BJP West Bengal Rath Yatras

BJP’s Three Rath Yatras in West Bengal Aimed at Fracturing People’s Unity


West Bengal BJP is planning to launch three consecutive Rath Yatras (chariot procession) to kick-start its 2019 general election campaign in the state. These three Raths (automobiles decorated as chariots) are supposed to start their journey from Gangasagar of South 24 Parganas district, Coochbehar district and Tarapith of Birbhum district on 5, 7, and 9 December respectively. BJP President Amit Shah, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Deb are expected to participate in these Rath Yatras as per the state BJP. The campaigning for these Rath Yatras have already reached a peak in West Bengal and there is a large-scale ground-level mobilisation by the RSS and its affiliates like the ABVP, VHP, Bajrang Dal and fringe Hindutva groups like Hindu Samhati to make these three Rath Yatras impactful in the communal polarisation drive that the Sangh Parivar is doing in the state.

Amit Shah has set a target of 22 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal out of 42 in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Following his diktat, the state BJP is trying its best to whip up communal fervour in as many constituencies possible so that few major pogroms targeting the Muslim community can be executed in the state. The BJP is sure about sweeping the 2019 Lok Sabha poll in the state by adopting a two-fold strategy, which will, on one hand, rally the Hindu Bengalis and non-Bengalis against the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and its leader Mamata Banerjee, while on the other hand, spearhead communal dichotomy that will eventually lead to few incidents of full-fledged communal violence.

The BJP is planning to whip up a communal frenzy, especially among the lower-caste Hindus and Bengali Dalits (Namasudra), through these three Rath Yatras that will criss-cross West Bengal. It will majorly emphasise on two issues that have the potential to horizontally divide West Bengal, a state where the Muslims are 27 per cent of the population and though they are not homogenous, still they form an important vote bank. The BJP is going to use the demand for a National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise in West Bengal and also to rake up support for its proposed bill- Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 at the grassroots by positioning the issues using a carefully drafted communal strategy. These two issues will help it drive a wedge between the Hindu and Muslim Bengalis.

The NRC exercise is implemented in Assam following the Assam Accord between the Assamese chauvinist organisations (whom the BJP and the RSS have helped since a long time) and the Congress government in the mid-1980s following a series of ethnic violence triggered by the Assamese chauvinists targeting the Bengali-speaking people, including the mobilisation of a rambunctious mob of tribal people in Nellie, which resulted into the killing of more than 10,000 Bengali Muslims.

Such a blood-laced treaty, concluded on gunpoint, resulted into the listing of ‘citizens’ by the government using a complicated process, which eventually left four million people off the list, including a large number of Bengali Hindus who now face the threat of disenfranchisement and also that of a lifelong detention. As the TMC and the West Bengal government, along with a large number of left organisations, opposed the NRC exercise and called it an anti-Bengali programme by the BJP to divide the Bengali Hindus and Muslims, the BJP is trying to market the NRC as a Bengali Hindu-friendly process and is showcasing it as a weapon to fight what the saffron camp considers the major threat to West Bengal- ‘Muslim aggression from Bangladesh’.

Despite being in power since the last four and a half years, the BJP is claiming that the Bengali Muslim ‘infiltration’ from Bangladesh has increased considerably, which can also be called their own failure in protecting the borders. The Bangladeshi infiltration story is amplified and the numbers are magnified by the mainstream press to provide an alibi to the RSS’ claim and to fuel its propaganda vilifying the Bengali Muslims, who happen to suffer throughout India due to their identity.

Using the ‘Bangladeshi infiltration’ doctrine, the BJP swept the Assam assembly election in 2016 and it’s now desperately eyeing to repeat the victory in West Bengal. The more the BJP tries to drive a wedge between the Hindu and Muslim Bengalis in West Bengal the more Marwari and Gujarati crony comprador capitalists, who have a monopoly over the economy of the state, help the saffron camp with money and manpower. While vilifying the Bengali Muslims, the BJP always position the upper-caste Marwari-Gujarati Hindu comprador capitalists as idol before the Hindu Bengalis and cajole the latter to adopt the vegetarian food habit and regressive rituals and culture of these communities by giving up what the Sangh considers ‘non-Hindu practices’ like consumption of meat, fish, eggs or not worshipping Ram as the supreme deity.

An NRC-type exercise in West Bengal will help the BJP to disenfranchise a large number of Bengali Muslims, which will give it a leeway in the state’s politics as the vote bank that the TMC and the other opposition parties harp upon, will considerably erode, leaving the BJP at an advantageous position, where it will command the majority community’s loyalty. This is why the BJP is trying to make the NRC popular to the upper-caste Bengali Hindus, Namasudras and backward caste members so that their religious antagonism with the Bengali Muslims can be used as a permanent marker to divide the Bengali community once more and pit one section against the other.

