Religious hegemony in Bengal?
It is a myth that the State has been free of communal violence . If we track the path of history, there are numerous dividing forces at play, constantly changing faces
June 23 marked the 260th anniversary of the Battle of Plassey which led to the cessation of centuries-old Muslim rule in Bengal. August 15 would mark 70th anniversary of the vivisection of Bengal as part of partition of India. By that process two third of Bengal had reverted to permanent Muslim hegemony.
There is something sinister about the Basirhat riots erupting between the two anniversaries. It rings alarm bells for West Bengal conceived as the last refuge and save haven for the Bengali Hindus.
Incidentally, the death anniversary of Syama Prasad Mookerjee (1901-1953), the conceiver of West Bengal, also falls on June 23. It coincides with the anniversary of Plassey, an event of great political significance. It led to the establishment of the British empire and flowering of Bengal Renaissance. Contrastingly, in Mookerjee’s death, Bengal lost the last in the series of notable personalities who recognised that Hindus of Bengal have an inalienable right to exist in peace.
An office at 162, BB Ganguly Street, Kolkata is all that left of his original party viz The Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha walk on the long BB Ganguly Street and ask everyone from the oldest optician shop to Bihari porter to juicewala if they know where exactly the Hindu Mahasabha Bhavan is located. They would wonder if that is a school, temple or Marwari guest house that symbolically reveals how the Hindu cause had lost currency in the State of West Bengal.
The best part of Basirhat riot is that the Hindu plight in West Bengal is now exposed. For years a myth had been sedulously cultivated that West Bengal had no communal problems. This is despite the fact that Muslims are one-fourth of the State’s population. The West Bengal media became a partner in this conspiracy of silence.
This is not in consonance with the history of the State. The All-India Muslim League was formed in Dhaka in 1906. Even prior to that Syed Ameeer Ali (1849-1928) founded the National Mohammadan Association in Calcutta. The body set the tone for communalism in politics by refusing to cooperate with the Indian National Association established in 1876 and formed by Surendranath Banerjee. Undivided Bengal had seen some worse communal riots including infamous ones during April, May and October, 1926, Direct Action Day on August 16, 1946, and Noakhali Riots in October 1946. West Bengal also saw communal riots during 1950 and in 1964.
The tendency to deny existence of communal clashes is perhaps a legacy of the long Communist rule in Bengal. The Communists were averse to making religion a public issue. The party of workers and peasants were actually ruled by Bengali bhadralok who did not want to appear as Neanderthal beings by speaking of ‘communal riots’. They posed as if the State was living in post-religious identity era.
Actually, they knew best about their pretensions. But somehow the view that religion did not matter seeped into the Bengali bhadralok intelligentsia. There could not be anything more hypocritical as their private behaviour would not correspond to public posturing. One could not blame the Communists (and their Progressive fellow travelers) alone who officially did not believe in a religion.
Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, with its emphasis on jato mat tato path (As many thoughts so many ways) also made Hindus insensitive to creeping danger of jihad. It would have been better if the mission had inspired Hindus to actually study the Quran, the Hadith and Islamic history to find out what was what. The sublime and absurd ways of denying Islamic threat collaborated to design a dangerous fate for West Bengal.
West Bengal was mostly in the news for ‘political clashes’. At times, some of them pitted villages against villages. My friend Advocate Joydeep Sen (around 2004) taught me to scratch the surface. Many of the political clashes were actually communal conflicts.
In various parts of West Bengal, the two communities were living under the umbrella of different parties. A clash between the All India Forward Bloc and Communist Party of India (Marxist), CPI(M) both constituents in the Left front could actually be because of communal reasons. In May, 2008 the village house of Subhas Naskar of Revolutionary Socialist Party, a Left front Minister, was bombed by CPI(M) cadres at Basanti, South 24 Parganas. The wife of the Minister’s nephew viz Gouri Naskar succumbed to burn wounds. The reality is that all CPI(M) assailants were actually Muslim goons. Could it be considered a secular attack because instead of green banner of Islam they were holding the red banner of CPI(M)?
The advent of the All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC) gave a fillip to Islamic consolidation on expected lines. The loose structure of the party, as against cadre based as the CPI(M), makes it vulnerable to various kinds of predatory forces. Recently, members of syndicate (construction mafia) trooped into house of Sugata Bose, Trinamool Member of Parliament in the Lok Sabha to extort their share. The kingpin of that local mafia is one Bharat Jana, a Group D Railway employee, who reportedly runs his empire from the Trinamool Congress (TMC) office in Ward 69. Thus, AITMC is becoming victim of its own success.
While other predatory forces are actuated by personal interests, the Islamists are fired by religious interests. They are the most organised. They are merely using TMC as medium as they had used CPI(M) in the past to achieve Islamic hegemony. No wonder many goons like Shahjahan Sheikh, Abdul Barik Biswas etc jumped the ship from CPI(M) to TMC during poribortan of 2011.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in West Bengal is in no better shape. To be honest, the party has no understanding of history of the province. Their aim is to corner Mamata Banerjee politically offering no solution to the Islamic menace. Like the Congress in pre-independent era that attributed Muslim problem to ‘divide and rule’ of the British (as though everything was hunky dory prior to British invasion), the BJP in West Bengal wish to attribute it to TMC and the CPI(M) rules.
In undivided Bengal Muslims had a 55-45 majority against the Hindus. The Hindus were thus minority, though more educated and prosperous. The partition left India with one-third of Bengal. Appeasement of Muslims as ‘minority’ is ironic. They have already decamped with two-third of Bengal. The rest one-third stands truly seriously challenged.
(The writer is a socio-political commentator)
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