Bad Idea: Hiving Off North Bengal Will Strengthen Islamism, Reduce West Bengal To West Bangladesh
The demand for a separate North Bengal will be a strong tool for Islamic forces to take over West Bengal.
There has been a long-standing demand for Gorkhaland in North Bengal. Sometimes, demands for a Kamatapur state have also been heard. But never has there been a demand for a separate state of North Bengal.
Interestingly, the previous demands were raised by local groups, but this latest demand for a separate North Bengal is coming from all-India Hindutvavadi party fellows and organisation. So, its implications are far-reaching, beyond just creating a new state in India. We shall first discuss the implications of this demand and later deal with its merits.
For a major Hindutvavadi organisation, India is a monolithic state which can be divided as required into many administrative units for better governance. For them all Indian people are the same, having the same DNA, and so administrative divisions have no impact on them.
It has failed to understand that India is a civilisational state which has encompassed hundreds of different cultures, languages, traditions and spiritual preferences within a Dharmic structure that has evolved over more than 5,000 years. Probably for this reason this brand of Hindutvavadi political and cultural influence has remained confined to the Hindi-speaking states and Gujarat.
Now let us see what this new demand means for West Bengal. First, West Bengal is not an administrative or economic unit which can be divided at will for administrative or economic reasons. West Bengal was created as a Hindu homeland for Bengali Hindus and snatched out of the proposed state of Pakistan in 1947. It is not a simple geographical entity but a concept to preserve Bengali Hindu identity from the brutal onslaught of Islamic fundamentalists.
Shyama Prasad Mukherjee played a vital role in creating the state of West Bengal. However, to the official Hindutvavadis, Shyama Prasad is mainly a martyr for Kashmir. Any voice for the division of West Bengal first brings back the memory of 1905 when the British partitioned Bengal to make nationalistic Bengali Hindus a minority group and by merging Hindu Bengal with Odisha and Bihar. Muslim-dominated Bengal was merged with Assam.
The new demand for a separate North Bengal is an assault on this idea of a Bengali Hindu homeland, a snub to the late Shyama Prasad. It belittles the idea of Bengali nationality. The passion for West Bengal is not a petit bourgeoisie idea; this homeland has saved the lives and honour of several crores of Bengali Hindus — rich, poor, petit bourgeoisie and all castes.
The demand for a separate North Bengal will be a strong tool for Islamic forces to take over West Bengal. Bangladesh, with about 170 million Bengali-speaking Muslims, claims that they are the real Bengalis. Hindu Bengalis are just a sub group of Bengali-speaking people.
Bangladeshi intellectuals already have rewritten the history of the Bengalis as a 1,000-year-old nationality being formed with the advent of Islam there. They are changing the Bengali language, changing Bengali Hindu cultural events in Islamic mode.
When West Bengal is divided into North and South, they will be much enthusiastic in propagating the idea that there is no Bengali Hindu national existence; it is just some regional bunch of sub-national tribes.
After the last 45 years of pro-Islamic Left–Trinamool Congress (TMC) rule in West Bengal, the state is now on its way to becoming West Bangladesh. The Islamists will be happy that even Hindutvavadis have joined their tukde tukde gang.
Another issue raised is national security, and so North Bengal has to be turned into a Union Territory. North Bengal has borders with Bangladesh and China, but so do other states like Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Punjab, which have borders with Pakistan and other countries. We do not turn them into Union Territories.
But then why is such a demand being raised now? There is no doubt that North Bengal has lot of development problems. No government, Left or TMC, has denied it and both promised development programmes. But this is as true for the Sundarban region of South Bengal or the Jungle Mahal region in Western Bengal. Do we, therefore, need more states in West Bengal, opting for a tukde tukde Bengal?
In any country and state, some regions become more developed for location, cultural and historical reasons. We need to balance it but not by encouraging secession.
However, another reason for such demand also comes to mind. We have seen power-hungry politicians before the 2021 assembly election in West Bengal. Everyone was sure that the BJP was coming to power.
So, powerful leaders from other parties and second grade film actors and actresses jumped into the BJP bandwagon in order to access a piece of the cake. We had several chief ministers and other ministers getting ready for the expected swearing-in ceremony for a BJP government in West Bengal.
However, that did not happen. But then another picture emerged. In the 2019 general election, the BJP won seven out of eight parliamentary seats in North Bengal — an 87 per cent success rate.
Even in 2021, despite the abysmal performance by the BJP in the assembly election, North Bengal saw better performance, where the party won 22 out of 54 seats. So probably some leaders of the North are seeing ministerial possibilities in a future state of North Bengal.
Of course, the BJP national leadership has advised party leaders and workers to keep mum about the subject. Bengali Hindus may have to be ready for a dark period sooner.
Dr Mohit Ray is a well-known political personality in West Bengal, a veteran campaigner on behalf of Bangladeshi Hindu refugees and leads a think tank group "Paschimbanger Janya".
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