Emergence of Brahminical Fascism in West Bengal

The parliamentary way is not the main form to fight fascism. Anti-fascists have to take control of the streets. The farmers of north India have shown the way. This is the lesson from history as well. It is up to the revolutionary democratic forces to decide which path they are willing to follow.

Image courtesy: Times of India

The ensuing assembly election in West Bengal has aroused a jubilant mood among the RSS-BJP family. They are smelling victory in the upcoming assembly election in West Bengal. The glorious peasants’ struggle of North India has exposed the real face of the Modi government’s ‘development’ model. But since the last parliamentary election, the emergence of the BJP in Bengal is phenomenal. Since its inception, RSS has never dreamt of such growth. The ‘Nagpur mandarins’ have thrown their full weight to capture the provincial government of West Bengal. The RSS strategy of occupying eastern India has eyed on capturing West Bengal state government and controlling the life of Kolkata, the intellectual citadel of eastern India, as well as the bastion of left movement almost over a century.

There is a misconception that this growth is solely attributable to the BJP government in the Centre. Some parliamentary left forces try to relate it only with the opportunist politics of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) government. But if we want to understand the growth of BJP in Bengal we should not only consider these points but must also try to trace the deep ideological & socio-political roots of Brahminical fascists in Bengal. This insight and appraisal of changes in the socio-economic scenario of West Bengal will help us to face the RSS-BJP fascists’ onslaught.

Image courtesy: The Wire

The Ideological Basis of Brahminism in West Bengal 

In ancient or medieval India the term Hindu never implied any religious sect. Christian missionaries used the term to describe & oppose non-Muslim religious beliefs, rituals of the people of India. The educated indigenous people, mostly Brahmins taught the missionaries about the indigenous religious practice, which was essentially Brahminical in nature. Therefore, the Europeans constructed this hierarchical Brahminical belief system into the Hindu religion. In 1816 Raja Rammohan Roy first used the term in a religious perspective while criticizing ‘idol worship’.

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Rishi Rajnarayan Basu

The Hindu upheaval we observe in the second half of the 19th century in Bengal was a colonial construct. Rajnarayan Basu was the pioneer of this upheaval. Mr. Basu and Nabagopal Mitra of Kolkata spread their idea of Hindu upheaval by starting a fair, Hindu Mela, in 1867. In 1867, Rajnarayan, maternal grandfather of Aurobindo Ghose wrote a book – ‘Prospectus of a Society for the National Feeling among the Educated Natives of Bengal’. Basu and Mitra organized a ‘National School’, established a gymnasium called ‘National Gymnasium’ and a ‘National Society’. Amar Dutta (2007) has quoted them, “We do not understand why our correspondent takes exception to the Hindoos who certainly form a nation by themselves, and as much a society established by them can very properly be called a national society.”

In Rajnarayan’s book, ‘Hope of an Old Hindu’, it is interesting to note that he was of the opinion that except Christians and Muslims, all other religions like Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism & Brahmoism belong to Hindu religion. He advised to form ‘Maha Hindu Samity’ and founded ‘Bharat Dharma Mahamandal’, the forerunner of Hindu Mahasabha. Rajnarayan believed that this organization will form a strong Hindu nation that will dominate the whole of India and the world. Rajnarayan in his book ‘Hope of an Old Hindu’ has praised the Varna system and considered Brahmins as ‘God on the earth’.

This Hindu upheaval & Brahminical chauvinism was expressed in contemporary Bengali literature as well. Poets like Rangalal Bandyopadhyay, Nabin Chandra Sen, etc. propagated this ideology in their literary works, Shasadhar Tarkachuramoni formed ‘Arya Dharma Pracharoni Sabha’ and ‘Hari Sabha’. Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay was the most important figure in this Hindu upheaval, whom Aurobindo depicted as ‘inspirer and political Guru’. In most of Bankim’s novels, he defined Hindu as ‘self’ and Muslims as the ‘other’. In his famous novel Ananda Math, from which the national song of India ‘Vande Mataram’ has been taken, he changed the sentence ‘Kill British’ mentioned in the 1st edition as ‘Kill Nere’(Muslim) in later editions.

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If you look at the history of Bengal it was the Maratha invasion which has mostly ransacked & looted Bengal but Bankim’s Hindu bias overlooked this history. After Bankim it was Vivekananda who provided a Hindu foundation to understand the nationalism of India. In an interview in 1898, Vivekananda said that his function of movement in India is “to find the common basis of Hinduism and awaken the national consciousness to them.” Some of the liberal writings of Vivekananda do not negate his Hindutwavadi nationalist understanding. Aurobindo also wrote, “Our movement for the national resurgence is not political, it is spiritual and religious.” He said, “Let me reiterate openly: Sanatana Dharma is our nationhood”.

Vivekananda and Aurobindo Ghosh

It is no wonder why Dr. KB Hedgewar, a student at Medical College, Kolkata in the early part of the 20th century Bengal picked this up while studying in Kolkata and became the ideological father of RSS. If we look at the theorisation and organisational activities of these so-called colonialist ‘nationalists’ you will find surprising similarities between RSS and the historical figures mentioned above such as Rajnarayan, Nabagopal, Bankim, etc.

I want to emphasize that the intellectual tradition of Bengal had both – secular, democratic, radical traditions as well as communal Hindutva legacy. Brahminical intellectual legacy has a deep root in West Bengal. Bengal has a rich heritage of tolerance, secularism, and rational understanding, but there is also a strong Brahminical intellectual tradition as well; if we miss this, we will misunderstand this Brahminical fascist emergence in Bengal.

