By referring to a video in which she was seen shooing away two BJP men raising the “Jai Shri Ram” slogan at her convoy in West Midnapore district, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee of banning the slogan in the state to bully Hindus. Modi tried to connect Jai Shri Ram with Bengali Hindu emotions, contrary to the reality, in his attempt to spread Islamophobia and to malign Ms Banerjee during the crucial last two legs of the ongoing Lok Sabha election. West Bengal is a bitterly-contested battle between a defiant TMC and an aggressive BJP, which is powered by a surge of Hindutva fascism in the state under the aegis of the RSS since 2011. Modi and his lieutenant Amit Shah are dreaming of seizing more than 23 of West Bengal’s 42 Lok Sabha seats by using the leitmotif of National Register of Citizens, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, and sheer Islamophobia.
For years, the Modi dispensation, along with the entire Hindutva fascist ecosystem under the RSS, have been carrying out propaganda to project Banerjee’s rule as an autocratic Islamist rule within India, and the chief minister as the patron of Islamic fundamentalism. Capitalising on Banerjee’s extreme reliance on reactionary Islamic fundamentalists, and her sops to the Imams of mosques throughout the state, the BJP and the RSS have created a fear psychosis among the north Indian Hindus regarding West Bengal and among a section of Bengali Hindus about a lost entitlement.
Jai Shri Ram, the warcry of the Hindutva fascist camp, of which Modi and his sycophants are an integral part, isn’t a religious hymn or social greeting, unlike the popular “Ram Ram”, “Jay Ramji ki” or “Jay Siya Ram”, which have been used rampantly in social communication by north Indian Hindus since centuries. Jai Shri Ram was adopted as a political slogan by the BJP and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) during the Ayodhya Ram Temple movement. Though initially used by the VHP’s footsoldiers to evoke extreme communal passion among the upper-caste Hindu elites, urban middle class and the extremely politically-backward poor Hindus, Jai Shri Ram acquired its current political status under the leadership of Lal Krishna Advani in 1990, when he launched his infamous Ram Rath Yatra to build up a militant movement for the destruction of the 15th century Babri Masjid.
Ever since the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, which reached its peak in 1992, when a gang of feral Hindutva fascist thugs demolished the Babri Masjid in one of India’s largest majoritarian terrorist acts against the country’s minority Muslims, Jai Shri Ram, has been the trademark catchline of the Hindutva fascist camp led by the RSS. Be it the VHP, Bajrang Dal or any other RSS-affiliated organisation, including the BJP, the Jai Shri Ram slogan has been chanted by them during all major communal pogroms, be it the post-Babri demolition riots of 1992, the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, the murder of Graham Steins and his children in Odisha, the large-scale Christian genocide in Odisha’s Kandhamal or the 2013 Muzaffarnagar pogrom. Whenever the opportunity to commit gory atrocities or to gloat over the dead bodies of Muslims and Christians came, the pugnacious Hindutva fascists have chanted the slogan fiercely to instil fear among the marginalised minorities.
In West Bengal, the RSS and its affiliates, except for the Hindu Samhati, have been popularising Jai Shri Ram as a warcry of the majoritarian feral mobs that they are roosting in the backyard to polarise the common Bengali Hindus. Throughout the state, the BJP and the RSS have established the dominance of north Indian Hindu culture and festivities as per its Hindi-Hindu-Hindusthan scheme, which vouches for one country, one language, one religion, one culture and one leader model. The imposition and normalisation of the north Indian Hindu culture and festivities in West Bengal through an act of transgression on West Bengal’s own culture, rituals and festivities, especially marginalising and obliterating the popular culture and festivities of the tribal people, have been done with Banerjee’s and the TMC’s covert and at times, overt, support.
Though it was none else but Banerjee who once helped the BJP to set foot in West Bengal when she was a part of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government, though it was Banerjee and the TMC who danced to the “Bangladeshi infiltration” tune of the RSS from 1999 to 2006, though it was Banerjee who once certified the RSS as a “truly patriotic organisation” and it was her who greeted Modi with flowers on his visit to New Delhi after winning the 2002 Gujarat assembly election riding on the most barbaric pogrom, she is now playing the secular card to project herself as an acceptable prime ministerial candidate in case of a hung parliament. She is also trying to consolidate the frightened but significant Muslim vote bank in the state. With a Muslim population of 27% by her side, Banerjee remains confident of getting the lion’s share of secular Hindu votes as well. With a waning parliamentary left and a disarrayed Congress party marginalised from the political arena, it’s now more or less a direct fight between the TMC and the BJP for the supremacy over the 42 seats.
For the BJP, these 42 seats will compensate its loss in Assam, the entire northeast and parts of north India. Hence it’s desperate to stir communal extremism and bigotry in West Bengal. Thus, the Modi-Shah brigade is trying to pulverise the ethnic Bengali Hindu customs, the Bengali Hindu greetings, chants, hymns and rituals. They are forcefully driving the Hindutva fascist juggernaut and imposing the Hindi heartland culture on the Bengali Hindus of West Bengal by flexing muscle power, money power and by dangling the carrot of citizenship rights before a large section of Bangladeshi Hindu immigrants. At the same time, the BJP is trying to drive a wedge between the Muslim and Hindu Bengalis by projecting the former as Bangladeshi and sympathiser of Islamist terror. The template used in other laboratories of Hindutva hitherto is also used in West Bengal now and for that reason, the Modi-Shah duo, with the help of the RSS and other Hindutva fascist organisations, is spreading one after another lie regarding the purported persecution of Hindus in West Bengal by the Muslims patronised by Banerjee.
However, in doing so, at times Modi himself paves the way for Banerjee to reclaim the lost secular space. Her recent chasing of the Hindutva fanatics, who were chanting Jai Shri Ram, wasn’t an attack on someone’s religious freedom, as Jai Shri Ram is clearly a political slogan than a religious hymn, yet, but it was an exhibition of sheer hypocrisy as just a month ago, her men had participated in large-scale Ram Navami rallies to counter the BJP-RSS’s programme on the same festival with which the average Bengali Hindu had no connection until a few years ago. The popularising of the Jai Shri Ram, slogan took place under Banerjee’s reign only, even though the prime minister and the BJP leadership may try to peddle the communal slanders to polarise the voters before the crucial phases of the Lok Sabha election.
The common people of West Bengal, the working class, the peasantry and the progressive section of the petty bourgeoisie have got far more progressive, democratic, revolutionary and advanced slogans than Jai Shri Ram. The majority of the people are still moved by issues related to land, life, livelihood and resistance against corporate aggression, which has made the state a thorn in the eyes of Nagpur. By remoulding the gullible people of the state using the Hindutva fascist narrative, distorted history, bush telegraphs and incessant vitriol, though the RSS has been able to provide a playground to the BJP, in the long run, the deteriorating economic condition of the poor, the intensifying farm crisis and the rising discontent of the people of West Bengal will cremate the saffron camp’s existence at the bank of the Ganges.
Neeladri Mukherjee is a former high school teacher and a Rabindra Sangeet lover. An M.A. in Political Science (not entire), Neeladri is a close observer of West Bengal politics, South Asian affairs and the trade union movement.