Ig­nit­ing po­lar­i­ties: Didi needs to guard her turf

The Asian Age - - Edit -

In the clash of op­pos­ing imag­i­nar­ies new flash­points are emerg­ing as sig­nals of in­ten­si­fy­ing po­lar­i­sa­tion be­tween what is made out to be a sup­pressed Hindu ma­jor­ity sen­ti­ment ver­sus a so­cially di­verse and ipso facto po­lit­i­cal ap­pease­ment of the Mus­lim mi­nor­ity that has en­cour­aged a new as­sertive­ness. Cel­e­bra­tory ral­lies have mor­phed into com­mu­nal ri­ot­ing and at least five deaths in West Ben­gal over ag­gres­sive and weaponised Ram Navami pro­ces­sions val­i­date this nar­ra­tive.

Un­der­ly­ing this imag­ined sub­stance of In­dia, over which the BJP and its Sangh Pari­var and the Tri­na­mul Congress in West Ben­gal, the Bahu­jan Sa­maj Par­tySa­ma­jwadi Party in Ut­tar Pradesh, Congress in Kar­nataka, Tel­ugu De­sam and Te­lan­gana Rash­tra Samithi in Andhra Pradesh and Te­lan­gana, DMK in Tamil Nadu, RJD in Bi­har is another idea, another fierce con­test. That is of cen­tral­i­sa­tion of power cap­tured in the slo­gan of “one na­tionone party” raised by Amit Shah and Naren­dra Modi un­der the guise of main­stream­ing the pop­u­la­tions of states where Op­po­si­tion par­ties rule. The con­fronta­tion be­tween plu­ral pol­i­tics and state lead­ers rep­re­sent­ing the idea of di­ver­sity is be­ing chal­lenged, so as to de­feat it by the idea of ho­mo­gene­ity — po­lit­i­cal, so­cial, re­li­gious, cul­tural and of course eco­nomic.

The con­test­ing claims of what the na­tion shall be in po­lit­i­cal, so­cial, re­li­gious and cul­tural terms is re­flected in the first com­mu­nal ri­ots on Ram Navami in West Ben­gal. In 2018, the new cal­en­dar of com­mu­nal ten­sion points seems to have been for­mally un­veiled. The in­ven­tion of new weaponised cel­e­bra­tions by the BJPSangh Pari­var be­gan in 2016 on a small scale, ex­panded in 2017 with “As­tra Puja” sig­nif­i­cantly timed to clash with Muhar­ram, all of which con­trib­uted to com­mu­nal­i­sa­tion of the po­lit­i­cal con­test be­tween the rul­ing TMC and the for­mer rul­ing par­ties, the CPI( M)- led Left Front and the Congress, on the one hand, and the BJPSangh Pari­var as the chal­lenger, on the other.

Be­tween the old and new the con­tours of pol­i­tics in In­dia is chang­ing. Ben­gal is at the fore­front of the con­fronta­tion. It is as much a war against di­vi­sive com­mu­nal and po­lar­is­ing pol­i­tics of the BJP va­ri­ety, em­bod­ied in Mr Modi and his style of al­most pres­i­den­tial gov­er­nance and in Mr Shah and his style of all- con­quer­ing gen­eral, against the di­ver­sity of re­gional par­ties and their com­pul­sion to be cul­tur­ally, com­mu­nally and po­lit­i­cally ac­com­mo­dat­ing. It is thus a clash of ti­tans; each re­gional leader is a ti­tan on his/ her turf, whereas Mr Modi be­lieves that is a role only he can play.

Ma­mata Ban­er­jee should have seen this com­ing, given that Ram Navami cel­e­bra­tions or­gan­ised by the Vishwa Hindu Par­ishad, Ba­jrang Dal and Hindu Samhati be­came a po­lit­i­cal is­sue in 2017, and was taken a step for­ward with the “As­tra Puja” cel­e­bra­tions. The ri­ot­ing that erupted in West Ben­gal over the past week re­flects the es­ca­la­tion of so­cial- re­li­gious­po­lit­i­cal ten­sions. The ri­ot­ing started from Pu­ru­lia and turned into a po­lit­i­cal bat­tle of dom­i­na­tion in Asan­sol, rep­re­sented by BJP MP and Union min­is­ter Babul Supriyo, which is also the stomp­ing ground of BJP state chief Dilip Ghosh, MLA from Kharag­pur. The geo­graph­i­cal con­cen­tra­tion of ri­ot­ing in Rani­gan­jAsan­sol and Dur­ga­pur is be­cause the BJP is turn­ing the coal- rail­way­heavy in­dus­try belt into its own fief­dom.

