The Dangers Of Fanning Bengali Sub-Nationalism

The Dangers Of Fanning Bengali Sub-NationalismWest Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee addressing a rally in Kolkata. (Ashok Nath Dey/Hindustan Times via GettyImages) 
Snapshot
  • Bengal’s rulers have been fanning Bengali sub-nationalism to perpetuate their hold on power. This insidious political game not only pose grave danger to India’s integrity, but also to Bengal and the Bengalis themselves.

For four decades now, Bengal’s rulers have been fanning Bengali sub-nationalism to perpetuate their hold on power. The communists and, since 2011, the Trinamool Congress, have created a distinct divide between Bengal and Bengalis and the rest of the country. The ‘us’ versus ‘them’, with the ‘us’ being superior – intellectually and culturally – to ‘them’, is a narrative that has been successfully sold to generations of gullible and brainwashed Bengalis. And combined with yet another false narrative – of Bengal being neglected and accorded ‘step-motherly’ treatment by New Delhi – this insidious political game now not only portends grave danger to India’s integrity, but also to Bengal and the Bengalis themselves.

The communists, who initiated this tactic, found it to be one of the many Machiavellian means it perfected to hold on to power. Through constant false propaganda, which communists all over the world are very good at, Bengalis were led to believe from the mid-1970s that they are a superior race than the rest of India, especially the powers-that-be in North India, want to suppress and subjugate. Bengal’s glorious past – the Renaissance period – was constantly evoked to enforce the flawed and false notion of otherness and of Bengal’s superiority. Bengalis were led to believe that they were far more advanced – ideologically, intellectually and culturally – than people of other states in the country.

The intent was deeply political. “In terms of development, providing and creating jobs, boosting incomes, attracting investments and creating infrastructure, the Left Front was a complete failure. It had to divert the minds of the masses from the deep despair and distress that characterised their miserable lives. Hence, this opium of a superior Bengali identity that it administered to the masses to keep their minds and attention away from the many failures of the (Left) government. Along with this, the Left perpetrated the glorification of poverty, the ‘simple-living-high-thinking’ philosophy and disdain for wealth, entrepreneurship and industriousness among the Bengali masses. The people of other states, especially the Hindi-speaking northern and western states, were portrayed as crass wealth-seekers, Mammon-worshippers, and culturally and intellectually inferior. The Bengalis living in miserably backward Bengal were thus led to believe that their poverty, unemployment, industrial and economic decline, crumbling infrastructure and the climate of gloom around them were mundane matters and their intellectual and cultural heritage and status were more important,” explained Bibhas Debnath, a sociologist.

“Striving for wealth and riches, and material pursuits, got to be looked down upon as vulgar and unbecoming of the intellectually-superior and ‘politically conscious’ Bengali. Wallowing in poverty became the accepted norm, and to seek affluence came to be seen as something only an intellectually-inferior non-Bengali would do,” Debnath added. This was achieved both overtly and covertly; overtly through direct political propaganda and covertly through the continuous brainwashing by leftist teachers in schools, colleges and universities. The communists had started infiltrating educational institutions in Bengal since the early 1960s and, by time the Left Front started its disastrous 34-year rule that was to ruin Bengal in 1977, they were firmly ensconced in academia.

Apart from classrooms, this propaganda was also carried out and Bengalis brainwashed through movies, theatre and literature. As with academia, the communists had also managed to make the sphere of creative arts their exclusive fief. Almost all filmmakers, litterateurs, artistes, poets and authors were leftists or had pronounced left leanings. Thus, movies, plays, novels, poems, short stories and songs all glorified poverty and demonised wealth and capital. And also perpetuated the myth that Bengalis were intellectually and culturally superior than their fellow countrymen. The ‘otherness’ of the non-Bengali was highlighted in, for instance, movies and novels by portraying the non-Bengali as an uncultured seeker of wealth and material benefits. The Bengali, though poor, was always shown to be a noble soul.

Along with this insidious propaganda, the ruling communists also perpetuated the bogey of ‘step-motherly treatment’ of Bengal by the Union government. The Left Front indulged in this to hide its own failures of governance and many other fronts. “The easiest way for the ruling communists to hide their own failures and inaction was to blame the Union government. At each and every public fora, Left ministers and party apparatchik blamed and abused the Union government for neglecting Bengal by starving the state of funds and favouring other states at the cost of Bengal. It was another matter that this was absolutely false without a grain of truth in it. The fact was that the Left Front, led by Jyoti Basu and then Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, failed to utilise most of the central allocations to the state year after year and focused all their attention to clinging on to power,” said Surinder Singh, who used to teach political economy at Calcutta University. This bogey (about the Centre’s neglect of Bengal) complemented the propaganda about Bengali superiority and gave it a context too: that the (mostly) Hindi-speaking rulers in Delhi were envious of Bengalis’ intellect and prowess and, hence, neglected and discriminated against Bengal.

