Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief JP Nadda and Union Home Minister Amit Shah are wooing the Bengali upper-caste Bhadralok voters with a promise of stopping border infiltration. As the last phases of West Bengal Assembly elections come closer and as the polling moves to cities, the BJP woos the Bhadralok voters with ubiquitous xenophobia to wean them away from the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Sanyukta Morcha–the alliance between the Congress party, the Left Front and the Indian Secular Front (ISF).
While there is a perception within the Delhi-based so-called “national media” that the Bengali upper-caste Bhadralok community is progressive, liberal and secular, in reality, this community has been practising communal and caste apartheid since its inception during the British colonial rule. The reason that the Bengali Bhadralok had shied for years to express its utmost communal character is due to the lack of a political agency that can help it do so. With the advent of the BJP as a formidable foe of the TMC, which has become a thorn in the eyes of the Bhadralok community, there remains no Great Wall of China between the community and its desire to impose Brahminical hegemony in West Bengal.
As the BJP woos the Bhadralok voters with the promise of tackling infiltration, one may question Nadda and Shah what stops it from doing so without coming to power in West Bengal, as the international borders are managed by the Central Government. The state governments have no role to play in managing the international borders and as Nadda and Shah are claiming in their interactions with chosen intellectuals from the Bhadralok community that the infiltration issue will reach the cities soon, why isn’t the BJP-led Central Government acting tough or taking adequate steps to prevent that?
Though the “illegal Bangladeshi infiltrator” bogey has been used repeatedly by the BJP to fan xenophobia in West Bengal and the rest of India, it has no real basis, as this article shows. Shah’s ministry couldn’t provide any exact details of infiltrators living in India as well. Yet, the lie is retold to stimulate the Hindus with Islamophobia in West Bengal and other states. The BJP has no understanding of the pain of partition through which the Bengali people, especially the Dalits, the backward classes and the majority of poor went through. Even a large section of the Bhadralok community had to suffer due to the partition that was imposed by BJP’s ideologue Shyama Prosad Mookerjee.
Despite its penchant for Brahminical hegemony and communal apartheid, the Bhadralok community didn’t vote for the BJP en masse in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The seats in Kolkata and larger parts of southern Bengal were won by the TMC. Nadda and Shah are attempting to reverse that trend. But the BJP, perceived as a party of Hindi hegemony, doesn’t appeal to a major section of the Bhadralok community as it has no influential Bhadralok faces and suave leaders.
Mamata Bandopadhyay’s TMC has successfully outwitted the BJP by playing the “daughter of Bengal” card to show the saffron party as an outfit representing “outsiders”. However, the same “outsiders”, ie, the Hindi-speaking Hindus from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat have been infiltrating into West Bengal’s cities in large number under her watch and almost all major real estate projects now have a significant number of non-Bengali buyers, which is showing the threat posed by this infiltration to West Bengal’s demography. The realisation of this Hindi domination has caused an upheaval within the upper-caste Bhadralok community, despite its inherent Islamophobia, and it has seen a resurgence of Bengali nationalist movement in the state, albeit with anti-Hindi jingoism.
Unlike Tamil Nadu, where the Dravidian parties have reduced the “national parties” to mere appendices—despite the BJP gaining prominence—through their anti-Hindi movements and cultural nationalism, West Bengal couldn’t take any firm stand against the Hindi aggression due to the economic hegemony of Marwaris and Gujaratis, who have ensured that a mass migration of Bengali labourers, white and blue collars, happen over years in the state so that the Bengali-speaking people can be divided, weakened and culturally obliterated. Over years, through their monopoly over trade and commerce, over industries and supply chains, the Marwari-Gujarati comprador capitalist blocs successfully managed a job crisis in West Bengal and kept the wages lower vis-à-vis other states like Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Maharashtra, etc, to keep a supply of migrant labourers intact.
A large section of the middle-class Bengali Bhadralok community migrated to other cities of India in search of a livelihood. At the same time, by utilising the servility shown by the Bhadralok community, the Marwari-Gujarati comprador capitalists have imposed on them their cultural hegemony in West Bengal. With the rise of the BJP, the Marwari-Gujarati lobby, along with the Hindi-speaking upper-caste Hindus, have asserted their right over the pie of Bengal. Now, losing their foothold in West Bengal, where the BJP has successfully wooed the Dalits, the tribal people and backward classes using sheer Islamophobia, the Bhadralok community is in a bedazzled state. It either must choose the TMC that it despises or the BJP, which threatens its hegemony over socio-cultural space.
As the BJP woos the Bhadralok community with lies and fans xenophobia, it is pushing the community towards the wall. If the BJP wins, the Bhadralok community will lose its domination and if the TMC wins then the community will still face the aggression of Gujarati-Marwari domination in the economic space. Though the Bhadralok community has maintained a superiority complex vis-à-vis Hindi-speaking upper-caste Hindus and has taken pride in the so-called “Bengal Renaissance” and its participation in anti-colonial struggles, the BJP’s advance in its citadel is going to turn it into a subservient community and whether it accepts this ignominy is something to be seen.