Today, as the Delhi anti-Muslim pogrom is burning an impoverished part of the capital city, those living in West Bengal have something to really worry about. The impact of Delhi anti-Muslim pogrom won’t take much time to reach West Bengal before the 2021 assembly elections, as the Ram Navami festival, which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its parental body Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) utilises to communally polarise the society and fuel communal tension, is approaching.
Why the threat of an anti-Muslim pogrom looms large on West Bengal?
There are several reasons that keep the threat of a large-scale anti-Muslim pogrom looming large over West Bengal.
The rise of the BJP from 2014 onwards
Since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP began its quest to seize West Bengal, where it remained a non-factor for long. Hindutva fascism, which remained deeply assimilated in the upper-caste Bengali Hindus, engulfed the majority of ostracised dalits — Namasudras — along with tribals and other backward classes (OBCs) too, due to the BJP-RSS’s incessant vitriolic propaganda.
With the help of a multitude of campaigns, the RSS began polarising the majority Hindu community by projecting the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and its supremo, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, as Muslim appeasers. It became extremely easy for the BJP and RSS to titillate the politically-backward and unconscious masses with apocryphal stories of an Islamist threat from the Bengali Muslim community. Driven by Islamophobia, a large number of Bengali Hindus and Namasudras aligned with Hindutva fascism between 2014 and 2019.
Reaping the benefits of the communal polarisation the BJP, for the first time, managed to win three seats out of 295 in the West Bengal Assembly in the 2016 assembly elections. Through the anti-Muslim pogroms during the 2018 Ram Navami celebrations — an alien festival for Bengali Hindus, imposed on them by the RSS — throughout West Bengal, the BJP managed to win a record 18 seats out of 42 in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Its vote share rose considerably, cutting across caste lines. For the first time, the BJP created a major Hindu vote bank in West Bengal, which caused worry for the TMC.
This meteoric rise of the BJP makes it inevitable that the party and the RSS will keep fanning and spreading the lethal flames of communalism in the state so that it can reap rich yields during the 2021 West Bengal Assembly election. A study by Yale University has shown that the BJP gains vote share after each communal riot and it’s no wonder this formula will be used to win West Bengal Assembly election in 2021.
The pioneer in anti-NRC movements
West Bengal was the first state wary of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) proposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s regime. When the Assam NRC’s final draft list was released in mid-2018, it was found that the majority of those whose name didn’t feature in the list were Bengalis. The anti-NRC sentiments started piling up, and a movement began in the state much before other parts of India got acquainted with the threats.
The publication of the final NRC list in Assam, in which 1.9m people were left stateless, a majority of them being Bengali Hindus, caused panic among many Bengali OBCs and Namasudras as well. The movement against NRC became so strong in West Bengal that Banerjee herself joined the bandwagon with an intention to hijack the momentum and it caused some sort of political ignominy for the BJP.
The enactment of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA), which promise citizenship exclusively to non-Muslims who fled from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan due to religious persecution, sparked a nationwide protest. The RSS is worried about the truth of NRC and CAA getting exposed before the Bengali Namasudras and tribals, who are the real targets of the NRC.
If the Namasudras, OBCs and tribals, who are still sceptical of the anti-NRC and anti-CAA movements as “Muslim affair”, come to realise that the NRC will strip them of their identity and make them cheap labourers of corporate houses, they will vociferously oppose the BJP, and the RSS’s efforts will eventually fail. To prevent this, anti-Muslim pogroms in West Bengal during the Ram Navami rallies are quite imperative for the BJP-RSS’s survival.
As West Bengal is one of the pioneers in the anti-NRC people’s movements, and as there is a growing consciousness over the National Population Register (NPR) exercise, which is the first step towards NRC, a large-scale anti-Muslim pogrom will help the BJP and the RSS to crack the unity among the Bengali Hindus and Muslims, cemented by the hard work of many activists and political leaders, and cajole the Bengali Hindus, including the OBCs and Namasudras, to participate in the NPR and NRC, which the TMC regime has halted due to massive movements. The optics of the fall of Bengali Hindus before the juggernaut of the RSS’s Hindu Rashtra, a dictatorship of brahminical comprador capitalists and feudal landlords, will politically benefit the BJP all over India to combat the rising tides of anti-CAA-NPR-NRC movements.
