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Mamata’s return isn't empowerment of Dalits, Muslims; it's 'retention' of Bhadralok rule

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat* 

The recently state assembly elections suggest that there was a lot at stake, particularly for the ruling dispensation of RSS, which made every effort to dislodge the West Bengal’s Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee. Bengal was Amit Shah’s lab from where he wanted to show why he mattered the most for BJP.
Indeed, while it is good news that the Hindutva party despite its all efforts failed in Bengal, the fact is we need serious analysis whether Hindutva really got defeated or is the field wide open for it now with other opposition parties decimated in Bengal? In Assam, BJP has not been able to get a majority on its own, but it has managed to come back to power.
JP used communal polarisation for its own political gains, but it was still seen as a North Indian party. Under the Modi-Shah regime, it was widely considered a Bania party with Gujarati interests. Nobody is more responsible for this than the two leaders who have left the impression that they bear Gujarati bias.
Whether it is appointment of officers in prime positions in the Central government or giving contract or favouring businessmen, it has been now clear to the people of India that the current dispensation may have leaders from all castesm but it actually represents the ‘interest’ of Banias, mainly from Gujarat. Brahmins are just playing subservient role in the current regime.
Mamata realised this, and hence she played the sub-national card in which BJP got defeated. If you call BJP a Hindutva or Hindu party then the narrative suits it very well, but if you call it a Brahmin-Bania party of North India, then there is chance that it would find it difficult to counter the narrative.
Bengal was suitable for BJP as the Bhadralok wanted unchallenged Brahmanical monopoly over the power structure. More than 35 years of Left rule never brought the marginalised near the power structure and Brahmanical monopoly continued through the ‘ideological’ view that ‘caste does not exist in Bengal’.
When the marginalised started questioning this narrative of the Left forces, the Bhadralok started looking for an alternative, and Trinamool rose to power. Mamata did not promise anything to Dalits, OBCs and Adivasis. She never ever spoke about their participation in the political process.
Bhadralok found in Mamata a leader who could continue its power and privileges. Over a period of time, there was resentment against Mamata and dissension among the marginalised related to their condition in Bengal. BJP realised this very well, and that is why Amit Shah focused on the Matua community, which is the biggest among the Dalits in Bengal.
The Matua community is affected by partition and crime against it by the fundamentalist groups in Bangladesh. It is they who were promised a lot of benefit from the whole process of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Yet, as the Hindutva party can never be pro-Dalit, it fielded some of the outdated and over-hyped ‘intellectuals’ like Swapan Dasgupta, a well-known right-wing scribe.
Many people were suggesting that Dasgupta was a ‘chief ministerial’ candidate. Indeed, Amit Shah is in the habit of appointing spineless chief ministers, so that they can function as per the whims and fancies of the Central leadership. Except for Uttar Pradesh, most of the chief ministers of the BJP-ruled states are appointed from the top and have no personal charisma.
In his over-enthusiasm, Amit Shah played the Hindi card in Bengal and tried to make a deep-rooted entry among them. The slogan ‘Jai Shri Ram’ was meant to instigate the lumpen crowds of North Indians living in Bengal. This actually boomeranged.
We all know how Bangla nationality issue resulted in the division of Pakistan in 1971 when Urdu was imposed on the unwilling people of East Bengal. Modi and Amit Shah felt that Bengali Bhadralok would automatically come with them, as happened elsewhere, but they were at fault.
The Bhadralok realised well that Modi-Shah’s Hindu nationalism is nothing beyond the interest of a few Gujarati Banias. They wondered how could Bangla people live under the shadow of Hindi domination. This changed their mindset.
Mamata’s return is neither an empowerment of Muslims nor of Dalits. It is the retention of Bhadralok monopoly over Bengal politics. Is it not an irony for a state as over 24% of Dalits, 27% Muslims and 6% Adivasis? And though the West Bengal government provide OBCs a reservation of 17%, which include majority of Muslims, it still has not been able to count the exact OBC population in the state.
Right from the days of the Left parties, Bengal’s ‘progressive’ politicians have been in the denial mode about the number of OBCs in the state. Mamata put all the Muslim ‘castes’ in the OBC category, giving a handle to those who claim that she was biased and was resorted to ‘appeasement’.
In fighting against the “devil”, Muslims and Dalits had no other option than to switch over to Trinamool, dumping the Congress, the Left and their alliance partners. For Muslims, it was a do a die battle after the two citizenship laws – CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) – were passed by Parliament, hence they voted for Trinamool with great clarity.
In a nutshell, for Muslims, it was a survival politics, while for the Bhadralok it was a politics to retain power, which they felt BJP can’t claim at the moment. But the danger has not disappeared. BJP still has over 38.8% vote share, and almost the entire opposition space in the Assembly with 77 seats, as both the Left and the Congress with their 9.3% vote share have just been able to get one seat.
BJP tried to exploit dissension among marginalised in Bengal, that is why Amit Shah focused on Matua community, biggest among Dalits
It needs to be seen how things proceed in West Bengal. But there is every chance that BJP will still try hard to play the communal polarisation. Yet, the fact is, every crisis in Bengal is created to strengthen the Bhadralok hegemony. Bengal’s polarisation is nothing but management of the Bengali Bhadralok to retain power. They have succeeded in it for years. This time too things have not been very no different.
As for Assam, BJP and its allies have been able to polarise the voters. Of course, BJP on its own has not been able to get a majority. It is also a fact that BJP used the Congress alliance with the All-India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), founded by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, to create a fear psychosis among the Hindus and Adivasis about possible Muslim dominance.
Unlike West Bengal and Assam, where the polity is still dominated by the Hindu caste elite, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry have seen the rise of backward communities in politics, and the credit for this goes to legendary EVR Periyar whose Dravidian cultural movement impacted the region.

