Asansol and Ballygunge byelections once more revealed Mamata’s soft Hindutva inclinations


West Bengal’s political arena is now exhibiting a unique circus show, which the state’s people didn’t experience in a long time. On the one hand, Chief Minister Mamata Bandopadhyay has fielded former Union minister of state and former member of the Parliament (MP) from Asansol Babul Supriyo (Supriyo Boral) as her Trinamool Congress’s (TMC) candidate for the Ballygunge Assembly byelection, while on the other, she has nominated Shatrughan Sinha, former cinema actor and a former MP from Bihar, as her candidate for the Asansol Lok Sabha byelection. The Asansol and Ballygunge byelections are scheduled for April 12th 2022.

Both Babul and Sinha had their roots in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), against which Bandopadhyay is pretending to wage a political crusade. While Bandopadhyay is eyeing to lead Modi’s opposition camp’s mantle during the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, her TMC is effacing all lines that demarcate between itself and the BJP. By opening her party’s door to BJP leaders and by accommodating a softer version of Hindutva fascism as her party’s guiding ideology, Bandopadhyay is trying to become the substitute to Modi and acceptable to big foreign and domestic capitalists who fund the BJP at present.

The ironic candidacy of Babul Supriyo in Ballygunge Assembly byelection

The Ballygunge Assembly seat was vacated due to veteran TMC leader and minister Subrata Mukherjee’s death in 2021. The candidacy of Babul is quite ironic in this seat as it has a considerable Muslim constituency, which has been loyal to Bandopadhyay’s TMC for the last many years due to the lack of any formidable secular and progressive alternative. During his tenure in the BJP, Babul was infamous for being a Hindutva fascist rabble-rouser. He has been accused of sponsoring the anti-Muslim violence during the March 2018 Asansol riots in which a Muslim teenager and a Hindu woman lost their lives.

It’s alleged that Babul had directly orchestrated the March 2018 Asansol riots, in association with different militant Hindutva organisations affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)—the BJP’s parental body—in the Muslim-majority Railpar area. The Muslims of Asansol allege that Babul, a Union minister of state then, micro-managed the Asansol riots with sheer impunity as the Asansol-Durgapur Police remained nonchalant. Though it’s alleged that then Union home minister Rajnath Singh had reprimanded Babul for his role in the 2018 Asansol riots after dossiers of Union intelligence agencies blamed him, his career experienced a steep rise due to his complicity.

Despite police cases and complaints by the Muslims, including influential TMC leaders, Babul remained scot-free and continued to operate with sheer impunity. He managed to secure a leading role for himself during the BJP’s 2021 West Bengal Assembly elections as one of the top contenders for the chief minister’s seat. During the elections and after losing the polls, Babul resorted to communal hatemongering to advance the BJP’s cause. He remained an unapologetic docile tool of the RSS and kept vilifying the Muslim population of West Bengal until Modi purged him during his cabinet reshuffle in mid-2021.

After losing his berth, Babul publicly quit the BJP through a social media post and later joined the TMC. Now, representing TMC in the Ballygunge Assembly byelection, Babul is cosying up with the same Muslim population of the constituency whom he once demonised. His social media posts against Muslims, the TMC and Bandopadhyay have become meme materials, and both the BJP and Bandopadhyay’s detractors are using them to troll him. However, at present, trolling Babul for his shady past isn’t necessary; instead, it’s time to question Bandopadhyay’s arrogance, exhibited in selecting Babul to represent the TMC in the Muslim-majority Ballygunge constituency.

Bandopadhyay’s TMC swept the 2021 West Bengal Assembly elections, despite high tides of anti-incumbency waves in the state, because the Muslims voted en masse for the party. The community, including the minority Urdu-speaking and the majority Bengali-speaking Muslims, voted for the TMC as they realised that no other political party had the bandwidth to stop the Hindutva fascist BJP. The Muslims realised the ordeals they would suffer if the Hindutva fascist juggernaut wasn’t brought to a screeching halt in West Bengal. This consolidated the Muslim votes (30%) in TMC’s favour, helping Bandopadhyay to return to power overcoming the anti-incumbency sentiments.

