Bengali intelligentsia has to counter BJP’s Islamophobia

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By: Amulya Ganguli

The belief that the RSS-BJP has scored an ideological victory over the secular forces by forcing their leaders to visit temples at election time or give voice to the Chandi incantation is only partially true. Hindus have always been expressive about their faith as the four-day Durga puja celebrations in West Bengal testify as do the regular pujas offered by devotees at temples all over the country.

However, these invocations have generally been personal and not public events like Rahul Gandhi’s display of his sacred thread or Mamata Banerjee’s devotional recitations at an election rally. From this standpoint, it is true that the Hindutva camp has made the secular leaders wear their religion on their sleeves as they rarely did before although ordinary people continue to see their faith as a matter of individual conviction.

But where the RSS-BJP can be said to have really succeeded is to infuse intense anti-Muslim sentiments among a much wider section of the Hindus than before. There is little doubt that an increase in Muslim militancy, mainly in West Asia, and Pakistan’s conversion into a hotbed of terrorism have helped the RSS-BJP to achieve this objective. But the saffronites would not have been able to do so if the secular camp had not become so politically effete and intellectually anaemic as to be unable to counter the spread of communalism.

The significance of Mamata Banerjee’s victory lies in addressing the problem of political weakness though not the second shortfall unless the Bengali intelligentsia chooses to take on the challenge of eradicating sectarianism. Their task will not be easy because the BJP has taken advantage of the collapse of the Left and the Congress to emerge as the main opposition in West Bengal.

It has been able to do so for two reasons. One is Mamata’s failure to rein in her cadres as during the 2018 local body elections, and the other is the steady rise over the years of anti-Muslim sentiments among the Bengali middle class which historian Tapan Ray Chaudhuri first noted with surprise in the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat riots when the supposedly genteel Bengali bhadralog welcomed the bashing of the Muslims.

It is this mentality which is the basis of the BJP’s success in raising its tally of seats from three to 77 in the state legislature. Although it is still way behind the Trinamool Congress’s 213, the BJP’s numbers are not insignificant and underline the party’s ability to disseminate the communal virus. Suvendu Adhikari’s success in defeating Mamata in the Nandigram constituency is based on his crude exploitation of the anti-Muslim feelings with his description of the chief minister as Begum Mamata.

There is little doubt that in the coming days, the BJP will assiduously spread the communal poison by raising fears of Bengal becoming western Bangladesh with the influx of illegal immigrants – or “termites” as Amit Shah calls them – and Rohingyas – all of whom will be welcomed, according to the Hindutva camp, by the Trinamool Congress to build its vote bank.

However, it is possible that any political headway which the BJP may make via such propaganda will be nullified by the setbacks which it is likely to suffer in next year’s assembly elections in several states. A preview of such an outcome is available from the gains which the previously unfancied Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal have made in the UP panchayat polls. But even as politics takes its own course, it does not absolve the Bengali intelligentsia and the political class in West Bengal of the responsibility of taking the sting out of the BJP’s communalism.

No other state has the obligation to call the BJP to account for its divisive politics as much as West Bengal since it is the only one which has halted the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah “double engine” in its tracks. Unlike Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where the BJP is not a factor, West Bengal bore the brunt of the BJP’s offensive, which the latter had launched with all its monetary and institutional resources. Having successfully withstood the onslaught, it is now up to West Bengal to neutralize the BJP’s polarizing politics.

Since the rest of India is virtually dependent on West Bengal at the moment to safeguard democracy from the RSS-BJP’s majoritarian outlook, academics rather than politicians have to play an important part, for the battle to save the idea of a pluralistic India from a monochromatic notion of cultural nationalism – one people, one nation, one culture – is mainly an intellectual contest.

The Hindu Right, too, have their scholars as do right-wingers all over the world, but it is their tunnel vision based on demonizing one community – blacks and browns in America and Europe, Muslims in India – which is their Achilles heel and has to be highlighted to expose and ridicule their coarse, narrow-minded, soul-destroying outlook. (IPA Service)

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