Apart from the NRC, the support of the Bengali Hindus for the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is quite crucial for the BJP, as it suffered a huge setback in Assam over its unapologetic attempt to amend the criteria to grant citizenship to asylum-seekers and immigrants. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 promises to provide any immigrant from neighbouring countries, except Muslim immigrants, citizenship rights in India. This bill has caused predicament for the BJP in Assam, where the people see it as the effort of the party to build up a Bengali Hindu vote bank by granting citizenship to those whom the Assamese consider ‘foreigners’. The Assamese chauvinists and the common people consider this bill as a threat to the state as it reveals a conspiracy of the BJP to increase the population of Bengali Hindus and thereby, change Assam’s demography altogether.

Due to this stringent opposition that it faces over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, in Assam, the BJP is trying to build up support among the Bengali Hindu-majority in West Bengal. This is a reason why the BJP will emphasise on this amendment bill during the Rath Yatras. A lot of Bengali Hindus, a majority of them belonging to the Namasudra community, fled Bangladesh in recent years due to religious persecution and took shelter in West Bengal; these are the people whom the BJP is trying to reach out with the bait of citizenship. It’s especially targeting the Matuas, a sect of Namasudra Hindus who are a strong vote bank of the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC government. The Matua sect played a crucial role in Mamata Banerjee’s subsequent rise to power in 2011 and 2016 due to the proximity shared between the sect’s matriarch Binapani Debi and the chief minister.

Ironically, while the BJP is assiduously luring the Matua refugees living in West Bengal with citizenship rights through the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, if voted to power, the Matua sect representatives from Assam complained to the chief minister that more than 1.2 million people among the four million people whom the NRC has excluded from the draft citizen’s list happen to be from the Matua sect. Still, despite this botched job at its part, the BJP is quite sure of twisting the facts and fanning Islamophobia to pull the Matua votes in its favour. However, according to the Matua sect members, despite some swinging, there is a bleak chance for the BJP in getting any lead with the major chunk of Matua votes.

Muslim-majority districts like Nadia, Murshidabad and Birbhum will be covered by the Rath Yatras, and there, taking advantage of the communally charged atmosphere and the vitriol against the Muslims, the RSS’ hired goons and militia can organise large-scale pogroms, following the footprints of Asansol, Raniganj, Kharagpur, Hazinagar, etc. This is a reason that rabble-rousers and utmost reactionary hate mongers like Yogi Adityanath, Biplab Deb, Sarbananda Sonowal, Amit Shah and Dilip Ghosh are going to participate in these Rath Yatras. The RSS has mobilised a large number of armed cadres to fuel tension during the Rath Yatras. Most of these RSS men are outsiders, brought from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand to foment trouble in West Bengal and then escape unchallenged as the locals won’t be able to file a complaint against these unknown people.

This emphasis on communal violence remains the only option available to the BJP to build up a support base among the state’s Hindu community before the 2019 general election and also to consolidate its existing vote bank. Despite having a strong foothold among the non-Bengali, upper-caste Hindus who live in West Bengal, the BJP knows well that it can’t do well without the Bengali Hindus, whom the RSS is trying to bring under its banner since the 1940s but failing miserably. Thus, it’s communal violence, carnage and vandalism by the BJP by spreading vitriol against the Muslim community that the BJP will try to consolidate the Bengali Hindu vote bank.

The BJP, adhering to the RSS’ agenda of Hindutva fascism, can very well resort to violence as a means to achieve its end like it has been doing ever since its inception. It won’t be an exceptional case if they rely solely on violence to become politically strong and durable in West Bengal, however, when the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC government, which claims itself to be a ‘champion of secularism’, not only appears indifferent to the BJP’s communal ranting over the Rath Yatras in West Bengal, but also absolutely baffled over the correct strategy to counter and curb the communally charged boisterous mob of the saffron camp vandalising the state, then it becomes clear that her regime isn’t as much interested in thwarting the peril of Hindutva fascism as much interested it’s in curbing dissent and arresting the left-wing activists on false charges.

Dilip Ghosh is infamous for his hate speech and his threats issued to political opponents. It wasn’t long ago that he threatened a bullet for a bullet to the political opponents of the BJP, it wasn’t a long time that he even threatened to violently exterminate the TMC workers, yet the government never took a single concrete step against him to curb this menace, but just acted indifferent to the challenge thrown by this Hindutva fascist hate monger who has been ruining the state’s reputation and fracturing the people’s unity. The cosmetic steps like filing a police case against the state BJP chief without taking any initiative to arrest him or ban the political activities of the Hindutva terrorists actually emboldened the BJP and other Sangh allies, who are motivated to fiddle around with the law with utmost impunity now.

It’s not just Dilip Ghosh, from BJP’s state leader and former flop Bengali film actress Locket Chatterjee to the notorious Tapan Ghosh, the founder of the infamous Hindu Samhati, each and every Hindutva fascist in West Bengal took law in their own hands and intimidated their opponents with the threat of violence. When speaking about the opposition of the left and democratic forces to their communal agenda and Rath Yatra, Locket Chatterjee didn’t feel shy to threaten them with dire consequences.

