The Indian National Congress didn’t seem to realize what it was doing when it threw out Mamata Banerjee some years ago. It was she who virtually represented Congress in the state, and so when she was thrown out instead of being appointed the Pradesh congress president, in a way the Congress had thrown out a part of itself too. And to the common man, she represented the fight against left front mindlessness better than congress.
The CPM rightfully can claim the rest of the credit for Mamata’s rise. In 1998 TMC won 7 LS seats. In 99 it inched up to 8. Mamata joined Vajpayee led NDA. Her supporters among Muslims didn’t think much of that. They were quasi-literate, illiterate rural folks. They didn’t almost know something called the RSS existed. Then Gujarat’2002 happened. They expected Mamata to take a tough stand and part ways with the NDA. She did not. Come 2004 and they registered their disapproval. TMC managed to send a lone MP to parliament.
The single most important factor in this rout was that Muslims deserted her overwhelmingly. She perhaps had not expected such a vehement reaction. But the warnings she used to receive came true. And that warning had come from Kolkata’s non-Bangla speaking Muslim leaders. In her anxiety to regain her lost ground, she started playing into their hands. Just then other political developments helped her. Nandigram and Singur. Political pundits wrote obituaries for her on these developments. But their insight was as good as their prophecy. Mamata knew the public psyche far better than them. She knew marginal farmers were bursting with anger because of coercive acquisition of their multi-crop land by the Left govt, jeopardizing their livelihood, their daily bread. Butter was beyond their dreams, incidentally. So awful their lot.
The two episodes swelled Mamata’s ranks in a very different way. The ‘thangare bahini’: ‘the beating brigade’ of CPM changed loyalty and sided with her. Nothing could have been more devastating to the CPM than this. Their switching camps emboldened the common people too to come out against the CPM in the open.
Come 2011 and West Bengal was flush with ‘ma mati manush,’ and Mamata strode regally up the stairs of Writers’ Building to the very chamber from where she was dragged out by her hair by a Superintendent of Police on the shocking orders of none other than Jyoti Basu himself.
On the flipside but her ‘Muslim’ advisors too went into Writers’ Building with cabinet berth. And they started extracting their pound of flesh in exchange of a ‘perceived’ turn-around of Muslim votes, ‘engineered’ by Kolkata’s Hindi/Urdu speaking Muslims. Anxious to retain their loyalty, she kept giving in all the time . Mamata Banerjee became ‘mamata-z banoo-ji’. So came the sop in form of payment to the muezzins that Kolkata HC scotched later. Then came the ‘bicycle’ circus for the ‘poor Muslim’ school girls. Then came up some road signs in Park Circus in Kolkata with Urdu preceding Bengali.
But such misplaced appeasement boomeranged. Payments to muezzins were something untenable constitutionally. She did not know that. Even Islamic practice does not allow muezzins to take payment from un-Islamic state coffer ! So even muezzins did not think much of the gesture. The bicycle bonanza: it was trumpeted more like a gift to Muslims rather than to a poorer segment of people. So then when there are poor people outside of Muslim fold as well, whose little girls too dream of pedaling their way to the school, such ‘Muslim-targeting,’ made many poorer Hindus disenchanted with Didi’s government.
In the process the Hindu communal forces gained credibility. Let us give credit where it is due. During the CPM rule, organizations like RSS and JIH had no takers. Since Mamata became ‘Mamata-z,’ JIH cozied up to her. They organized a rally in support of razakars of Bangladesh more to impress Mamata with their political muscle than show solidarity with the razakars. They brought in cadres from all over India as in West Bengal they hardly have strength worth showing. And so the RSS started getting a rather fertile arable mind space among latent Hindu communal elements. During the CPM days even the displaced people of 1947 & 71 were not all necessarily hostile to Muslims. In fact they formed a major cadre base of CPM alongside Muslims. But Mamata’s pro-Muslim antics irked the refugees They had already moved away from CPM, disgruntled. Now they were disillusioned with the new avatar of Mamata. RSS could not have asked for more. RSS pracharaks, who were just not visible in Left front days, are devoting 25 hours a day to their machinations, spreading lies, poisoning their minds and particularly reanimating the long forgotten scars of the refugee immigrants. And those displaced in 1971 alone number over 10 million. Predictably the RSS has sprouted a number of shakhas in West Bengal, with regular attendance.
Going by my own reading, a lions’ share of these refugees and their progeny either want revenge or at the very least won’t care much if Muslims are butchered here. For them it will be an affordable collateral damage for ‘development’. ‘Those who’ve caused untold misery in Pakistan and Bangla Desh to Hindus’ are pretty much dispensable.
Organization like Hindu Samhati came out of nowhere almost in no time. This was carved out of RSS cadre base and is as vitriolic as VHP. They are trying to impart a communal flavor to any local litigation relating to land, or to any issue for that matter. And they have been successful too on numerous occasions.
Mamata-z Banoo-ji is proving a positive catalyst in this polarization process. This is more perceptible in the districts adjoining the Bangladesh border. Hindus who were ‘moderately’ communal, thanks to Left’s no-nonsense approach, and who kept their own counsel, have now found a platform to give full vent to their dormant spleen.
BJP had so far been a non-entity in West Bengal politics. Courtesy CPM. No more so. Courtesy Mamata Banerjee. I will not be surprised if the BJP betters all its previous performances in 2014. Though that is not likely to make any impact as of now, it is a bad omen for West Bengal politics if Mamata does not return to sense. Or people throw her out. The problem is that people will not forget and forgive CPM any time soon. The going is certainly not good per se.
In the last lap, the political temperature has suddenly shot up. Mamata and Modi have been hurling nasty jibes at each other, but one wonders whether it is all real.
Mamata’s ‘architect of riot’ or her lieutenant Derek O’Brien’s ‘butcher of Gujarat’ might have sounded more convincing had she not kept quiet during the riots themselves. Besides it is the misplaced priorities of her government that have led to greater communalization of the polity as mentioned earlier.
Mamata should have got it that she could just give Modi’s communal diatribe a mute response altogether without losing any Muslim votes, and that would have soothed some nerves irritated because of her stole-coiffure Mamata-z avatar. But she did not. And so BJP should thank Mamata.
Modi’s assurance in Assam to ‘Bangldeshi Hindus’ and his warning to ‘Bangldeshi encrochers’ in Hooghly are typical chessboard movements of the sangh parivaar.
Never forget Rajnath Singh wonders aloud simultaneously how the population of ‘a particular’ community could increase so much. The message is not really all that cryptic.