The Trinamool Congress, which swept to power on 2011, not only adopted this tactic, but also made it more dangerous. Not only did the Trinamool continue with the false propaganda of Bengalis being different from and superior to fellow-Indians, the party has also, over the past few years, launched a campaign to project Bengali Hindus as being different and distinct from Hindus in other states. Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee, and many of her senior colleagues, have been at pains in recent times to underscore the distinctiveness of Bengali Hindus. Bengali Hindus, the Trinamool propaganda goes, celebrate Kali Puja even as Hindus in the rest of the country celebrate Diwali. Bengali Hindus do not observe Ganesh Mahotsav, and while the rest of the countrymen play Holi, Bengali Hindus observe ‘Doljatra’. Bengali Hindus worship Goddess Durga, a festival that is portrayed to be exclusive to Bengal. Bhagwan Ram, Trinamool leaders proclaim, is not really revered by Bengali Hindus and, thus, the Ram Temple issue holds no significance in Bengal. Saraswati Puja, too, is exclusive only to Bengal, says the Trinamool propaganda machinery. The message to the Bengali masses: they (Bengali Hindus) are distinct from co-religionists of other communities.

Once again, the purpose of inculcating a feeling of distinctiveness among Bengali Hindus is deeply political and sinister. The BJP has started attracting the support of a growing number of Bengali Hindus in the state. And the Trinamool is justifiably worried over this. It is with the intention of creating a divide between the Bengali Hindus and Hindus of the rest of the country, especially North, Central and West India (most BJP leaders are from those parts of the country), the Trinamool has been trying to create this distinction. The Trinamool believes that if Bengali Hindus are made to feel distinct, the alleged Hindutva agenda of the BJP will not hold much appeal among Bengali Hindus. Banerjee herself has been highlighting this ‘distinctiveness’ of Bengali Hindus at many of her recent public meetings.

The malevolent attempt by Bengal’s present rulers to set Bengalis apart is not confined to just religion. A few months ago, the Trinamool’s social media warriors went overboard with posts and comments portraying the Marathas as a band of dacoits, who repeatedly invaded and looted Bengal in the mid-18th century. The timing coincided with the anniversary of the coronation of Shivaji Maharaj (end-June) which is celebrated as Hindu Samrajya Divas by the Sangh Parivar. The Trinamool worked up a frenzy among Bengalis early last year over the rasagolla with the charge that neighbouring Odisha was claiming proprietary rights over Bengal’s signature sweet. Banerjee took the lead in celebrating what she claimed was Bengal getting the Geographical Indication (GI) tag for the rasagolla (conveniently ignoring the fact that her government applied for and got only the ‘Banglar Rasagolla’ GI tag). This year, on the anniversary of World Intellectual Property Organisation granting the ‘Banglar Rasagolla’ GI tag to the sweets made in Bengal, the Trinamool government observed the day as ‘rasagolla dibas’ with Trinamool’s social media warriors again targeting Odisha for laying claim to “Bengal’s sweet invention”. This was a very subtle but sinister attempt by the Trinamool to create a Bengali-Odiya divide.

A few months ago, when the second list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam was published and about 40 lakh people – mostly Bengali-speaking Hindus and Muslims – found themselves excluded from the list, Banerjee went hammer and tongs against Assam and the Assamese. She, and her ministers, recalled the history of conflict between the Assamese and Bengalis and alleged that the Assamese were attempting to throw Bengalis out of Assam. This was a blatant attempt to create an Assamese-Bengali divide for narrow political ends. The gains for her: she emerged as the champion and protector of Bengalis (Hindus and Muslims) and also reinforced her pro-minority credentials by vehemently opposing the NRC updation process. Two weeks ago, the Bengal Chief Minister ordered setting up of police watchtowers, checkposts and CCTV cameras all along the Bengal-Jharkhand border since, she alleged, the BJP was getting miscreants from Jharkhand to create trouble in Bengal. The intended message: beleaguered Bengal is under threat from a Hindi-speaking state and she is the protector of Bengal’s interests, just as the communists had portrayed themselves to be before her.

Trinamool leaders often portray the BJP to be a party of “outsiders” (read: non-Bengalis) who do not understand Bengal and Bengalis. As for Bengalis, who have joined the BJP, a Trinamool leader recently accused them of giving up their Bengali identity and behaving in an ‘un-Bengali’ fashion. Bengal and Bengalis, as per this mega project launched by the communists and carried forward by the Trinamool, have little in common with the rest of the country and this distinctiveness should be the reason for Bengalis to support, in perpetuity, a political dispensation that is perennially at loggerheads with the rulers in Delhi.

That this project has very grave and adverse implications in the long run is but obvious. And, hence, the immediate and urgent need to call the bluff that generations of Bengalis have been brainwashed into believing: that they are superior to fellow-Indians, that their interests cannot be served and protected by pan-Indian political parties, that Bengali Hindus are distinct from their co-religionists and that Bengal has become a laggard and slipped into a morass because of its ruling politicians peddling such bunkum.

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