Since returning to power for the third consecutive term in 2021, Bandopadhyay has been constantly betraying the Muslim community. Bandopadhyay has taken the Muslim votes for granted because no powerful secular alternative could assure minorities security from the BJP’s bigoted politics in the state. Driven by this hubris, she nominated Babul as the TMC’s candidate for the Ballygunge Assembly byelection. Bandopadhyay wants to reward Babul for his volte-face, and, for that, she is trying to use the Muslims as her pawns. The lack of political agency for West Bengal’s Muslims boosts Bandopadhyay’s and Islamophobic Babul’s confidence.

The Asansol Lok Sabha byelections fiasco

Even during the height of the erstwhile Left Front government’s poll debacle in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] managed to retain the Asansol Lok Sabha constituency. However, in 2014, the seat, with a legacy of heroic working-class struggles, went to the BJP as Bandopadhyay’s TMC fielded an outsider candidate, Dola Sen, which irked the party workers. The BJP, which had no substantial organisational presence in Asansol until 2014, managed to win the Lok Sabha seat by wooing a section of the Hindu working-class voters, the TMC’s disgruntled workers and upper-caste, non-Bengali Hindus.

In 2019, Bandopadhyay followed the same pattern and nominated former film actor Moonmoon Sen against Babul. While Babul carried out a vicious vitriolic campaign, Sen limited herself to tepid campaigning. Severe communal polarisation, the spike of Hindutva fascist jingoism, and Sen’s doubtful credentials helped Babul sweep the Asansol Lok Sabha seat with utmost ease, confirming his ministerial berth in Modi’s government. However, Bandopadhyay has refused to learn the lessons from the past and is continuing to use the Asansol Lok Sabha seat to field strange candidates. Sinha’s candidature in the constituency, where the BJP has a stronghold, proves this.

Sinha was one of the top Hindi film industry celebrities to support the BJP from the very beginning. From playing a pivotal role in mobilising mobs for demolishing the 15th-century Babri Masjid in 1992 to sticking with the BJP during the 1992 and 2002 anti-Muslim pogroms, Sinha had never shied exhibiting his sheer Islamophobic character. As one of LK Advani’s celebrity protégés, Sinha rose to prominence within the BJP’s ranks with utmost ease. Atal Bihari Vajpayee made him a cabinet minister from January 2003 to May 2004. Sinha was even the head of the BJP’s cultural wing.

As a BJP candidate, Sinha had won the 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Bihar’s Patna Sahib constituency but was denied a ministry when Modi formed his government. Like other Advani-Vajpayee protégés, he got an ornamental position, which made him a critic of the government and, in 2019, severe ties with it. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Sinha contested as a Congress party candidate against BJP’s Ravi Shankar Prasad. The latter defeated Sinha with a huge margin. A politically desolate Sinha found refuge in the TMC and will be contesting in Asansol, ironically as another outsider candidate.

Bandopadhyay’s key message during the 2021 West Bengal Assembly elections was “Bangla Nijer Meyekei Chaay” (Bengal wants its daughter), which was built around the people of Bengal actively resisting an increasingly non-Bengali, Hindi expansionist, Hindutva fascist BJP. Now, by placing a non-Bengali and outsider candidate in Asansol, she is also betraying the trust of the Bengali people. It’s another fact that, like Babul, Sinha is also a vehement Islamophobic hatemonger and has merely cloaked himself in a secular attire to hoodwink the people during Modi’s reign. Can someone like Sinha help advance the struggle against Hindutva fascism in the Parliament?

Inside the politics of betrayal

The TMC’s promotion of bigots like Babul and Sinha isn’t an isolated incidence. Since Modi’s Hindutva fascist politics unveiled the Hindutva fascism that the so-called secular parties have also been pursuing, there has been no holds barred for these so-called opponents of the BJP to prove their “Hindu” identity. From Bandopadhyay’s TMC to Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), from Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP), there has been a tough competition among the parliamentary parties to display their lighter version of Hindutva fascism to titillate the Hindus and wean them away from the BJP.

As a vulnerable, marginalised community, sans any political agency, the Muslims are merely pawns for all parliamentary parties that swear by the Constitution of India and “secularism”. How easily these parties betray the Muslim voters’ trust and the helpless condition is visible from Bandopadhyay’s unapologetic appeasement of utmost Hindutva fascist thugs like Babul and Sinha. By making these Hindutva fascists candidates for the Asansol and Ballygunge byelections, Bandopadhyay has signalled the Muslims that her TMC and its government will continue to contemptuously treat them. Only the future will tell whether the Muslims will continue to oblige Bandopadhyay after such humiliation.

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