West Bengal entered into the first phase of polling of this crucial state legislative assembly election on March 27, 2021. The overall shifting trend of this election needs to be addressed carefully. Leaving out the main anti-incumbency factor against the current Trinamool Congress government, various false claims of ‘minority appeasement ‘ and continuous scaremongering campaigns of Bharatiya Janata Party leaders and its IT cell among the Hindu voters are triggering communal tension in Bengal.
With the coming to power in the centre in 2014, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and other Hindutva extremist groups again had started to bolster their groundwork to materialize their long-cherished dream of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. With the backing of crony capitalist and national and international investors who were in search of a political party that would radically promote the need for a more free-market economy with less government interference and regulations, BJP gradually emerged as the largest dominant, and the richest political party. It had been successful in systematically bringing the judiciary, executive, and legislature within its grip and influence.
Simultaneously various fringe Hindu majoritarian groups made inroads into the cultural landscape of this country, polarising the society on religious lines with the propaganda of promoting ‘Hindu interest’ only. After BJP got reelected in 2019, they reiterated many times their diabolical wish to actualize ‘One Nation, One Election’ policy with their attempt to dismantle the federal structure of India.
BJP had accelerated its election campaign in Bengal, claiming to be an alternative to the TMC government and the political and ideological vacuum it had produced. Communist Party of India (Marxist) who are fighting in this election in coalition with Congress and Indian Secular Front, a Muslim cleric’s party, also have failed to resist the recent saffron wave in Bengal.
BJP’s vote share has grown from a mere four percent in 2011, when TMC came to power, to a whopping 40 percent in 2019. RSS-backed BJP increased its vote share by ten times in just eight years leading the party to win 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha elections of 2019. The vote share of the Left front also has declined to 7 percent.
Riding on the misrule of 34 years of Left front government and mass movements from Singur and Nandigram against illegal land grabbing cases, TMC was able to overthrow the Left front government of Bengal in 2011. However their party leaders were found to be involved in various scams and corruptions. Various policies of the TMC government – giving scholarships to female children for their education, women empowerment programs, pensions to elderly people, and various development initiatives – though tried to give a sense of social security to people, it failed to deal with the deepening unemployment crisis in the state. People in the rural areas hardly saw any change or upliftment in their quality of living through these years, rather RSS only expanded its stranglehold in rural and marginalized areas in absence of any other political force.
Its national-level leaders had come to Bengal and were campaigning in support of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 and several anti-people, pro-corporate measures of the central government. Amit Shah at various public meetings in Bengal had given a random number about the refugees currently residing in West Bengal. To disseminate the divisive ideology of Sangh Parivar, he referred to the population of refugees from Bangladesh, using offensive terms like ‘termites’, ‘infiltrators ‘, and even threatened to throw the ‘illegal immigrant ‘ into the Bay of Bengal, possibly indicating a lurking threat of a systematic ethnic cleansing.
On the contrary to this ‘infiltrating’ argument made by Shah and his party members, the data of Border Security Force (BSF) and the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), show that the number of illegal Bangladeshi migrants caught leaving India has been double than that of those who have entered the country by illegal means in the past four years.
BJP had constantly tried to deceive the Matua community and other namashudra or Dalit communities, who had fled away from Bangladesh during partition, in the name of giving them citizenship by implementing the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, just to win their mere votes. But the rules laid down in the Act to qualify as one belonging to a group of persecuted religious minorities from India’s neighboring counties, would in the first place endanger the citizenship of these people who have been casting their votes for a long time in India.
Many of the BJP leaders – Kailash Vijayvargiya, national general secretary of BJP; J. P. Nadda, president of this party, even Yogi Adityanath, including the Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself have been spewing venom against the Muslim community of Bengal. These leaders who are deciding the course and electoral strategy of Bengal BJP are from the ‘Hindi heartland ‘ and aren’t familiar with the syncretic cultures and beliefs of Hindus and Muslims in Bengal. The collective memory of West Bengal itself was shaped by the pain and sufferings of the refugees coming to Bengal during the partition and ‘liberation war’ of 1971.
Though in rural areas many women voters are still preferring Mamata, the current chief minister, over anyone, for some of her welfare policies, many are to replace this government and want to see another change. During the aftermath of the disastrous Amphan cyclone, local leaders of TMC at many places didn’t distribute the relief materials and compensation properly, rather there were many alleged cases of theft of relief money by TMC leaders.
Among many conflicting and sensitive zones in this election, Nandigram is one, where chief minister Mamata Banerjee herself is the candidate for TMC. And the BJP candidate who stood against her is none other than Shuvendu Adhikary who has resigned from TMC to join hands with BJP. Nandigram which has witnessed farmers’ resistance against forceful land grabbing by the government, is now being polarised vehemently by BJP and RSS .
Leaving all other political parties, some civil society members and students of Bengal have come forward to resist the fascist onslaught on Bengal’s socio-cultural and political landscape and formed a platform named ‘Bengal Against Fascist RSS- BJP’. They are not supporting any political party but their general call is ‘No Vote To BJP‘. By arranging protest demonstrations, postering, leafleting regularly, they are making it clear that, though rarely any political parties pay any heed to the demands of the common people and the working class, they can’t be compared with the fascist BJP. This platform is determined to create an anti-fascist, anti -RSS consensus among common people in both the rural and urban areas, after the vote is over.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author’s alone.