Asansol of West Bardhaman district is a very unique city of West Bengal. It’s one of those two Lok Sabha constituencies out of 42 in the state that the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) managed to win in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. It’s also, contrary to its long history of being a bastion of the working class’s struggle, experienced one of the most violent communal riots triggered by the Hindutva fascists in 2018. Though the riots brought to the forefront the face of Asansol’s own Gandhi, the Imam Immamadullah Rashidi, whose son was killed by the Hindutva fascist thugs of the RSS, it also fractured the last vestige of communal harmony in the volatile city. It’s the city from where BJP’s singer-turned-politician and Union Minister Babul Supriyo (Supriyo Boral) is hopeful of winning again in 2019, despite the organised resistance he faced from the local Trinamool Congress (TMC) goons on 29 April when the constituency went for polls. Though Supriyo’s tenure as the local Member of Parliament (MP) and a Union Minister (first time for Asansol) saw little development taking place at the grassroots but more of communal polarisation of the Hindi and Bengali-speaking Hindus and closure of mines and factories like Hindustan Cables, he is still confident of winning because of the RSS’s groundwork to polarise the majority Hindu votes in favour of the BJP.
This polarisation is the locomotive of Supriyo’s confidence in the present election as the whole constituency is clearly boasting numerous banners bearing the Hindutva inscription of “Jay Shree Ram” on them, thousands of motorcycles and e-rickshaws are carrying the saffron banner with the idol of Ram, which is a clear demarcation from the politics Asansol had seen hitherto. From tea stalls to restaurants, the major topic of discussion among the Bengali and non-Bengali Hindus have been how Prime Minister Narendra Modi has raised India’s status by teaching Pakistan a lesson and how the Muslims should be suppressed and stripped off any political rights. “Pack them off to Pakistan” is a common outcry among the 18-40 age group of non-Bengalis in Asansol regarding Muslims, to which the erudite elite, Bhadralok Hindu Bengalis wouldn’t differ much, so wouldn’t a large number of Dalits, tribal people and backward caste Bengalis at the lower strata. Despite such intense polarisation, there is a clear absence of an alternative narrative that counters the BJP’s propaganda throughout Asansol.
The 2019 Lok Sabha election in Asansol, according to the local people, is a fixed match between the TMC and the BJP, as the former placed its most nonchalant political candidate, yesteryear actress Moonmoon Sen (Debbarma), who neither has a mass appeal nor has any organisational skills. As the MP of Bankura, Sen remained quiet during the parliamentary sessions and didn’t take any notable step to counter the aggressive growth of Hindutva fascism in her constituency. The choice of Sen is blamed on West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s secret pact with the saffron camp, with which she had been an ally earlier, to help the latter have an easy walkover in the fight. During 2014 elections, Banerjee parachuted another outsider, Dola Banerjee, from Kolkata to Asansol, which created a serious dissent within her local organisation and it led to the BJP’s easy victory in the constituency where the party had been relying solely on the Hindi-speaking upper-caste migrants earlier. In 2019, Banerjee repeated the same scheme and chose a weak and vulnerable candidate overriding the demand of the local organisation to have V Sivadasan (Dasu) or Asansol’s Mayor Jitendra Tiwari as the candidate. However, Banerjee, who wanted a Bengali candidate to face another Bengali, didn’t trust her local party members and relied on the celebrity candidate template that she had imported from the south since 2009.
Though the choice of candidate has a big impact on the polling, in Asansol a rabid Islamophobic campaigning done by the Hindutva fascist RSS’s affiliates like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal, Swami Vivekananda Janmotsab Samiti, Ram Charit Manas Katha Samiti, etc, is playing a major role in shaping the mindset of the Hindu community, especially the Bengali-speaking Hindus from all caste groups along with the tribal and Dalit communities. From the daily wage earners to the elite business owners, from traditional BJP-supporter Marwaris and Gujaratis to the urban and mobile upper-caste Hindu Bengalis, the Hindutva propaganda has inflicted a deep injury on the soul of Asansol. Using weapons like popularising the Ram worship culture among the Bengali Hindu community, promotion vegetarianism and Vaishno way of living among the Bengali Hindus, establishment of numerous Bajrangbali (Hanuman) temples that were earlier flocked by only north Indian Hindus, and by organising massive strength show on occasions like Dussehra and Ram Navami by flashing weapons and raising objectionable slogans against the Muslim community, the RSS has acted as a catalyst in metamorphosing Asansol into a twin of any town of its size in the Hindutva heartland.
When such a perilous situation is existing, then the TMC, the self-styled champion of secularism, didn’t bother to counter the Hindutva fascist menace by strengthening the secular credentials and legacy of Asansol, rather, it followed the Hindutva formula and started promoting Ram Navami, Hanuman Jayanti, and got involved in the temple construction spree, albeit with its own branding. The TMC started competing with the RSS and BJP to showcase itself like a pious Hindu outfit; it used the parlance and strategy that the Hindutva camp had used so far and branded it as its own politics. The Muslim community, which continues to face absolute isolation, marginalisation and suddenly turned into the “other” in the city, alike pan-India, is left at the mercy of the TMC’s soft-Hindutva agenda. The so-called champion of secularism has stripped the Muslims of any political say and rights in the constituency. While as an outsider, Supriyo had already declared the Muslims his enemies during the 2018 riots triggered by his men, it’s the TMC’s absolute silence and its softcore Hindutva programme that has left the minority community, which constitutes 21.26% of Asansol’s population, agonised and helpless. The compulsion of the Muslims to vote for the TMC in order to stop the BJP has made the ruling party take the community for granted.
