Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) chief and a hardcore criminal Amit Shah’s rally in Kolkata sparked violence and triggered a large-scale riot. A large feral mob of rowdies from eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand created a ruckus on the streets of central Kolkata on 14 May, when Shah’s rally from Esplanade to Swami Vivekananda’s residence in Vivekananda Road was passing through College Street, the educational hub of Kolkata with prestigious institutes like the Hare School, Presidency College (University), and the Calcutta University located in the vicinity. A group of students from the Calcutta University, allegedly belonging to the ruling Trinamool Congress’s (TMC) student wing Trinamool Chhatra Parishad (TMCP), raised slogans like “Chowkidar Chor Hain” and “Amit Shah go back” from the gate of the university’s main campus and waved black flags at Shah. All hell broke loose after the sloganeering.
The boisterous mob attacked the students and bystanders at Calcutta University campus with iron rods, knives, clubs, bamboos and pelted stones. The police didn’t interfere to protect the students and allowed the berserk mob to vandalise the area with impunity. The mob violence spread to adjacent Bidhan Sarani where the Hindutva fascist thugs torched a parked vehicle and smashed the bust of 19th-century Bengali social reformer Ishwar Chandra Bandopadhyay, popularly known as Vidyasagar, at his eponymous Vidyasagar College. The Hindi-speaking mob, organised and led by the Hindutva fascist paramilitary Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) West Bengal headquarters, carried out the vandalisation and thrashed the TMCP members with utmost impunity, while the Kolkata Police, which reports to the TMC-controlled state government, did nothing to stop the mayhem, showing tactic support to the attackers.
Though Raja Rammohan Roy, the social reformer and founder of the Brahmo Samaj, played a crucial role in banning Sati, or the burning alive of women in the funeral pyre of their husbands, during the colonial period, Bandopadhyay is wrongly credited for it by the dimwit RSS men from other states and their local Bengali nincompoop followers. They virulently oppose him for standing against the religious norms. Bandopadhyay played a crucial role in starting women’s education, Hindu widows’ remarriage and developing the Bengali language according to a commonly-spoken dialect of colonial Calcutta and its neighbourhood. For empowering women within the limited scope of colonial laws, he is despised by the RSS and its affiliates. They consider him anti-Hindu according to their patriarchal standards, though Bandopadhyay was an ardent Brahmin and believed in the caste system.
Even though both Roy and Bandopadhyay have been close to the British colonial rulers and served their obnoxious agenda of quelling anti-colonial dissent and uprisings through deceptive social reform programmes that left the feudal and colonial economic base untouched for overall cosmetic changes, they are despised by the RSS’s footsoldiers for changing certain norms of Hindu religion that these saffron-clad riot-mongers still consider sacrosanct. This reactionary approach of the RSS and the BJP has made even social reformers like Bandopadhyay and Roy appear as heroic revolutionaries, which they weren’t.
This vandalising of College Street and smashing of Bandopadhyay’s bust are not mere instances of spontaneous mob violence, rather they are smaller parts of a carefully-drafted strategy of the RSS, which a plethora of organisations are implementing in West Bengal. For the RSS, it’s important to wipe out symbols of Bengal’s culture, intellectual heritage, struggles and history to establish the political, economic and social hegemony of the Marwari-Gujarati and north Indian upper-caste Hindus in West Bengal. The existence of a distinct Bengali culture, which has been quite different than the north Indian vegetarian and bigot Brahminical culture, despite having its own biases and reactionary content, threatens the RSS’s one nation-one language-one religion-one culture project that Shah and his boss, Prime Minister Narendra Modi are promoting vigorously in India.
Therefore, it was not merely a clash between the TMCP and the BJP’s thugs, as the mainstream corporate-controlled media is projecting, rather it was an all-out attack launched by Shah, a seasoned Gujarati criminal, against West Bengal’s culture, heritage and intellectual legacy. Armed with the war cry of Jai Shri Ram, Shah wanted to make himself heard in Kolkata, which will go to polls on 19 May. The only way Shah could make his presence felt with only a crowd of a few hundred Hindi-speaking thugs brought from outside was by instigating large-scale riots, in which he is a master. His shifting of the blame on the TMC is a very cunning move to ensure that the middle-class and elite Bengali Bhadralok community stays with the BJP during the last phase of the election in nine seats.
While Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister, has shown her displeasure at this vandalism done by Shah’s thugs in her bastion, targeting students affiliated with her own organisation, she and her administration appeared utmost disarrayed in dealing with the threat of Hindutva fascism. This sheer display of money and muscle power by Modi’s second-in-command, the rumbustious Hindi-speaking thugs guided by the clique of local Marwari-Gujarati-north Indian elite upper-caste Hindus, showed a trailer to the people of Kolkata and West Bengal as to what awaits next for the state should the BJP come to power. Yet, Banerjee and her colleagues could only utter some banal cliches on protecting Bengal’s heritage, without showing an iota of pragmatism or realpolitik in innovating a mechanism to thwart this menace.
