Bengal’s belligerent, shrewish, and foul-mouthed chief minister Mamata Banerjee, called Didi by her admirers, will sooner or later have to be taken on frontally to save the state from descending into a communal cauldron unsafe for Hindus.
To the politically correct who live off the loaves of pseudo secularism, this may seem an alarmist view. But to those familiar with the dynamics of the region’s politics, it is a perfectly tenable scenario in the not too distant future. The situation, in fact, is already explosive in many parts of the state.
Which is why the passage of the Citizens Amendment Bill (CAB) in Parliament and the Centre’s resolve to draw up a National Register of Citizens (NRC) has sent thousands into a tizzy. Didi, on her part, clearly seems rattled if her regular rants against the Centre are anything to go by.
Minority mollycoddling has been at the heart of Didi’s politics ever since being voted to power in 2011. Having rid the state of Marxist rule after more than three decades, she thought it would be easy going since the Congress in Bengal has never been a serious contender for state power since 1977.
A BJP victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha poll under a hardened Hindu leader like Narendra Modi is something she (like most secular fundamentalists) thought was beyond the realms of possibility. But when the seemingly impossible happened, she understood its implications at once. Her sharply honed instinct for political survival through the thick and thin of CPM rule set her firmly on the course of Muslim appeasement.
Monthly stipends of Rs 2,500/ were provided to 30,000 Muslim clerics, and proffered was the promise of housing. She was pictured praying in Muslim attire like any true devotee of Allah, she attended iftar parties, kept deafeningly silent when a crazed Imam of a mosque named after Tipu Sultan issued a fatwa against the exiled Bangladeshi writer Tasleema Nasreen. And, still worse, refused to act when lumpen Muslim mobs went on the rampage in Kaliachak (Malda) and Dhulagarh (Howrah) in 2016.
With Hindus a divided entity, and 30 per cent Muslim vote bank firmly behind her, appeasement paid her rich electoral dividends. She was on a high horse and cared not. Reelection in 2016 nurtured in her dreams of leading a combined Opposition, even taking a shot at the country’s top job, till the rout in May 2019 convinced her to stick to Bengal. With 18 Lok Sabha seats out of her kitty, she appeared chastened. But only till the sound of three forbidding letters, N-R-C, came floating over the Gangetic plains from Delhi. They were uttered by a no-nonsense man named Amit Shah she loves to hate.
The influx of illegal Muslim immigrants along the porous border districts of Murshidabad, Malda, Dinajpur, Cooch Behar, Nadia, and North 24 Parganas has been a bitter reality of Bengal politics since Independence. Pre-partition Bengal, it may be recalled, was Muslim majority.
It was the Great Calcutta Killings between 16-19 August 1946 carried out at the behest of the Hindu hating chief minister, Husaiyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, coupled with the Naval Mutiny a couple of months earlier which convinced the British that it was time to pack their bags and head homeward after 90 years of rule. Which they did a year later but not before partitioning the country on religious lines. The creation of Muslim dominated East Pakistan should ideally have settled the communal question once and for all. It never did.
The birth of Bangladesh in 1971 only reopened the old wounds afresh. But the problem of illegal immigration never became an electoral issue because it suited both the Congress and CPM for whom the illegal immigrants were an instant addition to their vote bank. Ration cards and other documents were freely disbursed to give them the trappings of citizenship. Admittedly, Hindus too were among those who poured in, mostly due to religious persecution.
Close associates of the gentleman Marxist, Jyoti Basu, who ran Bengal till 2000 say he was unhappy with the demographic invasion at the fag-end of his career. Some corrective action was initiated by his ideologically purer successor, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, but he too could not stem the tide. Buddha babu’s opposition was rooted more in Marxist ideology rather than the national interest. He thought a party which paid obeisance to communist demigods, Stalin and Mao, should not be seen sullying its hands in regional communal rivalries.
Didi knows her best days in power are behind her. With CAB a reality, and the NRC dangling before her like the Sword of Damocles, it is obvious that the BJP has a powerful electoral weapon in hand even if work on the Register is postponed or suspended due to the shrill opposition mounted by secularists or the Court’s intervention. Even the ongoing work on the National Population Register has been stopped on her orders. Implicit is the motive that the exact number of Muslims in Bengal be never identified by any survey.
Faced with the prospect of losing power, she has taken recourse to stirring the dormant passions of regional Bengali pride, warning them not to fall into the trap laid by a north Indian party in which two Gujarati males are the presiding deities. Elated by the BJP-Shiv Sena rift, her spokespersons have been trying to drive a wedge between Marathis and Gujaratis, encouraging the former not to allow the latter to dictate their lives.
All said and done, it will be a rough ride even if she manages to cling on to power in the 2021 assembly election whose outcome is at best an uncertainty. The good work she has done has been more than neutralized by her lumpen (raasta chap) politics. Her open espousal of the Islamist cause, rigging local elections, unleashing her muscle men on political enemies, dragging her feet over granting permission to Opposition rallies, calling the prime minster vile names, poking fun at the girth and weight of his home minister, and serially offending Hindu sentiment is bound to ricochet.
Even the Bengali intelligentsia which admires her pluck and her resolve to fight the domination of Delhi is fed up with her boorish ways. They feel it is scandalous that the land of Tagore and Vivekananda has fallen into the hands of a virago. The homely honorific ‘Didi’ does not sit well with her graceless politics.
Dislodging Didi, however, will not be easy. She still has a lot of fight left in her veins. Her biggest advantage is that the Bengal BJP has never produced a local leader of any worth. The party still lacks a proper presence in sizeable parts of the state. It is ironical that though the founder of the BJP’s progenitor, the Bhartiya Jana Sangh, was a well-known Bengali, the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) which made the BJS its political arm after his demise, could never strike root in the very land which took the divine message of Vedanta to the world.
Much, therefore, will depend on how the politics over CAB-NRC plays out in the coming days. Given the complexity of the task, things may not pan out the way the government wishes. The problem of implementing, however, should in no way weaken the resolve to roll out the Register in the national interest regardless of the time it takes. Protests by the howling secular brigade will only prolong their exile from power at the Centre, and help Narendra Modi get a third straight term as prime minister in 2024.
Unravelling the Nehruvian deep state of 70 years needs more time. Till then the transformation of India into Bharat will necessarily remain work-in-progress.
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