From Asansol’s Railpar area to Burnpur’s Rahmat Nagar or Dharampur near Rangapara, the Muslims are ghettoised in the constituency since the heydays of the Left Front. The Muslim community is deprived of proper education, employment opportunities, economic upliftment, healthcare, family planning, loans and other financial opportunities. As long as the factories like the Glass Factory, the ISP, ECL, Chittaranjan Locomotive, Hindustan Cables, etc, thrived in the region, few Muslims got a proper livelihood by selling their labour. With the decay in the economy following a gloomy situation in the industry sector, the Muslims lost opportunities, their children lost the chance to study and poverty clutched them tightly. The only opportunity open to them is to migrate to big cities or to the Middle East to earn a livelihood. Even the businesses that the Muslims run in Asansol and other markets, especially on footpaths, face a lot of challenges every day.
Many poor Muslims were thrown into the abyss of criminal activities like wagon breaking, coal smuggling, slug stealing and other petty crimes due to the lack of proper opportunities from time immemorial. Neither the Left Front government nor the TMC government did anything to provide the Muslim community with some economic relief due to its historic socio-economic backwardness. Though the number of non-Muslim criminals far surpasses the total number of Muslim criminals in the Asansol subdivision, yet due to the pan-India Islamophobic propaganda, a large number of gullible Hindus of Asansol also started believing that the Muslim localities are dens of criminal activities. Travel advisories have been issued a long time back, in the 1970s and 1980s, about avoiding the Muslim areas at night to safeguard one from Muslim criminals. Neither the Left Front nor the TMC took any step to dismiss such misconceptions and to build trust and communication between the majority Hindus and minority Muslims. Rather, by backing Muslim fundamentalists and hate mongers on one hand, and by promoting soft-Hindutva on the other, the TMC has continued to play with fire all these years.
Slowly over time, this propaganda intensified and metamorphosed into the present-day Hindutva fascist organised aggression against the community under the aegis of the Modi regime and the Indian state apparatus. Though the chief minister will resort to her rhetoric against the Modi regime she will take no step to quell the Islamophobic propaganda or clear the air of mistrust among the communities in West Bengal, which has assumed an epidemic proportion at present. Though in the Left Front era the socio-economic condition of the Muslims had been quite miserable, as revealed by the Justice Sachar Committee Report, still incidents of communal tension and outburst of violence through bush telegraphs and vitriolic campaigns were suppressed with an iron fist during the 34-year-long period. The CPI(M), which has a dilapidated organisational status now, used its strong presence at the grassroots during the heydays of its rule to quell any form of communal disturbance. Even the triggering of a communal riot in 1992, during the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition, was suppressed with an iron fist. In comparison to that, the TMC’s approach has been to accommodate communal tension to create a larger panic among the minority community so that it votes in favour of the ruling party. The BJP, which has accused the TMC and its administration of “Muslim appeasement”, despite the wretched condition of the community in Asansol and the entire state, has evoked communal sentiments of the majority community by luring them with the bait of “entitlement” that is the right to rule, own all resources and relegate the Muslims as the “others” who can be stripped off their citizenship at the whims of the majoritarian fascist government.
Supriyo being an outsider has no stakes in Asansol’s misfortune that will be hastened by the BJP and RSS’s incessant communal propaganda. Neither his family nor his home will be affected if the city burns, rather, it will earn him more brownie points in the Sangh Parivar’s circle and please his non-Bengali masters who are trying to tame and Hindify the Hindu Bengalis to turn them into decoy tools of communal politics. Supriyo, alike all flop stars and yesteryear sensations of Bollywood, cricket and the music industry, who are seeking a revival of their financial fortune and future security through the path of Hindutva fascism under Modi’s patronage, will continue to fuel communal tension in Asansol for his own petty gains, while pushing the constituency to the brink of total chaos, division and enmity among communities. Prospering at the cost of Asansol’s agony, enriching the saffron camp with the coal mafia’s money, triggering communal tension and violence, the likes of Supriyo and other bootlickers of Hindutva fascism will continue to thrive in Asansol, not because of their better organisational machinery, people’s support or the backwardness of the masses in the region, rather, due to the lack of resistance, counter-narrative, proactive measures to build communal harmony and unity of the people by the ruling TMC and due to the absolute weakness and invisibility of organised working class’s militant struggle against neo-liberal economic aggression and its communal agents.
It’s evident from the voting pattern and the communal polarisation of Asansol that Supriyo will easily win against the TMC candidate who can’t even deliver a politically correct speech. The factor that Asansol will suffer under the BJP is understood by very few as the sense of “recovering the entitlement to rule”, as the majority community, will drive the Hindu Bengalis and non-Bengalis, especially at the bottom of the pyramid, with the utmost zeal to support the Hindutva fascist ideology and communal politics. To counter it, as an antidote, only a strong working class’s movement against the tyranny of Hindutva fascism and its nefarious divisive agenda to serve the big corporate capital is much required today. The failure of the CPI(M) or other such parliamentary left parties, who neither have any credibility nor support base left in West Bengal, lands the onus of building such a struggle in the court of the alternative, people’s democratic and progressive left forces. It’s their responsibility to build up a massive movement and wage an uncompromising struggle against Hindutva fascism from the grassroots in Asansol, as without it, the future of the city will be doomed, just like the future of its majority of poor who will suffer immensely at the hands of the atrocious Hindutva fascist-corporate nexus.
An avid reader and a merciless political analyst. When not writing then either reading something, debating something or sipping espresso with a dash of cream. Street photographer. Tweets as @la_muckraker