Despite condemning the BJP’s vandalism in Kolkata now, Banerjee and her reactionary party TMC can’t evade the responsibility for helping the Hindutva fascist camp to grow in the state. It’s her tyrannical rule that has provided an impetus to the RSS’s growth in the last five years. She tactically allowed her former ally BJP and its fraternal organisations working under the aegis of the RSS to grow unchecked in the state’s hinterland and non-Bengali Hindu-majority areas with an aim to divide the opposition votes and safeguard the TMC’s leading position.
Instead of splitting the opposition votes, the BJP, through an intense communal polarisation drive, which is often aided by the upper-caste Hindu leaders of the TMC and its non-Bengali workers, has united the opposition votes by eating upon the ailing parliamentary left’s vote bank, the Congress’s vote bank and even triggered erosion in Banerjee’s hardcore anti-communist, rightwing, Brahminical voter base. It’s the TMC which has allowed its nemesis to grow and it’s the ailing left whose incapacity in resisting the TMC’s violence and dictatorship resulted in the meteoric rise of the RSS-led Hindutva camp in the state. Neither of them, especially the TMC, can plead innocence now when the beast is growling in the courtyard.
When a former notorious police officer, Bharati Ghosh, who has become a BJP candidate in the present Lok Sabha election, was found threatening TMC men that she will thrash them like dogs by bringing thugs from Uttar Pradesh, Banerjee and her coterie could only condemn her. Neither her party nor the administration took the threat seriously. None has any vigil over the movement of men from neighbouring states, from where the RSS is importing hired thugs. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s Hindu Yuva Vahini’s men are coming to West Bengal in a large number to spread terror and to carry out espionage in association with the central forces. Criminals from Indore, Madhya Pradesh, various districts of Bihar and Rajasthan have reached West Bengal since the beginning of the election and have been terrorising the anti-BJP forces and launching attacks on the ruling party.
It’s evident that the BJP is unable to organically grow in Bengali-majority areas as it needs the support of the Hindi and Gujarati-speaking upper-caste Hindus to sustain itself. Thus, even though the BJP made significant progress in places like Asansol, Bhatpara, Howrah, Kharagpur, Purulia, etc, where the Bengalis are in minority, it couldn’t make much progress in the Bengali heartland organisationally, though politically and ideologically, the RSS has mainstreamed Hindutva fascism and communal bigotry in the state through its virulence and pogroms. To enchant the Bengali Hindus, especially the gullible urban middle class and elites from the upper-caste strata, the RSS is determined to trigger more violence against the TMC in the coming days so that it can project itself as a strong force to reckon with and lure the anti-TMC vote bank.
By using the leitmotifs of “Muslim appeasement” by Banerjee’s government or the purported problem of “Muslim infiltration” from neighbouring Bangladesh, the RSS has been fanning xenophobia targeting both upper-caste Bengali Hindus and the Bengali Dalits (Namasudras) to polarise them communally. At the grassroots of West Bengal’s rural area, the Hindu-Muslim divisive politics gained immense strength in the districts bordering Bangladesh. Now the BJP is trying to woo the Bengali Hindu refugees from Bangladesh, mostly Namasudras, using the bait of the controversial National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. The BJP is promising the Islamophobic Bengali Hindus that it will evict the Bengali Muslims from the state using the NRC as a weapon, while the Namasudra refugees are promised citizenship after a new government is formed. Though the party face a debacle in the entire northeast for pushing the citizenship bill, it’s hoping to recover the loss of seats there with better yield in West Bengal, which has 42 seats in the Lok Sabha, the third largest after Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.
Though the BJP and the RSS are trying hard to dilapidate the Bengali ethnic identity, which they successfully achieved in Asansol, Howrah and Kharagpur, to establish the Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan agenda, the history of class struggle in the state, the glorious revolutionary heritage of the Bengali people across all religions and castes, the struggle of the common people for livelihood, food, shelter and basic human rights can’t be annihilated by the saffron wave overnight. It may have been triggering communal hatred at the grassroots to ensure that the Bengali poor are divided into antagonistic communal camps, however, with each attack on the Bengali conscience, with each attack on tribal culture and values, with each attack on Gorkha people’s dignity, the BJP itself is digging its grave deeper in West Bengal.
A strong wave of anti-fascist struggle by the working class and the peasantry of West Bengal, whom the BJP’s masters despise for their ability to build up an uncompromising militant class struggle against exploitation, will sooner or later drive away these Gujarati-Marwari and non-Bengali comprador-crony capitalists and their bootlickers from the soil of West Bengal. Electoral victory is a temporary thing, the people’s resentment and struggles to uproot fascism go on for a long term that the BJP or the RSS can’t comprehend with their half-baked minds, their end and the people’s victory, both are inevitable in West Bengal.
An avid reader and a merciless political analyst. When not writing then either reading something, debating something or sipping espresso with a dash of cream. Street photographer. Tweets as @la_muckraker