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A divided history: Resurgence of Hindutva politics in West Bengal

The portrayal of this battle as propagated by the BJP is primarily a battle for democracy (saving the right to vote) and a protest against preferential treatment of Muslims whereas the TMC is propagating it as an election to save 'secular' democracy

British India

In 1946, when the Muslim League proposed and advocated the inclusion of entire Bengal into Pakistan, a safe haven for the Muslims in British India, the Hindu minority of Bengal fearing the subversion of human and constitutional rights, decided to agitate and advocate a separate state which would join India, namely West Bengal. These concerns were justified by a series of events under Chief Minister Suhrawardy’s rule, where a communal agenda was at play. The police in the then, Bengal Province comprised of Punjabi Muslims, concentrated primarily in Calcutta, had been blamed for extrajudicial proceedings including, kidnappings, rape and other excesses on the local Hindu population. (Bandyopadhyay, Sandip (2010), ইতিহাসের দিকে ফিরে: ছেচল্লিশের দাঙ্গা [The Calcutta Riots, 1946] (in Bengali), Kolkata: Radical. p. 73. ISBN 978-81-85459-07-3). On the 16th of August 1946, after a Muslim league address, violence broke out in Calcutta, namely the “Great Calcutta Killings’ termed also as ‘Direct Action Day‘. Hindu shops were looted and the Hindu population was lynched. While the riot inflicted deaths on both sides, various editorials had claimed that it was primarily targeted towards the Hindu population. The riots fell off into Orissa as well. A death toll of 7000-10,000 was realized. (Read here)

Immediately between the riots, The Bengal Provincial Hindu Mahasabha called for a separate Hindu Homeland for the Bengali Hindus, as claimed by Historian Amlendu De. The prospect was supported by Congress. Towards the end of 1946, the Bengal Partition League was formed (Sanyal, Sunanda; Basu, Soumya (2011), The Sickle & the Crescent: Communists, Muslim League and India’s Partition. London: Frontpage Publications. p. 154. ISBN 978-81-908841-6-7) and worked in agreement of the proposal of the Hindu Mahasabha and comprised of fervent Bengali intellectuals like – Dr Shayama Prasad Mukherjee (Who later joined the Hindu Mahasabha and further founded the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, Dr. Hemanta Kumar Sarkar (A close associate of Subhash Chandra Bose, Founder of the Labour Swaraj Party with the likes of Kazi Nazrul Islam and Muzaffar Ahmed, A peasant leader who later entered founded the partition league) , Lt. Colonel A.C. Chatterjee ( A member of the INA) and other eminent politicians like Dr. Bidhan Roy Chowdhury who later became the chief minister of West Bengal on a Congress ticket after having contested various elections independently and under the Swaraj Party. The Hindu Mahasabha along with the Indian National Congress conducted a huge number of rallies to rally support for a separate Hindu Homeland for the Bengal Hindus. Support was garnered for the same and a proposal was submitted to the British for consideration after the Muslim League reluctantly agreed.

Current Situation

Mamata Banerjee is an all-pervasive matriarch figure in the West Bengal Political sphere. Her struggle against the left in the left bastion was well acknowledged and with a huge majority in the legislative assembly has made her as powerful as the Central Government is the state. Her strength in using the state instruments to her advantage has been well documented. Her support base in Southern Bengal  remains intact but she is facing a huge backlash as well in various districts for reasons varying between subversion of democratic rights of people especially at the Panchayat and Municipal Corporation level, which is responsible for actualizing various state and central government schemes, as well as her ‘alleged’ involvement in not checking the entry of Bangladeshi immigrants, evident from her fervent ‘warnings’ to the BSF for their ‘excesses’.

In the Northern Districts and Constituencies where there was a strong Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) support, namely Cooch Behar, Alipurduar, Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri. It stemmed from the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) government’s alleged implicit solidarity with economic refugees from Bangladesh. This support has increased due to the rampant complaint of ‘Hindus’ being allegedly denied to vote by Muslims. A recent video on ABP Ananda and Times Now shows women who were allegedly being denied a passage to vote and were ‘allegedly’ beaten by ‘goons’ from the TMC. Other than that Darjeeling’s Gorkha population has been traditionally a BJP vote bank.

In Raiganj, the fight is extremely polarised. The Hindu population here again had been allegedly blockaded from voting during panchayat elections. In Malda, the Muslim vote bank has been gravitating towards from Congress which enjoyed a good secular vote bank for years owing the love for Ghani Khan Chowdhury. In response to this polarization, the Hindu vote bank is primarily shifting towards the BJP. However, the support for Mamata Banerjee has been more or less secular further south. Where the Mamata Banerjee government has reduced its popularity is the Hindi speaking populace in constituencies like Asansol (currently a BJP base) and Barrackpore (where a TMC MLA has switched over to the BJP and is likely to defeat Dinesh Trivedi in the 2019 election).

However, a very important constituency is Bangaon where the Matua scheduled caste community which has been a traditional TMC vote bank has seen a split due to the Citizenship Amendment Bill passed in the Lok Sabha. Matua’s are a community which include Hindu refugees from Bangladesh suffering religious persecution. A lot of whom still do not have citizenship in India. And are quite upset about the TMC, Congress and the left not supporting the bill in the Rajya Sabha.

Clearly, the electorate of the state of West Bengal is extremely complicated but what is a fact is that this election will be an extremely polarised election. Polarised on both sides. The portrayal of this battle as propagated by the BJP is primarily a battle for democracy (saving the right to vote) and a protest against preferential treatment of Muslims (citing events of stalling the Durga Visarjan for the recognizing Muharram) whereas the TMC is propagating it as an election to save democracy (a secular democracy which the BJP has allegedly been a threat to).

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