The Artificial Divide Between Bengalis And ‘Outsiders’ Has Harmed Bengal

The Artificial Divide Between Bengalis And ‘Outsiders’ Has Harmed BengalWest Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Snapshot
  • After a poor showing in Lok Sabha polls, a desperate Mamata Banerjee is now trying to project the worshippers of Bhagwan Ram as ‘outsiders’ who have come into Bengal to create trouble.

    This time-tested tactic is nothing but a dark attempt to create an artificial divide between Bengalis and non-Bengalis.

Ever since voluble “Joi Shree Ram” chants started reverberating throughout Bengal in the run-up to the just-concluded Lok Sabha elections, Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee and her supporters in the state’s so-called ‘intellectual’ and cultural circuit, and the Left-leaning (and Trinamool-leaning) academia and literati, have been speaking out against the ‘alien culture’ of worshipping Bhagwan Ram.

Bengal, to them, is the land of the Shakti cult where Devi is worshipped and revered, and it is only non-Bengalis who worship Ram. The millions of Devi-worshipping Bengalis who voted for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of course, refused to buy this patently false narrative.

Post-polls, a desperate Banerjee has been trying her best to project the worshippers of Bhagwan Ram as ‘outsiders’ who have come into Bengal to create trouble. Her subtle message: the BJP and its affiliates are aliens who have no place in Bengal.

The video of the Bengal Chief Minister getting down from her SUV twice while on a visit to Barrackpore (which the Trinamool lost to the BJP) last week that went viral is evidence enough of this dark attempt to create an artificial divide between Bengalis and non-Bengalis (who Bengalis refer to as ‘a-Bangali’, the ‘a’ here pronounced as ‘awe’, though there is little that’s awe-inspiring in Bengal today).

But it is not Banerjee who stuck on this tactic. It is a time-tested one that the Left Front deployed very effectively to its advantage to stay on in power in Bengal for 34 inglorious years. The communists were the first to play on Bengali pride and create a subtle divide between the Bengali and the ‘Hindustani’, the Hindi-speaking person from the Hindi heartland. Of course, the ‘Hindustani’ also broadly covered the Marwaris, Gujaratis and Marathis.

The Congress (the principal opposition in Bengal then) was projected by the communists as a ‘Hindustani’ party that Bengalis ought to reject. After all, the communists preached, Bengalis were culturally refined, intellectually superior and had finer sensibilities. The ‘Hindustanis’ were portrayed as crass rent-seekers and Mammon-worshippers without cultural and intellectual moorings who Bengalis can have little in common with.

This divisive narrative was buttressed by the victimhood cry of the communists. The Congress-ruled Union government manned mostly by Hindustanis, the communists told the Bengalis, neglects Bengal. The “step-motherly treatment by the Centre” term was coined by the communists to hide their own abject failings in governance. The communists propagated the myth that Bengal does not get its due (in terms of central grants and development projects) from the Hindustani-dominated Congress.

The communists even suggested that Hindustanis, envious of Bengal’s (past) intellectual and cultural achievements, want to keep Bengal poor and backward, and the communists, being the only representatives of Bengalis, could be the only ones to fight this alleged neglect and apathy of the Congress-ruled Centre. Thus, the Congress was kept out of power and the communists misruled Bengal for such a long time.

This tactic has, of course, caused Bengal considerable damage. The permanently adversarial position against the Union government that the communists ruling Bengal adopted resulted in them (the communists) not being able to take up Bengal’s case effectively with New Delhi. Coupled with their anti-capital stand, it resulted in not only flight of capital from Bengal, but also prevented fresh investments from coming into the state.

Bengal’s economic decline also hastened the decline of its cultural and educational institutions, and the flight of capital also spurred the flight of human capital. As the state’s best and brightest started migrating away, Bengal became a state of below-mediocre people wallowing in self-pity, blaming outsiders for the morass they were in and living in a state of denial while clinging on to a glorious past that was no more.

The artificial divide created by the communists between Bengalis and non-Bengalis has also harmed Bengal and Bengalis in many other ways. Bengalis who bought into the communist propaganda that they are ‘superior’ to others could not, naturally, indulge in self-critique and undertake frank assessments of themselves.

This led them to live in a make-believe world that the real world of poverty and despair that Bengal had sunk into failed to permeate. Living in denial have, consequently, cost generations of Bengalis very dear. It has also prevented Bengal from integrating itself with the rest of the country, and that has had its adverse consequences too.

The sense of victimhood, and of intellectual and cultural superiority, that the communists inculcated got very deeply entrenched among Bengalis living in Bengal. So much so that they became misfits in a cosmopolitan society and developed the ‘frog in the well’ syndrome that hindered their intellectual and even academic and professional advancement.

Blaming ‘outsiders’ and the Union government for their sorry state prevented them from looking into themselves and taking remedial measures that would take them out of the rut they had fallen into. Bengal, and the Bengalis living in the state, thus remained stuck in the deep drain of poverty, despair and frustration.

Unfortunately, this dark divide-and-rule tactic is being employed once again by the Trinamool chief to counter the political threat posed by the BJP. Banerjee, who has proven to be adept at appropriating many dark tactics and traits of the communists, has started employing this negative strategy. She reckons, says a former top aide, who had a fallout with her recently that portraying the BJP as a party of outsiders and playing on Bengali sentiments will help her regain lost ground in Bengal.

That is why she was heard in the video shouting angrily that those who raised “Joi Shree Ram” slogans were “outsiders” and not “locals of Bengal”. Her supporters in academia, and cultural and literary arena, have also been spreading and reinforcing this divisive message.

That the narrative that worship of Bhagwan Ram is alien to Bengal is so patently false that it hardly needs rebuttal. Many prominent Bengalis, especially in the recent past, have had ‘Ram’ in their names. The hallowed list of such figured includes one of Bengal’s most revered religious figures — Ramakrishna Paramahansa. The Ramayana is as revered as the Gita and other religious texts in Bengal. The irony is that this ‘Ram is alien to Bengal’ narrative is scripted and spread by left-leaning intellectuals who not only have no knowledge of Hindu scriptures, but hold them in disdain.

That aside, it must be said that most Bengalis who are mouthing the “Joi Shree Ram” chant today are not doing so simply out of a newfound religious fervour. They are also doing so out of defiance, and are posing an open challenge to Bengal’s minority-appeasing Chief Minister and her dictatorial ways. And they are making a strong and bold statement that they do not subscribe to the artificial and false ‘Bangali and a-Bangali’ divide that has so harmed Bengal.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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