Bengal beyond Bedlam

By Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury. Dated: 6/19/2019 1:29:50 PM

Bengal is on the boil quite some time, first during a bloody election campaign, then with BJP gaining 18 seats (up from 2) in spite of ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) gaining more votes (43.5% up from 39%, but seats down from 34 to 22), there has been a continued agitation, violence, killing amid unabated BJP victory rallies in every part of Bengal and trolling of the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and his ministers with Jai Shree Ram slogans on one hand, and a mindless violent response from the CM and her party to such rallies and slogans on the other. And now, after the death of a 75-year old patient in a government hospital, and attack by his family and friends on junior doctors on duty with one doctor being injured severely on his skull, the protest, strike and mass resignation of junior doctors in the state has become a major flash-point that has spread across the country with doctors elsewhere expressing support to the striking doctors. In spite of Mamata announcing all demands being accepted, the strikers are not happy finding her stand "not honest" and BJP appointed Governor also lending strength by saying "Mamata unresponsive".
So, the template is set for the next two years till the Bengal Assembly elections are conducted in mid 2021, that too, if President's rule is not imposed on the state in spite of the ruling party enjoying 75% MLAs' support, on the ground of unabated violence and mayhem.
On one hand, BJP will keep pushing the Hindu polarisation envelope with slogan of Jai Shree Ram (and when it does not work much in Bengal, adding to it Jai Maa Kali), fishing in troubled waters when it finds that the injured doctor is a Hindu Brahmin and those who attacked doctors are Muslims, and reaching out to the Hindu born voters of the Left and the Congress that only BJP can give them money and muscle power to protect them from TMC (and hence BJP got 40% votes in the last Lok Sabha elections in Bengal, up from 17%; while the Left slumped from 22% to merely 7%, and Congress also lost 8% vote-share). BJP has drawn up a list of all disgruntled TMC leaders or those facing cases to coax and get them into BJP or make them politically silent. It started with Sarada scam tainted Mukul Roy who is spearheading break TMC initiative on behalf of BJP, and then went on to Arjun Singh, the history-sheeter TMC MLA from Bhatpara who was used to engineer violence across Barrackpur LS seat and he won there narrowly this time, and now many more ahead.
On the other hand, the temperamental Chief Minister, in spite of having 75% MLA-support and 45.5% votes even today (not all can be Muslim votes as BJP is trying to portray as Muslim population in Bengal according to the last census is little less than 28%), is panicking, over-reacting and committing a series of mistakes, which are being duly amplified by a national Modified media to make her look as ugly as possible across the nation (though the local media tells another story).
The CM fails to nip a crisis in the bud. When a band of Jai Shree Ram slogan-shouters confronted her the first time, she could have ignored, or asked security to clear path for her convoy, or, like Priyanka Gandhi in Varanasi, get down, pat the slogan-shouters and ask them to take care and do politics peacefully, may be give one call herself as Shree Ram is a God for all Hindus. When anti-social elements attacked junior doctors, she should have within an hour met the injured doctors, asked for State funded best treatment, announced compensation, met the agitated doctors, ensured better security arrangements. When BJP is hell bent on taking victory rallies in several places, she should have asked the DGP to talk to BJP state leadership and limit the rallies in violence prone areas and allow wherever they want to strongly with police protection, clearly instructing TMC down the line to ignore the rallies and let them pass. Crisis ignored is crisis magnified.
But, what next? The state cannot be allowed to go through this spiral of violence, bedlam and killing etc. BJP claims 54 of its cadre killed, though a national TV has proven at least one third of these are fake. TMC claims 19 of its cadre killed, some arrests done, but BJP finds this hyped up.
Now, for a Bengal beyond this bedlam, the onus is on the Chief Minister and she has to be sagacious and statesman-like, the signs of which are still not strong. She has rightly announced compensation for all political killings in recent times, but let there be a time-bound end to police enquiry in these, and culprits, TMC leaders included, be arrested. She has announced all demands of junior doctors accepted, but she needs to meet the agitating doctors' leaders in the hospitals if need be, quell the storm, ensure higher security, not invoke ESMA, and doctors must return to service as the impasse is more than a week long now.
But going beyond, it is going to be BJP's Hindutva politics, and Mamata is showing signs of taking Bengali sub-nationalism plank to counter it. Such sub-nationalism has been repeatedly taken by CM Narendra Modi in Gujarat when he spoke of Gujarati Asmita when national media was talking about anti Muslim pogrom in Gujarat after Godhra violence. Such Bihari Asmita has been evoked by Lalu after fodder scam taking centre stage or by Nitish Kumar demanding special status for Bihar. Such Dravidian pride plank has been taken up by the Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu for decades. Balasaheb Thackeray had built up half a century old model of Shiv Sena politics based on Marathi Asmita. Local aspirations plank had been used by Mamata's predecessors, the Left Front against the Central government of Congress earlier; and same has been done in undivided Andhra as well.
So, Bengali pride and culture is a viable plank for Mamata, provided she can quickly turn it into a discourse on Hindu-Muslim cosmopolitan composite culture, including upper caste-lower caste-tribal bonding too. There is enough of music, dance, drama, literature, history in Bengal to uphold this composite culture. But this should not be construed as anti-Hindi and she should not be seen advocating learning Bengali as compulsory (can be desirable) for staying, working or studying in Bengal. Not in national interests.
On the political front, the leader has to cease taking BJP as her only adversary, let the Left grow (which she virtually decimated by force earlier, to her loss today), get the Congress on her side (which Rahul Gandhi will be willing to), unite all senior TMC leaders with mass base (many being alienated due to her fascination with her nephew Abhishek Banerjee, MP from Diamond Harbour), and let Abhishek remain engaged with youth TMC and his role as MP only.
On the administrative front, she should let the bureaucracy do its duty with a clear mandate to complete all ongoing developmental projects, and let Police keep to its job of policing without political interference. Easier said than done, agreed.
There has been remarkable developmental work in Bengal. It is one of the top three states in State GDP increase which is above 11% now while the national GDP growth is below 6%. Some 22 lakh girls have been helped by Kanyashree and Rupashree, and more than a million people helped through Sabujsathi and Swasthomitro. Ultra Left violence has reduced drastically, the hills are much calmer today in Darjeeling, and no secession demands active. The look of Kolkata, Durgapur, Siliguri and Asansol, among others, are far evolved than what it was 8 years ago, when Mamata took over. She just needs to carry these forward and talk about these, and bring in testimonials of the beneficiaries before the public through mainstream and alternative media routes, rather than just harping in Hindu-Muslim terms, us and them talk, and with a permanent state of agitated voice.
For BJP, if it has to rule Bengal two or seven years later, it needs grassroots organization in every village and district, which it does not have, and is depending on voluntary or forceful capture of the CPIM and TMC local offices. It also has to go beyond merely Hindu polarization and present a better vision for Bengal's development, superior to what Mamata and team could do so far. Their growth is just because Left has crumbled, Congress crumbling, Didi speaking venom against them, Central forces biased towards them during election, national media is egging on them, and Didi has not yet shown the gumption to handle crises and nip them in the bud. These are not planks on which you can create sustainable politics for a state of 100 million people, who have given to this nation stalwarts like Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Jagadish Chandra Bose, Sri Ramkrishna Paramhamsa, Swami Vivekananda, Subhas Chandra Bose, Khudiram Bose, Master Surjya Sen, Satyajit Roy, Udayshankar, Mother Teresa, Ritwik Ghatak, and Jyoti Basu, among others.
The author is noted media academic, a media columnist and active participant in TV studio debates.

 

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