Lessons for Congress, other opposition parties

There is a lot of talk about the anti-NDA alliance after the state polls. Mamata Banerjee would be interested in putting herself as a national alternative against Narendra Modi’s NDA, which has been thoroughly discredited at the moment, but there are a few factors that still work for BJP.
A weakened Congress is not a good idea for countering BJP and NDA. For the success of any coalition, whether in states or at the Centre, we will require a pan-India or pan-state party around whom the alliance is weaved.
As we have seen, the two powerful alliances in Tamil Nadu revolve around DMK and AIDMK. In West Bengal, the Left Front ruled for 34 years. In Kerala the United Democratic Front (UDF) revolved around the Congress and the Left-Democratic Front (LDF) around CPI-M.
Alliances are important and need to be on a long-term basis. It is therefore important that for the Congress to strengthen itself and become the Centre of the alliances. Only then will a strong alliance emerge.
Many people think that all regional parties are pro-Dalits-OBC which is wrong. Except for Tamil Nadu, we don’t see any such trend of pro-Dalit pro-OBC parties, as most of them remain powerful because of their feudal caste relationship. It is therefore important that regional parties too must have an agenda of social justice.
In Bihar, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has built a strong alliance and one hopes it remains intact. In Jharkhand too the alliance appears strong. However, as for Uttar Pradesh, the crisis is much bigger, as the two parties, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), are at loggerheads and have broken alliance after the last elections.
It is time to stitch an all-India alliance of parties who have a long-term programme to bring India on to the Constitutional path and focus on building health infrastructure, quality education for all, land reforms, implementation of reservation, strengthening the autonomy of institutions, etc.
The polls were a disaster for the Congress. It could not come back in Assam despite a power alliance with AIUDF. Though party’s vote share is more than that of BJP, it failed to perform well. Such was the lack of confidence of minorities with BJP that in West Bengal, the Congress suffered because they did not want to waste their vote.
In Puducherry, the Congress paid a price with continuance of Narayanasamy as chief minister, who was honest person, but lost touch with people. In Tamil Nadu, the party performed well in alliance with DMK and in Kerala its performance was far below expectations.
While Rahul Gandhi should be appreciated for putting secularism, social justice and rule of law in Congress’ agenda and bringing back ideological issues in the party, his advisers still were focusing on his ‘brand building’, so the college visits, push ups or going to tea estates in Assam by Priyanka Gandhi were planned. But in today’s time, just focusing will not work.
It is important for the Congress to give an agenda through its political meetings which it failed. Rahul Gandhi still is paying a price for a historic ‘legacy’ which the middle classes have forgotten. Congress’ drawback is that it does not have powerful regional leaders, as most of them are picked up by the high command. They are rootless and can’t communicate with people.
It is essential for Rahul Gandhi to not just focus on brand building but also on organisational set up and bring in powerful OBCs and other non-Brahmin communities in the party. It is important for the party to give charge to those leaders who can build organisational structure in the states.
Though the Congress was an upper caste party and served their interests pretty well, after Sonia Gandhi, the savarna Hindus have developed an aversion for it under the pretext of party’s support for reservation and minorities. The Congress has not been forthcoming on these issues and hence was neither able to get support of savarnas nor of Dalits.
In the meantime, the results of the assembly elections have proved that India will have to learn to live with coalition politics and any attempt to impose one language-one religion-one culture will only prove counterproductive. The only oneness in terms of unity and integrity of India is the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law, otherwise all states have their unique local traditions which must be respected and allowed to flourish.
Hindutva is defeated but it is not out, and the forces of social justice will have to join hand and work together to stop it.
---
*Human rights defender. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vbrawat, Twitter: @freetohumanity

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