“We will hold Rath Yatras in three places to save democracy in West Bengal. The main aim is to obtain votes for (2019) Lok Sabha elections. Nobody can stop it and if anyone tries to stop it then they will be crushed under the wheels of the chariot.” Locket Chatterjee was quoted by the Asian Age. The state government didn’t take any action against her. Without any concrete evidence, the ‘secular’ state government claimed that her threats are metaphorical in nature and not literal, hence there is nothing to worry about. In case this threat was issued by a Muslim cleric to people opposing a rally, then it would have even drawn the NIA into the investigation, without waiting to know whether the threat is metaphorical or literal.

While it remained nonchalant over the Hindutva fascist threat to the state’s situation, Mamata Banerjee’s government didn’t show any hesitation before arresting four leftist activists who were surveying the reasons behind the starvation death of seven Sabar tribe members in West Medinipur district and how the BJP and the RSS are able to build strong organisations in the tribal belt. Though the activists are booked under sedition law, overriding the Supreme Court’s objection regarding the same, neither Dilip Ghosh nor Locket Chatterjee faces any wrath of the state at the moment. They remain scot-free even after threatening violence, while those organising the poor and the marginalised for their rights remain imprisoned on false charges.

Mamata Banerjee’s resistance plan is more pathetic than her approach towards the hate mongers and the agenda of the BJP and the RSS to flare up communal trouble in the state. She declared that the TMC will conduct a trail Rath Yatra to cover all the routes that the BJP’s three Rath Yatras will pass through and will ‘purify’ the routes as the BJP is ‘impure’ according to her. This resorting to the Brahminical tradition of purification to combat the BJP is not only a ridiculous thing but also a worrisome fact, as it indicates that the TMC is vehemently and unapologetically adopting the soft Hindutva standpoint to combat the BJP electorally. This will further marginalise the minority Muslims, the tribal people and a large section of the Namasudra people, as resorting to Brahminical rules will promote extreme bigotry and Brahminical hegemony in the state, which will affect the unity of the people adversely and gradually help the BJP to wield control of the state through its polarisation drive.

The reason that Mamata Banerjee is unable to become someone like Lalu Prasad Yadav, who showed the courage to stop Lal Krishna Advani’s Rath Yatra (the prelude to the Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya) and jail the man for spreading communal hatred when he entered Bihar, is her past ties with the BJP, which actually strengthened her political fortune and from there she started sharing the Sangh’s reactionary outlook. It was only 13 years ago, as an opposition MP in the Lok Sabha, Mamata Banerjee created a ruckus over the speaker’s denial to allow her question the West Bengal government {then led by the CPI(M)} over ‘Bangladeshi infiltration’. Mamata Banerjee strongly supported the RSS’ campaign over illegal ‘Bangladeshi immigrants’ getting into West Bengal; her tonality was as communal and bigot as the RSS. This is one of the reasons that she can’t oppose the RSS or the BJP in deeds except for some rhetoric mongering over the Gandhian ‘secular’ values.

Apart from sharing a common ideology, Mamata Banerjee and her government will not resist the BJP from conducting the Rath Yatras as the TMC supremo is indebted to Narendra Modi’s regime for its generosity over the Sarada Scam investigation, which once took the CBI to the higher levels of the TMC, including the office of the co-founder of the party- Mukul Roy. Though Mukul Roy had to switch publicly to the BJP to save his skin, Mamata Banerjee struck a cordial deal with the Modi regime, which would allow Narendra Modi and the Hindutva camp to rampage the state without worrying about any legal repercussions. Though Mamata Banerjee will periodically accuse the BJP of creating a bad environment for the country’s economy and society to survive and grow, she will ensure that such rhetoric isn’t translated to real action by the people.

The BJP’s Rath Yatras will be a blot on the face of West Bengal and turn the state into a hot pot brewing communal violence, bigotry, suspicion and hatred among the people. As the TMC will not resist these Rath Yatras by the BJP, like it didn’t resist the RSS’ armed rallies for Ram Navami celebration, Hanuman Jayanti celebration or any other north and west Indian Hindu festivals celebrated in West Bengal by the saffron camp, it’s clear that the onus of building a sustainable and long-term resistance struggle to stop, defeat and overthrow the RSS-led Hindutva fascist camp from West Bengal will fall upon the working class and peasantry of the state, as it would be they who have to suffer a lot in case the Hindutva fascism seizes power.

An organised attempt to build up resistance against these three Rath Yatras of the BJP is taken by different left and democratic forces. Many organisations, civil society members and individuals are joining hands to stop and smash the Rath Yatra and the conspiracies embed within these campaigns. Through their concerted efforts, through arousing the working class and the peasantry with revolutionary politics, the forces of democracy, progress and secularism can definitely halt the chariot of the evil forces of communalism. The history of Bengal is the history of massive and inspiring struggles against different enemies of the people, from the British imperialism to the tyranny of Indira Gandhi, the people have never backed out of the struggles and through their collective efforts, revolutionary genius and courage, they have inscribed inspirational stories of sacrifice, valour and victory in the popular conscience. It’s time that they will write another glorious chapter by resisting and smashing Hindutva fascism and its puppets on the streets of West Bengal.

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.

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