Why Trinamool’s ‘Bengali Versus Outsider’ Line Must Be Countered
Bengal will turn into a fertile ground for anti-national forces if it doesn’t nip attempts by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to stoke Bengali sub-nationalism in the bud.
The Trinamool, battling grave charges of corruption and misgovernance, and desperate to contain steady erosion of support, has adopted a sinister ‘Bengali versus outsider’ line to counter an ascendant Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
It has been trying to brand the BJP as a “party of outsiders” and party supremo Mamata Banerjee has been personally helming this offensive.
Referring to the increasingly frequent visits by BJP leaders to Bengal, she has been branding them as "outsiders" trying to create trouble in the state.
She has also been accusing the BJP of getting in “goondas” from other states. Her objective is to stoke Bengali sub-nationalism in the hope that by positioning herself as a staunch Bengali and the BJP as a party of outsiders, she will be able to reap electoral dividends.
However, this false narrative is not only parochial but also highly perilous. By branding non-Bengalis as "outsiders", Banerjee is sowing the seeds of a dangerous divide that can have a very adverse fallout.
Ever since the BJP has been gaining ground in Bengal, Banerjee’s latent parochialism has been getting exposed.
This became amply evident to all in her reaction to a group of people who raised ‘Jai Shree Ram’ slogans while she was passing by Bhatpara in the northwestern outskirts of Kolkata after the shock upset in the Lok Sabha polls in May last year.
Banerjee was passing through Bhatpara, which falls under the Barrackpore Lok Sabha constituency that was won by BJP’s Arjun Singh who had left the Trinamool to join the saffron party on 30 May, a week after the results were out.
Bhatpara, which is part of an industrial belt, has many Hindi-speaking residents. On hearing the "Jai Shree Ram" slogans, Banerjee stepped out of her SUV and screamed invectives at the people gathered there.
Tellingly, she labelled them as “outsiders".
“They are outsiders. We have extended hospitality to them. We can drive them out anytime we want to,” she told accompanying journalists. She also branded the slogan-shouting people as “criminals" and "BJP hooligans".
“This shows her narrow-mindedness and her parochialism,” said BJP national vice-president Mukul Roy, who had been a close compatriot of Banerjee ever since she formed the Trinamool Congress in 1998.
Banerjee believes that the BJP initially grew in Bengal on the back of support from Hindi-speaking people of the state.
Some organisations like ‘Bangla Pokkho’ which are loosely affiliated to the Trinamool had started an anti-Hindi campaign last year after the Lok Sabha polls and gone about defacing sign boards and street signs written in Hindi.
The supreme irony of ‘Bangla Pokkho’ leaving out sentences written in Urdu from the same signboards was, of course, not lost on the people of Bengal.
But Banerjee’s effort to create a divide between Bengalis and ‘outsiders’ (read: Hindi-speaking Hindus, not Urdu-speaking Muslims) is dangerous to the whole idea of India.
“It is deeply seditious and if allowed to go unchecked, can create fissures and encourage centrifugal forces,” said BJP state chief Dilip Ghosh.
Ghosh added that by trying to encourage Bengali parochialism, Banerjee has positioned herself on an anti-national platform.
“Bengal has always been welcoming of people from other states of the country and Bengalis have been very inclusive by nature. Mamata Banerjee is doing Bengal and Bengalis a great disservice by taking the ‘Bengali versus outsider’ line. This has to be strongly discouraged and if need be, the Union government has to intervene and red-flag this attempt,” said Mukul Roy.
Former state BJP chief Rahul Sinha said that by trying to incite hatred against Hindi-speaking people and encouraging Bengali sub-nationalism, Banerjee is wittingly providing a boost to anti-national forces.
“The dream of these forces is to create unrest in Bengal and a divide between Bengalis and the rest of Indians. That, they hope, will provide a fertile ground for the integration of Bengal with Bangladesh and the Islamisation of Bengal,” said Sinha.
A senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) functionary told Swarajya that Banerjee feels threatened by the nationalist project of strengthening India's integrity by promoting the idea of India.
“The encouragement of Bengali parochialism militates against the idea of India and is actually fissiparous. Hence, it needs to be countered strongly through political, social and even legal measures,” said the RSS leader who did not want to be named.
Many within the Trinamool are uncomfortable with this fake and dangerous ‘Bengali versus outsider’ narrative sought to be spun by Banerjee. A senior Hindi-speaking Trinamool leader said many within the party are loath to spread this narrative because they realise it is not right and can be deemed to be anti-national.
“This narrative also puts Bengalis working in other states at risk. Lakhs of Bengalis migrate to other states for work and this anti-non-Bengali line by the ruling party can harm them,” he said.
Senior Trinamool leader Suvendu Adhikari, who is on his way out from the Trinamool, at Banerjee at a function organised to honour a freedom fighter at his home turf at Haldia in Purba Medinipur district on Tuesday. Adhikari said he is an Indian first and a Bengali after that and said it is unacceptable to brand people from other states as ‘outsiders’.
Many contend that it is time the Union government intervenes and warns Mamata Banerjee against such brinkmanship for her narrow political ends.
“It is a question of India's integrity being threatened and so the Union government, thus, has to intervene,” said Mukul Roy.
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