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Socioeconomic and Political Perspective of Brahminism in West Bengal 

Since the Sen dynasty (11th and 12th century AD), feudal landlords of Bengal mostly belonged to Brahmin castes. It did not change even in the Sultani rule in Bengal. Sens were Kannada Brahmins and they distributed land largely among Brahmins in Bengal as a result of which most of the land in Bengal, barring few exceptions, were owned by upper castes and mostly Brahmins. Bengal’s caste system was somewhat different from north India. Moreover, the Sudras in Bengal were redistributed amongst untouchables, tribals, and Muslims (via their Buddhist phase of conversion).

Both undivided Bengal and present West Bengal has a significant number of Muslim populations. It must be remembered that Bengali as a nationality has a majority of Muslims according to religious faith. These Dalits and Muslims are mostly poor and landless peasants. Apart from some specific districts in Bengal, this is the usual map of land & property distribution. Industrialization & partial land reform has also failed to change this scenario.

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If we review the first attempt at the partition of Bengal in 1905, we shall find a strong undercurrent of this socioeconomic contradiction. The British colonialists tried their level best to create rift along communal religious lines. In 1904 before the partition of Bengal was announced Lord Curzon wrote a letter to the Secretary of State, “The Bengalis who like to think themselves a nation, and who dream of a future when the English will have been turned out, and a Bengali Babu will be installed in Government House, Calcutta, of course, bitterly resent any disruption that will be likely to interfere with the realization of this dream. If we are weak enough to yield to their clamor now, we shall not be able to dismember or reduce Bengal again; and you will be cementing and solidifying, on the eastern flank of India, a force already formidable, and certain to be a source of increasing trouble in the future.” With this ulterior motive, the British tried to create a communal division in Bengal. They took the help of Nawab Sir Khwaja Salimulla of Dhaka who demanded education & job opportunities for Muslims and formed the All India Muslim League in 1906.

Partition of Bengal

He strongly advocated the division of Bengal. The pathetic condition of economy, education, and job among Bengali Muslims was so important at that time that Chittaranjan Das, the famous leader of Bengal, during that period also demanded proportional representation of Muslims in job and education in Bengal. The Hindu religious communal flavor of Swadeshi movements in Bengal led by Aurobindo Ghose and other also gradually created a distance among Muslims to participate in Swadeshi movement. Swarajya Party, political influence of Subhas Chandra Bose, development of communist and left movements in Bengal and the influence of Soviets had a secular and democratic content which influenced the students, youth and intellectuals of Bengal. The workers and peasants were also mostly under their leadership.

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Anti-imperialist movement in Bengal was also under the influence of this secular understanding. Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim league also had their pockets of influence. The communalists of Hindu Mahasabha had cordial relationship with many Congress leaders and at some places led them. Still the poor Muslim peasants and educated intellectuals of East Bengal denounced the Muslim league leadership and Fazlul Haque’s Praja Krisak Party had overwhelming control. Praja Krisak Party fought for poor ryots of Bengal. Floud Commission, which recommended land reform for sharecropper peasants of Bengal was in this period. This annoyed the landlords, who were mostly from upper caste Hindu backgrounds. These class forces during this period aligned with Hindu Mahasabha & Congress. The poor and landless peasants from Muslim and lower caste Hindu felt betrayed. Interestingly in this period the provincial government in Bengal was supported both by Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim League.

Bengal famine

The decade of forties in Bengal was full of contradictions. It saw the Bengal famine, great anti-imperialist movements in support of Azad Hind Fauj, emergence of worker-peasant-student movements under the leadership of communist party. It also witnessed Great Calcutta riots, the communalization of Bengal politics and the betrayal of the Congress Party. Riots of Calcutta, Bihar & Noakhali vitiated the atmosphere of communal harmony. Even in this period, in Assembly elections, Hindu Mahasabha did not fare well. The so called ‘Hindus’ friend’ Shyamaprasad Mukherjee was defeated by a little-known candidate in his constituency and finally got a berth in assembly at the mercy of Congress Party from University quota.

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Finally, the transfer of power in India in 1947 led to the partition of Bengal. This communal religious division of Bengal had an everlasting impact among the people & their family members who had either to leave or get evicted from their ancestral places. In West Bengal it was the Bengali Hindu refugees who were rehabilitated but with a bitter experience – no shelter, no food, no job, no land, no compassion from the rulers. Only the communists & left forces fought for their rights. It is, for this reason, the socio-political events in Bengal during fifties & sixties were along the democratic class aspirations. Credit goes to the communists who took up the demands of toiling masses, students, youths, unemployed and middle class of Bengal and combated the division along communal identity. But the communal politics of the subcontinent rotating around partition had a strong undercurrent in the socio-political understanding of the people of Bengal.

Till seventies the socio-political movements were mostly democratic & revolutionary. Only during Indo-China war, Indo-Pak war or Bangladesh war the chauvinistic nationalist atmosphere came to the forefront.

This is a two-part article. Part-2 of the article can be read here- West Bengal: How Hindutva Organizations Rose during Left Front Govt. Rule 

Dr Amitabha Chakrabarti is a Marxist intellectual and renowned cardio-thoracic surgeon based out of Kolkata. He is also a political activist who has been associated with the Marxist -Leninist movement for the last four decades.

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April 2024



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