gifted a few seats to the RSS activists, and that made the dream of the flowering of Lotus in the hostile soil of West Bengal, possible. Consequently, RSS activists consolidated their position in different pockets of the Districts, particularly in border region. In another development, the Hasina Government of Bangladesh launched a crackdown to flush out the extremist elements operating from their soil, and had secret link with jihadi organisations of the Middle East and Pakistan. And those hounded out terrorist activists found safe haven in the clandestine centres of this part of Bengal. Mamata Banerjee very much like the CPM in their hay days, relies heavily on Muslim Vote Bank, that is why she prefers to turn a blind eye to these dangerous developments. Very much like the Leftists, Mamata Banerjee also prefers to keep the Muslim community in the dark realm of orthodoxy, and have no programme for the uplift of the backward community. The misconceived enthusiasm reached the peak, when she brazenly advocated against the proposal of abolition of Triple Talaq of the Muslim ladies, and male polygamy, which must be a welcome step to break the shackles of Islamic obscurantism, holding back the social progress of minority community.

On the contrary the BJP-RSS nexus is taking utmost pains to provoke communal disharmony, in the name of avenging the torture of minorities in Bangladesh, and has achieved, at least a limited gain also. The strategy adopted by them, is to give every dispute or disharmony, a communal colour and spread distorted news through their paid news channels in the electronic media, and lodge false propaganda tirade through the ' social media.' And they achieved success though limited. In this way, the NIA unearthing of some explosive device in a village of Bardhaman District, named Khagragarh, was publicised as an installation of ISIS base here. Some hooligans in the border district of Malda, named Kaliachak, attacked police stations, destroyed government properties, as a reaction against administration acting strongly against, cross border narcotic trade and counterfeit currency smugglers. But the same news was given a wide-spread publicity as an attack on Hindus in India, by the Bangladeshi Muslims invading Indian soil. In a little known village, Dhulagarh, in the Howrah district had the appalling experience of a well planned communal riot, one month back, unprecedented in the recent known history of West Bengal. Thus very minor clashes over a petty local issue in a locality, are interpreted in terms of attack on the majority community people by those belonging to the minority community, and blown up to a monstrous dimension and proportion, and given widespread publicity. Here Mamata Banerjee played a dangerous trick of countering local RSS hooliganism by the hooliganism of Muslim outfits imported from outside. This single incident of countering one set of communal hooliganism by another set of worse aggression gave a unique opportunity to the RSS mouthpieces to project the present dispensation of West Bengal as pro-Muslim if not anti-Hindu, and vociferously propagated the false fear psychosis among the members of the majority community. That the existence of Hindus in West Bengal is under threat, that West Bengal will shortly become another Bangladesh, and that the fate of Hindus in West Bengal is shortly going to be like that of the Pundits in the Kashmir valley, find favour with a large number of even otherwise sane members of the Hindu community, who still form a comfortable majority and the ratio of Hindu Muslim population percentage remaining the same and Muslim population did not show any alarming growth rate in last two census reports. The 'undue appeasement' of minorities theory, which popularised Modi in all India politics 'against soft' Congress policy, thus becomes credible in West Bengal also. This is the typical BJP-RSS politics, they always misguide the people with such false and concocted projections and camouflage their communal agenda under fake economic growth agenda. And, of course, the sole reason behind the popping up of ugly head of the mean rightist elements here, is the vacuum created by the near absence of any meaningful progressive politics, which always filled the void in this part of the country.

This is a very dangerous trend and development. Unless, the people become conscious in right time and offer resistance, such dreadful incidents like Muzaffarnagar or the 2002 Gujarat pogrom may also be made to recur in West Bengal too. The followers of the'Hindu Rasthra' ideology are now desperate and impatient to assert their long cherished dream, by hook or by crook.

Vol. 49, No.34, Feb 26 - Mar 4, 2017