The growing Islamophobia among Namasudras
Though different anti-fascist political organisations are working among the Namasudras to wean them away from the BJP, the RSS’s vitriolic propaganda are still captivating a majority of them. The Namasudras are still sceptical regarding the anti-CAA-NPR-NRC narratives and aren’t fathoming the danger these exercises pose to them. Many political outfits organising the anti-CAA-NPR-NRC movements are failing to wean the Namasudras and tribals from the BJP-RSS through effective political education.
By peddling fake news on an industrial scale using 50,000 WhatsApp groups, and by hiring a large number of lumpen Namasudras to incite the people against Muslims, the BJP has ensured that the vote bank of the community that was earlier loyal to Banerjee and the TMC, shows its allegiance to the saffron camp. The results of the assembly by-polls in West Bengal show that the BJP’s vote bank isn’t much dented due to the rising sentiments against the NRC and NPR, rather, it’s either constant or growing, because there is a constant fear of an Islamist aggression that the RSS is fuelling through its bush telegraphs and through its proselytisers at the grassroots.
If the Namasudras, as a mass, aren’t weaned away from the BJP by its opponents, then the communal pogroms targeting the Muslims in the mixed-community areas of rural and semi-urban West Bengal, where there is a sizeable Muslim population, is imminent. The more fear is generated at the grassroots, the more the BJP-RSS will profiteer.
The infiltration of Hindi-speaking upper-caste Hindus
The entire economy of West Bengal has been under the control of upper-caste Marwari, Hindi-speaking and Gujarati Hindus. These crony-comprador capitalists have an unquestionable authority on the state’s polity since independence. This lobby, which owns more than 90% of the state’s trade, commerce and industries, want to have the BJP in power. These Gujarati-Marwari crony compradors need the hegemony of their politics, their rituals, customs and culture over that of Bengalis, Hindus and Muslims alike, which the BJP promises. Thus, the entire Gujarati-Marwari crony-comprador lobby is generously funding RSS’s terrorism in West Bengal and that covers the cost of anti-Muslim pogroms.
Throughout West Bengal, the narrative of “Bangladeshi infiltration” started from the 1990s, in the post-liberalisation era, when these Gujarati-Marwari crony-compradors were actually promoting an influx of upper-caste Hindi-speaking infiltrators in the state and making them permanent residents. In places like Howrah, Asansol, Kharagpur, etc, the influx of Hindi-speaking upper-caste Hindus and OBCs from Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh has made the aboriginal people, the Namasudras and Bengali Hindus into minorities in their own land.
Most of the jobs in the railways, the coalfields and the iron and steel industries owned by the state, belong to the Hindi-speaking Hindus now, which has created a vast pool of unemployed Bengali Hindus, aboriginal people and Namasudras, whose anger is diverted by the ruling classes against the so-called “Bangladeshi infiltrators”, who are none but Bengalis. The demographic change is done without much hullaballoo and the Bengali Hindus, who are used as pawns by the Hindutva fascist camp to seize power, have been made to believe that the Hindi-speaking Hindus are their own but the Bengali Muslims are alien.
The 2018 Ram Navami pogrom showed that the maximum violence took place in cities like Asansol, where the majority of the population is Hindi-speaking upper-caste Hindus and OBCs. This shows the peril such an influx poses to West Bengal.
The TMC’s opportunism
Banerjee cosmetically opposed the Modi regime from 2014 onwards but as the BJP and Shah unleashed the investigative agencies to unearth the big-ticket scams she herself and her party leaders were involved in, she had to retreat and compromise with the BJP, the very party she once helped to entrench deep inside West Bengal. Banerjee’s duality, of compromise and confrontation, made the BJP and the RSS fearless in West Bengal. As their men spread communal vitriol, incited mob violence and kindled pogroms, Banerjee and the TMC appeared disarrayed and, in some cases, supportive.