In­stead of sim­ply dis­con­nect­ing the In­ter­net, be­lat­edly or­gan­is­ing a flag march in Asan­sol, knee- jerk re­ac­tions that are de­signed to turn the least en­chanted into dis­grun­tled vot­ers and so po­ten­tial BJP re­cruits, Ms Ban­er­jee needed to be smarter. Merely thun­der­ing that she would not al­low West Ben­gal’s his­tory of com­mu­nal har­mony to be dis­rupted by the BJPRSSVHP, in­struct­ing her po­lice to “strongly” deal with weapon- wield­ing Ram Navami pro­ces­sions, or declar­ing such pro­ces­sions were banned, ex­cept “those that were around for 50, 100 or even 10 years,” was ap­pease­ment tac­tics, wrapped in the guise of firm ad­min­is­tra­tive man­age­ment. The fact that Sec­tion 144 CrPC was used so spar­ingly to work as a preven­tive mea­sure in ar­eas that West Ben­gal’s po­lice and in­tel­li­gence ap­pa­ra­tus should have known might turn into riot zones opens Ms Ban­er­jee to the sort of crit­i­cism from the CPI( M) and Congress that would weaken her im­age and give the BJP another advantage.

The wooing of dis­grun­tled BJP lead­ers like Sha­trughan Sinha, Yash­want Sinha and Arun Shourie, that too in New Delhi, and her con­ver­sa­tions with re­gional par­ties and the

The strat­egy of desta­bil­i­sa­tion in West Ben­gal re­quires Didi to fo­cus on her front and back yards as well. With pan­chayat elec­tions just weeks away, the fight to cor­ner the BJP has just be­gun. Congress have made Ms Ban­er­jee a dan­ger­ous and bold ri­val, an icon and spear­head in unit­ing the states against the BJP- Sangh Pari­var in the run- up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. As Sha­trughan Sinha de­clared his meet­ing with Ms Ban­er­jee was to “save the na­tion”, and this was en­dorsed by Yash­want Sinha, the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of Ms Ban­er­jee to ev­ery sort of at­tack from the BJP went up sev­eral notches.

The gath­er­ing of “fed­eral forces”, the call for “one is to one” fights against the BJP, and the in­vi­ta­tion to par­ties like the Congress with pre­vi­ous al­liances to join in a strat­egy of vote con­sol­i­da­tion im­poses on Ms Ban­er­jee the re­spon­si­bil­ity of guard­ing her own turf by pay­ing far more at­ten­tion to the BJP’s in­ten­tions than she has so far. Till the Ram Navami ri­ots Ms Ban­er­jee was be­ing equiv­o­cal in deal­ing with com­mu­nally- po­lar­is­ing pol­i­tics. To fight the BJP on that front, Ms Ban­er­jee needs to craft a po­lit­i­cal mes­sage that woos the Hindu voter, in­clud­ing those who alien­ated by the BJP’s crudely for­mu­lated “Hin­dus in dan­gerMus­lim ap­pease­ment” charge against her. This in­cludes find­ing the po­lit­i­cal skills to delink the ri­ots and com­mu­nal flare­ups from the BJP’s jus­ti­fi­ca­tion that these are a fall­out of her pol­i­tics of mi­nor­ity ap­pease­ment.

Re­viv­ing friend­ships, call­ing in favours with re­gional and na­tional par­ties and lead­ers in a whirl­wind New Delhi trip is pol­i­tics with a lot of op­tics. But it doesn’t make Ma­mata Ban­er­jee an unas­sail­able ri­val of the BJP nor an un­chal­lenged leader of the fed­eral front. The strat­egy of desta­bil­i­sa­tion in West Ben­gal re­quires her to fo­cus on her front and back yards as well. With pan­chayat elec­tions just weeks away, the fight to cor­ner the BJP has just be­gun.

The writer is a se­nior jour­nal­ist in Kolkata

Shikha Muk­er­jee

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