BJP is out to make gains in state polls by dividing voters on caste lines

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By: Arun Srivastava

It appears that the BJP’s Chanakya, Amit Shah, has lost his skill and has nothing new to offer except some old decadent and outdated rhetoric.

The most potent offer he and his boss Narendra Modi has made to the people of Bengal has been creation of Sonar Bangla. But the narrative of this offer does not commensurate to the ground realities and mainly to the social and cultural ethos of the state. His offer utterly lacks the basic concept, which ingredients are actually needed to build Sonar Bangla. He and Modi have been repeatedly harping on it probably without knowing the real feelings and implication of the phrase.

The song was composed by Kaviguru Rabindranath Tagore as an expression of how precious the Bengali language is and how much its speakers value it. One of India’s most cherished renaissance figures, Rabindranath Tagore, put India on the literary map of the world when “Gitanjali” was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913. Gandhiji called him the ‘Great sentinel’. Introducing “Gitanjali”, W.B. Yeats wrote: ‘[the poems]have stirred my blood as nothing for years…’

Tagore’s worldwide acclaim as a social, political, religious, and aesthetic thinker, innovator in education and a champion of the ‘One World’ idea makes him a living presence. The poem is even the national anthem of Bangladesh. Before coming out with this proposal Shah and his mentor Modi should have at least taken pains to explore why Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim country has adopted this poem. The primary reason is it is the culture and social ethics that unite the Bengalees, not only the geography. No doubt the two stalwarts of the contemporary Indian politics erred significantly.

One thing is certain, behind the façade of   turning West Bengal into Sonar Bangla, the two protagonists of Hindtuva could not comprehend the real spirit and value that the poem symbolises. Modi and Shah dissociated the idea from the culture and social ethos, and made it look like mere a material object. But it has a design. They knew that in order to penetrate in Bengal and rule the state, they have to chop the cultural and social ethos. And to accomplish it, promise to create Sonar Bangla is the best bet. The first step in this direction has been to make the people realise that they belong to a particular caste before they are the Bengali.

Both the leaders used their office, energy and brain to promote caste as in their perception it would be the step forward towards creation of Sonar Bangla. It is an open secret that caste has never been the deciding factor in the Bengali society. Till a couple of years back, a common Bengali would outright deprecate any reference to caste. Though the upper caste politicians ruled the state for decades, they also did not patronise caste or worked to preserve the interest of their castemen unlike the prevalent practices in Hindi states. Caste has always been a pariah in Bengal.

Both the leaders have been working on this line is clearly evident from the fact they made it an issue in the 2016 assembly election. Their key players in the game were the members of the Matua community which belongs to the scheduled caste category. Mamata Banerjee also used this to consolidate her position. But it was the BJP which trounced her and gained an upper hand. In the Lok Sabha election of 2019 the BJP, played this game ruthlessly. This politics immensely benefitted the saffron party. The success in the 2019 election helped the BJP to lay its base in at least 70 assembly constituencies.

The desperation to divide the Bengali society on caste line has been so acute that Modi could not check the impulse to rush to Bangladesh to make conscious the Matua people of their caste identity. The BJP in a brazen manner provoked the caste feeling. It is unfortunate that Bengali cultural ethos has started feeling the tremors of the caste politics.

While the BJP is trying to assimilate the Mauta identity into the Hindutva identity, the TMC is working to project their identity as that of the Bengali refugee aspiring for citizenship. Undeniably the Matuas are witnessing a horizontal split. Nevertheless it is certain that the politics of caste identity will become more prominent and pronounced in Bengal politics in near future, especially in the context of mobilizing marginal communities.

It is imperative to mention that the old BJP leaders and cadres who were earlier with the Jana Sangh did not subscribe to this policy of the current leaders. Though the BJP leaders, Modi and Shah accuse Mamata of opposing the slogan Jai Sri Ram, the fact remains that most of the old BJP leaders and cadres do not endorse it. For them it is nothing but merely a political slogan and was against the Bengali cultural and social ethos. The party sources maintain that this was primarily the reason that most of the old founders of the party were denied the tickets to contest the assembly elections.

These old leaders in many places have tried to revive the defunct Jana Sangh and filed their nominations as its candidates. In Malda which has been the hot bed for the BJP, these old leaders have joined the Jana Sangh and are contesting from eight of the 12 assembly seats. Their primary aim is to ensure the defeat of the official candidates. Sanjit Mishra, former district BJP president, is the new district president of Jana Sangh.

The Jana Sangh was merged with the Janata Party in 1977 and L.K. Advani was its last president. In Bengal the Jana Sangh was revived by an old timer Subrata Mukherjee, the great-grandson of Syama Prasad Mookerjee. This development in Malda, a district with a minority population of around 55 per cent, has unnerved the state leadership as it has the potential to question the efficacy of   the rational of creating a new Sonar Bangla and engineering rebel in the rank and file just in the middle of the election. In Malda while the BJP is trying to polarise votes by focusing on caste and communal issues, the Jana Sangh is adhering to the traditional philosophy of Hinduism.

The BJP is using the caste to break the political hegemony of the upper caste as it is sure that this section, which patronises the culture of Bhadralok, would not allow it to grow in the state. Stray caste clashes that are taking place ought to be viewed in the wider backdrop of class struggles. (IPA Service)

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