In the cases of communal violence, it’s seen that the BJP and the RSS can easily arm-twist Banerjee’s regime. None of the Hindutva fascists has been arrested in West Bengal for the 2017 Baduria-Basirhat communal riots or for the 2018 Asansol pogrom. The TMC has unleashed state violence on the trade union activists, the leftwing students and others who have been organising the anti-CAA-NPR-NRC protests. The TMC regime didn’t arrest the BJP leaders for their hate speeches and their role in instigating mob violence in different parts of West Bengal. None of the fringe Hindutva outfits was banned for their terrorist activities. The wrath of the state remained reserved for the left-wing activists, whom the TMC considers its principal enemy.
Though Banerjee paid lip service to secularism after the Delhi anti-Muslim pogrom, she neither criticised Shah nor the Modi regime’s complicity in fuelling the pogrom. Her reluctance to take preemptive actions against the BJP-RSS thugs intimidating those opposing Modi’s sclerotic regime and her secret meeting with Modi during the latter’s Kolkata tour, prove that there is a lot of filth brewing beneath the carpet.
The dilapidated parliamentary left and weak radical left
The parliamentary left bloc, led by the CPI(M), had ruled West Bengal with an iron fist for 34 years and remained mired in controversies, corruption and nepotism. A majority of these left cadres swung to the TMC when it won power in 2011, and the rest went to the BJP to fight against the TMC. There is an ideological fluidity in these left forces, which allow them to side with the Hindutva fascists at the grassroots.
It’s their ideological opportunism that the germs of Hindutva fascism were allowed to spread in West Bengal throughout their tenure. Now that the TMC has provided enough incubation to the menace, it has grabbed the entire state. The dilapidated organisation of the parliamentary left can’t counter this monster and has chosen to compromise with the BJP in many places to ensure a swift victory of the saffron party in 2019 Lok Sabha election.
The CPI(M) voters have voted en masse for the BJP against the TMC and under the influence of Hindutva fascism. In such a situation the CPI(M) and its partners can’t play any key role in stopping the Hindutva fascists fuelling an anti-Muslim pogrom in any part of West Bengal. Rather, they will play the role of fence-sitters, leaving the Muslims to fend for themselves.
What’s the way out?
For West Bengal, though the threat of a massive anti-Muslim pogrom looms large, there are chances of it getting resisted by the people as well. The anti-NRC and anti-NPR movements are the keys to reach out to and neutralise the Namasudra and OBC communities infected by Hindutva fascism, along with weaning away tribals from the saffron camp. How effectively that can be done is yet to be seen.
The most important thing is to unite the working class, the peasantry and the toiling masses under the banner of anti-fascism by showing them the economic costs they have to pay, the rising prices, the growing unemployment, the falling wages and other such factors that impact their lives the most. In doing so, it’s inevitable that the TMC regime will offer more resistance than the BJP-RSS and it must be fought for being an enabler of Hindutva fascism. If the working class and the peasantry can be shown how communal antagonisms and pogroms only affect them, not the instigators, then there can be a chance of desisting them in participating in pogroms or supporting them.
Another important aspect is to execute confidence-building initiatives at the grassroots, even at the smallest scale, through which the misconceptions and prevalent perceptions about the minority Muslims are cleared and the history of partition and Bengali nationalism are retold to the vulnerable people. Without an organised effort, this can’t be fruitfully accomplished at present. Thus, it needs an organised intervention.
In the present circumstances, only the organised progressive, democratic and anti-fascist forces can undertake such a gargantuan project to stop communal pogrom targeting Muslims in West Bengal. To do so, it’s imperative they build class unity and consolidate the poor. It’s an uphill task and any forces operating at the grassroots know how difficult it’s to change the political discourse, yet, it’s the economic realities of people that drive their political opinion and in case, the right chords are pulled to disassociate the oppressed and exploited people from the notorious Hindutva fascists, there is a chance that West Bengal can thwart an imminent anti-Muslim pogrom before the 2021 polls.