Mission Bengal

The breathtaking speed at which the campaign for the ensuing assembly polls is going on in West Bengal must have confronted any conscientious observer with some vexing questions. Contesting election is  now frightfully expensive and hence the wealthiest party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has a distinct edge over others as far as spending money for securing votes is concerned. Former Trinamul Congress (TMC) functionaries have joined the BJP in droves; what has lured them away is anybody's guess. Ratting is, after all, a profitable business in Indian parliamentary politics. The BJP is all out to conquer Bengal, but this effort has been dealt a severe blow by its internal strife, with a not inconsiderable section of the BJP activists venting their anger over the liberal accommodation given to turncoats from the TMC over the choice of candidates. The in-fighting is between the old saffronites and the new saffronites. The promises made by Narendra Modi and his party about building a 'Golden Bengal' (Sonar Bangla)  are patently nonsensical, and they themselves are unable to elaborate on this phrase. Their just released election manifesto (not by any leader of Bengal, but by Amit Shah) contains fantastic promises, but not any operational details. But how far the non-BJP parties will be able to halt the saffron march is still uncertain, given their disunity and past records. It is noteworthy that leaders of the movement against the pro-corporate farm laws recently visited Bengal in order to exhort the people not to vote for the BJP. But neither the TMC nor the 'third front' of the Congress-Left Front-ISF combine have extended their patronage to them, although the farm laws and revision to the Essential Commodities Act could have made a powerful issue of campaign against the BJP.

The fact remains that the BJP has made considerable inroads into the political landscape of Bengal. This is primarily due to two reasons. The first is the ingrained, although veiled, anti-Muslim communal outlook of a section of the Bengali bhadralok. The best evidence of this outlook was the partition of Bengal, which was practically a cowardly surrender to communalism, and a terrible blow to the growth of Bengali nationality. The outcome of this partition was to put the religious minorities of Eastern Bengal in danger. The second reason, which is a recent phenomenon, is the despotism of the TMC and its corrupt practices at various levels, which led many to believe that the BJP despite its divisive politics was a better alternative to the TMC. Clearly the turncoats who have been warmly received by the BJP cannot evade the responsibility of the autocratic and corrupt practices, whatever they may say now in order to justify themselves.

A survey of all indicators of economic development suggests that in regard to development, India has moved backwards under the Modi dispensation—birth of more dollar billionaires is no indicator of development—and that is probably why the BJP has relentlessly been putting forward its communal agenda, casting off all its pretences. In West Bengal, the name and fame of the figures that were associated with what is called the Bengali Renaissance are at stake. Perhaps Madhusudan Datta and Meghnad Saha's opinions about the cult of Rama will be forcibly suppressed. The separate identity of the Bengali nationality is certain to come under attack. Their slogan of 'one nation, one language' only expresses their long-term agenda of turning India into a Hindu-Hindi state, to be built up with the Nagpur-style Hindutva ideology as the foundation.

Even if the BJP, backed by the Ambanis, the Adanis, the Agarwals and other corporate groups, is not able to wrest absolute power in West Bengal, the danger of communal fascism will not be wiped out. This fascism is to be fought and defeated by launching a campaign on all fronts, including exposure of the nexus between corporate capital that has sucked dry the banking sector and has been displacing the indigenous people from their rights. Failure to do so will be disastrous for the country. But will the opposition listen with any degree of sincerity? Forest-dwellers have lost their traditional rights over forests and small and marginal farmers will soon lose their small land-holdings under the system of contract farming. Companies will now function as zamindars—old zamindars are gone but new zamindars are emerging.

Meanwhile, violence in  the  on-going assembly  poll continues unabated. The major stakeholders—BJP and TMC —are clashing violently almost everyday in every part of the state. The roster of martyrs on both sides is a point of agitation. For all practical purposes election is now a big industry. In a state where unemployment has reached alarming proportions crude bomb-making is a way life for a large number of young people, recruited by different parties as their storm troopers. At the time of writing the country was witnessing yet another Bharat Bandh called by the protesting farmers. Surprisingly, electoral contestants, even those who are in opposition, do hardly mention the agony of hundreds of thousands of agitating peasants who are on Delhi borders for the last four months. Incidentally this is the second call for ‘Bharat Bandh’ by the farmers after a nation-wide strike on December8,2020 which was observed  throughout the country as it found support among several trade unions and opposition political parties. Given their firm determination there is every reason to believe that the agitating farmers are not going anywhere unless the  Centre doesn’t withdraw the three laws. Liberalisation started by the erstwhile Congress regimes is going to be completed under the Modi dispensation. And parties will offer the moon to the voters on the eve of every election to mock at what they call the biggest showpiece of democracy. For the people of Bengal at the moment the dance of democracy is 'bone chilling'!     


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Vol. 53, No. 41, Apr 11 - 17, 2021