One of the primary challenges facing the BJP in Bengal is the apathy, if not antipathy, of the Bengali bhadralok class — the urban Hindu middle class and upper caste Bengali who is usually left-leaning — towards the saffron party.
The many decades of being subjected to leftist propaganda has left most of the Bengali bhadralok class in the ‘left-liberal’ group.
The bhadralok class, concentrated mostly in Kolkata and the urban pockets of south Bengal, has been Left, and then Trinamool supporter.
Though the BJP has been making steady inroads into this class, the Trinamool still holds sway over them. South Bengal is, thus, a Trinamool bastion that the BJP may find difficult to storm, in the run up to the Assembly polls due nine months from now.
But the BJP needn’t be very worried. Because, it has already stitched an alliance with backwards, tribals and indigenous communities, who can be collectively called Bengal’s long-neglected and exploited subalterns.
This alliance helped the saffron party bag 18 seats in the Lok Sabha elections last year. Since then, the BJP has been firming up this alliance and has won the support of many other communities who never found a voice over the past 73 years since Independence.
The indigenous Koch-Rajbongshi community in North Bengal, the adivasis and Gorkhas in the hills and Dooars, the tribals and OBCs in Jangalmahal (the eastern extension of the Chotanagpur plateau comprising Bankura, Purulia, Jhargram and parts of Paschim Medinipur, Paschim Bardhaman and Birbhum districts of Bengal), the Matuas (scheduled castes or SCs), OBCs and the subalterns, including economically disadvantaged upper castes, are counted as strong BJP supporters now.
This has not happened by chance or default. Decades of hard work by the RSS among many of these communities, coupled with the fact that they had been largely neglected by the Left and the Trinamool, has sparked this socio-political engineering and their coalescing into a strong support base for the BJP.
Another major factor behind this is that the Congress, followed by the Left and then the Trinamool, have always been the preserve of the upper caste bhadraloks.
Despite its egalitarian pretensions, for instance, almost all the top leadership of the CPI(M) in Bengal was made up of upper caste Bengalis.
The representation of SCs, STs, OBCs and even women in the Left parties was scant.
The Trinamool, too, exhibits the same bias against subalterns. Almost all the top leadership of the Trinamool is made up of Brahmins, Kayasthas and Baishyas, leaving little room there for the SCs, OBCs, STs and the marginalised.
The BJP, on the other hand, has worked actively among the subalterns and marginalised communities and has given senior positions to many from those communities.
The state BJP president, Dilip Ghosh, is an OBC, and many others in the higher ranks hail from the socially and economically disadvantaged classes.
The RSS, which started working silently and assiduously in Bengal a few decades ago, concentrated on these marginalised communities in North Bengal, Jangalmahal and other backward areas of the state.
The BJP is now reaping the dividends of the good work done by the RSS, often against many odds and fierce opposition by the Left and the Trinamool.
Realising the political inroads made by the BJP in North Bengal, Jangalmahal and other areas, Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee launched many development projects and extended many sops to the marginalised and backward communities.
However, all these have got mired in corruption and bureaucratic red tape, evoking more anger towards the Trinamool by these communities.
“Corruption is wired into the DNA of the Trinamool and there is no way any development or welfare scheme can be implemented honestly and fairly, no matter what Mamata Banerjee says,” explained BJP state president Dilip Ghosh.
Mamata Banerjee’s blatant Muslim appeasement has also turned the SCs and OBCs very firmly against the Trinamool. That’s because the appeasement has triggered Muslim assertion and fundamentalism, especially in the rural and semi-urban areas of Bengal.
And the lower caste and marginalised Hindus (including the Koch-Rajbanshis of North Bengal) have been at the receiving end of this Muslim assertion. With the state machinery turning a blind eye, some in the Muslim community have felt encouraged and emboldened to further marginalise the SCs and OBCs.
This ‘assertion’ by the community takes many forms, ranging from constant harassment and economic boycott of Hindus, to committing petty crimes, forcibly harvesting standing crops on farmlands belonging to Hindus, restricting Hindu festivals and rituals, harassment of Hindu womenfolk, indulging in minor violence and many other such targeted actions.
It must be remembered here that it is the lower-caste and marginalised Hindus in the rural and semi-urban areas of Bengal staying in close proximity to Muslims who have had to bear the brunt of this assertion.
As a result of this constant harassment and minor atrocities they have been facing, many have been displaced from their lands and homes. They have also had to suffer the fallout of the influx of Bangladeshi Muslims who have, over the decades, settled down in vast swathes of rural Bengal bordering Bangladesh.
These illegal migrants, who successive regimes in Bengal have protected as valuable vote banks, have often displaced Hindus.
The Muslims have also taken away almost the entire chunk of the benefits — jobs and welfare schemes — extended to OBCs since most of them in rural and semi-urban Bengal have been classified as OBCs.
This has left the OBCs among the Hindus fuming.
Mamata Banerjee has not, and cannot, address(ed) these major issues facing the SCs and OBCs among Bengali Hindus since that would mean disturbing her carefully-nurtured Muslim vote bank.
While all these factors have facilitated the BJP’s rise in Bengal, the saffron party is, however, not giving up on the bhadraloks altogether. BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha says many outreach programmes have been launched to win over the urban, middle-class Bengali Hindus.
The Trinamool’s corruption and misgovernance, and Mamata Banerjee’s poor administrative skills, has alienated many bhadraloks, says Sinha.
It will, however, require a major effort by the BJP to get the bhadralok to press the ‘lotus’ button inside a polling booth next year.
That effort, asserts Sinha, is on. What fruits that bears will be evident nine months from now.
As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.
Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.
We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.
Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.