What West Bengal Could Have Learnt From The Assam Playbook 

Mohit Roy

May 26, 2021, 06:13 PM | Updated 06:13 PM IST

Himanta Biswa Sarma roadshow
Himanta Biswa Sarma roadshow
  • During the entire period of this election-battle, did the BJP claim even once that if they did not come to power in Bengal, Hindus would face a disaster?
  • This is where it failed, unlike in Assam, where threats to Assamese civilisation and ethos were suitably highlighted to protect its indigenous people — whose resounding support catapulted the party back to power.
  • Taslima Nasreen cannot return to West Bengal, after all. Her exile from Bengal in the wake of attacks on her by Islamic fundamentalists is unlikely to end soon, thanks to the recent assembly election results.

    After the assembly elections, some BJP spokespersons have begun saying that this is a victory, while some others are saying this is a defeat.

    One view is this: from three MLAs in 2016 to 77 in 2021 looks like a victory (of sorts). Another view is this: from leading in 122 assembly seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections to today’s 77, this is a defeat.

    The seat count and the percentage of votes received do not always match. In West Bengal, the BJP’s vote share has declined by about two per cent compared to the 2019 elections, whereas the number of seats won by the party this time has declined by about 40 per cent compared to the seats in which the party led in 2019. In 2019, the BJP was just three percentage points behind the Trinamool Congress. All that the BJP needed in order to continue that victory march was an explosion of votes.

    That did not happen.

    Let us say something that is politically incorrect: who can bring about a snowballing of votes for the BJP? Only Hindus can. Who can stop the BJP’s victory march? An undivided Muslim constituency can. The Muslim vote share has gone almost entirely to the Trinamool Congress. So much so that the remaining few votes from the long-cherished Muslim vote bank of the Left-Congress alliance — which has been appeasing fundamentalists for a long time and which even allied itself with the party of an Islamic religious leader this time — were deposited in favour of the Trinamool Congress.

    Reason: the Muslim masses in the state have felt that the BJP is their number one enemy. All the votes that the BJP received came from Hindus, but that has not been enough. Roughly, it is just over 50 per cent of the total Hindu vote share. The Hindus of the state did not quite feel that they particularly needed the BJP to secure their continued existence.

    But during the entire period of this election-battle, did even the BJP claim that if they did not come to power, Hindus would face a disaster?

    No, the BJP did not bother to take any of these positions. Its election manifesto promised all sorts of giveaways to the people. The 13-point agenda of the manifesto had the following sections: Women, Youth, Farmers, Good Governance, Health, Economic Development, Infrastructure, Tourism, Culture, Vikaas for all, A New Kolkata, Regional Development, and Environment.

    In short, it was an everybody-gains-something kind of manifesto, with some promises of good governance thrown in. Going through this manifesto, no one would ever suspect that there is a problem of Islamist fundamentalism in the state, that there is rampant religious terrorism in here.

    No one will be able to understand what sort of danger, created by shifting religious demography, is lurking around the corner, or what is the nature of infiltration, etc.

    So why would the Hindus of West Bengal think that they faced an existential problem from changing religious demography, and that only the BJP would be able to deal with the issue?

    Election-savvy leaders are saying: this is not the time to discuss these things; one must take the communal tag and the minority vote-bank under consideration.

    But look at Assam. Some 34 per cent of its population is Muslim, whereas 26 per cent of West Bengal’s population is Muslim (2011 census). In Assam, the ruling party, BJP, abolished madrasa education only a few months prior to the elections. The Assam BJP’s election manifesto contained 10 items under the development promises section. But it also contained a section titled ‘Strengthening the Civilisational Culture of Assam’.

    It clearly stated that, through this election, the party resolves to save Assam from the tentacles of non-Indian culture, and that it intends to stop Love Jihad and resist fundamentalism.

    The dominant theme of the Assam BJP’s campaign was that this was a struggle to protect civilisation and culture. In Assam, the BJP has carried on the struggle to uphold its ideals with its promise to bring development. Result: both Assamese Hindus and Bengali Hindus helped the BJP march to victory.

    It does not matter much for Indian democracy whether a particular party wins or loses elections in a particular state. If, for example, the BJP loses power in Gujarat or if the CPI(M) loses power in Kerala tomorrow, nothing catastrophic will happen. In that case, does the BJP’s defeat in West Bengal give rise to any special concern?

    In a democratic country, the BJP will play the role of a constructive opposition party and will go to the polls again in five years, and will come to power if the people so wish.

    But no — this model, however applicable for the rest of India — is not valid for West Bengal. This is because West Bengal is a special state formed on the basis of religious demography due to partition.

    There are apprehensions that after this election outcome, in the next five years, the demographic ratio of voters in West Bengal will change even more, and with slogans like ‘Joy Bangla’, the Islamic trend will further infiltrate our language and culture.

    Even though the Left has utterly lost the elections, their mode of thinking will continue to dominate the education scenario. Fundamentalists could become more aggressive and powerful. No one should forget that Kolkata without Taslima Nasreen is a Kolkata that has bent its knees to fundamentalism.

    Shyama Prasad Mookerjee will go into oblivion once again. West Bengal will lose its existence unless there is a fresh rethink about fundamentalism.

    Dear Taslima Nasreen, this West Bengal is not fit for your footfall, not for the time being.

    The author, Mohit Roy, PhD (Engineering), is a well-known environmentalist, refugee rights activists and state committee member of the BJP in West Bengal. He has authored a number of books on environment and Bangladesh issues. He is considered a leading right-wing thinker and contributes to leading dailies in West Bengal.

    Note: An earlier version of this article, written in Bengali, was published in the Anandabazar Patrika.

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