Bangaliyana versus Hindutva

Published:  12:29 AM, 02 June 2019

The battle for Bengal intensifies

The battle for Bengal intensifies Amartya Sen Mamata Banerjee Sugata Bose

Anti-saffron intellectuals are planning to launch a citizens movement in West Bengal  to curb the 'poison of divisive religious politics ' .

Harvard professor Sugata Bose, who was Trinamul MP in the previous Lok Sabha, has proposed the formation of an apolitical secular and liberal citizens forum."This kind of a forum, rooted in Bengal's great liberal and secular intellectual and political tradition, should take the lead in curbing the pernicious influence of majoritarian religion-driven politics," Sugato Bose told media persons.

Bose said the movement against Hindutva should be driven by the cultural inspiration of Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam and the political legacy of Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Both Das and Bose broke away from the Congress and formed their own parties.

Sugato Bose said the citizen's movement should not suffer the limitations of party politics but should bring together all citizens who oppose the politics of religious majoritarianism.  "And it should be led by the secular, liberal Bengali intelligentsia who enjoy the respect of the people," Bose said. The history professor said he has already discussed the intrusion of the saffron politics in Bengal with Nobel laureate Amartya Sen.

"He is very concerned," said Bose.

The Harvard professor is a great grandson of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, as is his cousin Chandra Bose, who joined the BJP and contested the Lok Sabha polls. Without referring to his cousin, Sugato Bose said Netaji's politics was totally secular which is evident from the way he organized the Azad Hind Fauj with its common langars.

"So there is no way one should confuse Netaji with Hindutva. We all know what he stood for," said Sugato Bose. He called for reforms within Trinamool Congress if it were to uphold West Bengal's secular political traditions, flagging the need to get rid of 'opportunists and bad elements'. 

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has called for setting up two cadre organizations to counter the RSS , which , she feels, played a major role in the BJP's better than expected poll performance this summer . She told media persons that the male organization will be called Jai Hind Bahini and the women group will be called Banga Lallona Bahini. 

"We will counter RSS and BJP with our culture. We will educate our people about the dangers of divisive religious politics," said Mamata Banerjee." Netaji gave us the jai hind slogan and we stick to it. '"Analysts see this as a belated effort to set up a dedicated, apparently apolitical cadre that can counter Hindutva in the cultural space.

"Bengali cultural traditions runs very deep. Our Muslim brothers fought Pakistan with Tagore and Nazrul on their lips in 1971. It is time we did the same here now," said singer Suchetona Majumder, a specialist Tagore singer. "Tagore is not about songs and dances, he gave us a world view. That is why RSS wants to remove him from school syllabus," she said.

Bengal's liberal and secular intelligentsia largely supported the Left until many of them shifted allegiance towards Mamata's Trinamool which displayed a more pronounced Bengali ethos.  Bengal's leading writer Sunil Ganguly, who was close to former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, had even refused to a high tea invitation from late prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2002 for "the politics he represents".

Ganguly, now no more, remains a novery popular author in both Bangladesh and West Bengal. Ever since the stunning BJP results in lok sabha polls, Mamata Banerjee has been describing the Hindutva politics of BJP as "alien to Bengal." 

"It is expected she will fight Hindutva with Bangaliyana (Bengali spirit) by rousing ethno- linguistic passions against the politics of religiosity. Bengalis are a divided people and many of them seem worried with the memories of Partition time violence," says political commentator Sukhoranjan Dasgupta.

"Our culture is syncretic and partition was never a finality in Bengal, at least in our consciousness," says novelist Samaresh Majumder.  "Even Hindutva icon Shyama Prasad Mukherjee joined the Muslim league ministry of Fazlul Huq, in the forties," says Dasgupta .

On the day the BJP was returning seat after seat in West Bengal , leading poet Shankhya Ghosh told Bangladesh's leading TV channel ATN : " Bangladesh is in my heart , that is where my roots are ." The shrill anti Bangladesh rhetoric of the BJP and threats to implement the national register of citizens or NRC to West Bengal in the state has not gone down well with many.

That it has led to exclusion of nearly four million Bengalis , more Hindus than Muslims, in Assam is something Mamata Banerjee seems destined to play up as she prepares to resist ' any imposition of NRC ' in West Bengal. As the BJP seeks to break Mamata Banerjee's support base by engineering defections, the feisty grassroots leader is preparing for a long and bitter struggle to face the Hindutva challenge.

"We will fight them out in the streets," she threatens.

As Modi was being sworn in, Mamata was challenging saffron supporters chanting Jai Shri Ram at the approach of her convoy in the industrial belt north of Calcutta.  "If I am alive, I will see how far you go. Bengal will be ours," shouted Banerjee, alluding to the state assembly polls barely two years from now.

The battle for Bengal is only destined to get bitterer.

The writer is a senior journalist based in India

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