How BJP-RSS-VHP left Bengal disgusted this Ram Navami

The display of arms and sectarian sloganeering has outraged Bengalis and hardened their perception of the BJP as a 'dangai' party.

 |  5-minute read |   08-04-2017
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The West Bengal BJP has scored a self-goal - or rather fatally stabbed itself in the back - by brandishing swords on the occasion of Ram Navami in Kolkata and elsewhere in a state which rebuffed Hindutva forces not only in 2014 - when the Narendra Modi wave was inundating the whole country - but also last year by electing a record number of Trinamool Congress MPs and MLAs in successive parliamentary and legislative Assembly elections.

The unprecedented display of arms and sectarian sloganeering on a solemn occasion like Ram Navami has outraged Bengalis and hardened their general perception of the BJP as a "dangai" (riot) party.

The BJP has a past in Bengal. The Jan Sangh, precursor of the BJP, was founded by an astute Bengali Brahmin called Shyama Prosad Mookerjee. But it doesn't have a future thanks to lumpen tactics like waving swords and trishuls filling Bengalis with revulsion and contempt.

The BJP’s politicised roar for Ram gave its bete noir, Mamata Banerjee, a golden opportunity to brand motorbike-borne BJP-RSS-VHP cadres as law-breakers by ordering their prosecution for wielding swords to terrorise other communities.

Banerjee also invoked Bengal’s presiding deity, Goddess Durga, to expose the saffron camp’s misrepresentation of Lord Ram. She said: “Lord Ram had worshipped Goddess Durga with flowers, not with swords. And Ram did not start riots to kill Ravana.”

Clearly, after the stunning performance in Uttar Pradesh, the Hindutva brigade is desperate to make its presence felt in Bengal. Amit Shah and Mohan Bhagwat have announced that they are ready to spend weeks in the Trinamool-ruled province. There are also plans to dispatch 42 BJP leaders and ministers to Bengal to take on the Mamata army. But all these grand plans have been botched up by the Ram Navami fiasco.

Bengali Hindus I spoke to said the sight of sword-wielding, slogan-shouting BJP-RSS-VHP cadres on Ram Navami did not fill them with bhakti - they were disgusted instead. They found the whole spectacle very un-Bengali.

It reminded them of the misuse of religion for political gains in north India - derisively called the cow belt - where cow slaughter might indeed soon result in life imprisonment or even capital punishment. For beef-loving Bengalis, nothing can be more absurd than the BJP’s bovine obsession.             

In January, a BJP frontal outfit, Swadhikar Bangla Foundation, wanted to organise a seminar on refugees in Kashmir and Balochistan and booked the lawns of Calcutta Club - Kolkata’s equivalent of the Gymkhana or India International Centre in Delhi - for the event.

But when the club realised the organisers real objective was to whip up communal passions by fielding Tarek Fatah, General GD Bakshi and Sushil Pandit, it decided against hosting the event.           

Calcutta Club, for the record, gave the Swadhikar Bangla Foundation in writing that it had cancelled the booking because it wanted “to ensure a cordial atmosphere” on its premises.

Obviously Calcutta Club, a bastion of middle-class Bengali values, realised in the nick of time that the BJP’s seminar would vitiate the cordial atmosphere of not only the club but the city. So it put its foot down.

The BJP’s activities on Ram Navami proved that Calcutta Club’s apprehension was well-founded. The BJP’s ideology and antics go against the grain of Bengal’s liberal and secular beliefs.

Long before the communists or Trinamool tasted power, Bengal was the cradle of Indian nationalism, not Hindu nationalism. If Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad decided to settle down in Kolkata, it was not a coincidence but a deliberate decision.

mamata-embed_040817025133.jpg Mamata Banerjee said: “Lord Ram had worshipped Goddess Durga with flowers, not with swords. And Ram did not start riots to kill Ravana.”

Kolkata gave birth to the idea of a modern India - not Hindu India - expounded by the great Rammohun Roy, no less. Bengalis later fell for the uncompromisingly secular and patriotic Subhash Chandra Bose without casting a glance at the likes of Savarkar or Golwalkar. 

After independence, Bengal was ruled by the Congress for two decades before the Left and the regional Bangla Congress turned the table on the national party. After the Emergency, the reds captured power and retained it for 34 long years before Trinamool evicted them from Writer’s Building. But the Jan Sangh, BJP and RSS languished and went into hibernation.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, BJP suddenly polled 17 percent of votes in Bengal thanks to Modi. It was the party’s best performance ever, compared to 3 per cent in the 1987 Assembly elections, 11 per cent in the 1991 Lok Sabha polls and 6 per cent in the 2011 Assembly elections.

The BJP’s performance in 2014 revealed that it was ahead in 24 Assembly seats, including Mamata Banerjee’s Bhowanipore constituency. But all it really reaped in the 2016 Assembly polls was 10.5 per cent votes and three seats.

Modi and Shah know too well that Bengal is not a low-hanging fruit which they can easily pluck and sink their teeth into. Stunts like marching on Ram Navami with swords held high will make their goal even more difficult to achieve.

Also read: BJP trying to trend #BengalInFlames is an ugly attempt to fuel hatred


S.N.M. Abdi S.N.M. Abdi

The writer is former deputy editor of Outlook, and a commentator and analyst.

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