As some of the flashpoints are along the Indo-Bangla border, Sangh Parivar’s gambit includes the leitmotif of its hate campaign in Bengal and north-east — stoking the fear of a demographic deluge through Muslim infiltration from across the border while assuring citizenship to all Hindu refugees who have fled successive waves of religious persecution in Bangladesh. Narendra Modi himself harped on this two-pronged tactic during his campaign in 2014 in Basirhat and some other bordering areas which helped BJP to bag Basirhat south in a by-election. Though it lost the seat in 2016, the Sangh outfits are getting stronger among Hindus in riot-hit Muslim-majority border areas like Kaliachak, Basirhat and Nakasipara.
Communal flare-ups in south Bengal border reveals the Sangh’s growing clout among lower caste Hindu refugees, mainly Namashudras and poundrokhatriyos, particularly the latecomers. With their memories of persecution still fresh, they share saffron animosity towards Muslims. The BJP is busy mobilising them. Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee has managed electoral support from Matuas, a powerful Namashudra sect, in earlier polls. Apart from Rajbangshis (18.4 per cent) in north Bengal, Namashudras ( 17.4 per cent) are the largest caste group in West Bengal and together they constitute 35.8 per cent of the total scheduled caste population in the state which was 23 per cent in the 2011 Census. While the old migrants, mostly poor farmers and artisans, were Left supporters during the land and food movements in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the post-1990’s entrants have been drawn into the vortex of divisive identity politics.
In his effort to repeat the social engineering a la UP, BJP president Amit Shah is wooing the OBCs in Bengal as the party has demanded 27 per cent reservation for Hindu OBCs. The saffron influence among Sadgopes, one of the numerous OBC groups who are known as ‘aggressive’ defenders of their traditional rights, has increased following the elevation of RSS pracharak Dilip Ghosh, who reportedly hails from caste, as the party’s state chief.
These castes had a history of clashes with Muslims on land issues. Muslims in bordering areas blamed ‘Bangals’ or refugees for recent clashes and opposed citizenship and land rights to them whom they saw as part of the BJP’s plan for preparing a beachhead.
The communalised section of upper caste Bengali Bhadralok Hindus who have hopped on to Modi’s development bandwagon with the lure of an upwardly mobile good life will supplement the Sangh’s core base among the Hindi-speaking business community. A large section of these Hindu groups, particularly in the riot-hit zones, today perceives the TMC government as pro-Muslim. The ruling party leaders were attacked and their offices ransacked by Hindu mobs, thanks to a Sangh campaign against ‘Jamat-Trinamul-Jihadi nexus as well as Mamata Banerjee’s acts of omission and commission.
‘The police and administration used kid gloves in containing the party’s lower-level Muslim apparatchiks or supporters who had joined the street violence of their co-religionists or supported them. The Chief Minister had obliquely chided her feuding MLAs after the Dhulagarh riots and Muslim zealots during the Basirhat frenzy but stopped at that. Her vow to protect constitutional secularism and syncretic tradition of Bengal notwithstanding, the TMC supremo’s realpolitik calculation becomes clear as she has arrayed her government and the party with mostly orthodox males as representatives of the minority community. They include a loudmouth fatwa-issuer, now fallen from grace, and MPs who were either instrumental in fanning street violence in Kolkata demanding the ouster of writer Taslima Nasreen or in opposing Pulse Polio immunisation as an American conspiracy to depopulate Muslims.
TMC’s public support to the Muslim men’s right to instant Triple Talaq and its silence following the Supreme Court ban on the practice speaks volume of Mamata’s socio-political imperatives. Her minister and Jamaat leader Siddiqullah Choudhury’s open defiance of the SC order and the party’s refusal to rein him in made her strategy ample clear. Despite her recent balancing acts of celebrating Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti as well as exhibition of her Hindu background to checkmate the BJP, Bengal politics and society is fast getting absorbed in the swirls of religious politics which is sweeping across the nation.