Politicising Assam and Bengal: Indian Elections And Communalism
India's political climate is currently forging a path for communalism, particularly with Bengal and Assam in mind. It's imperative that we pay attention to these patterns, as oftentimes communalism evolves into populism, which comes with a whole string of problems.
The enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act and the use of religion as a criteria for citizenship was the most blatant example of the BJP's communal strategy.
Communalisation and The NRC
The communalisation of non-Hindu and Bengali speaking people is the entire strategy of the BJP. This is the very reason they have had as much success as they have had in the North East, a region where there is such a sociocultural and demographic disconnect from the party. This is the driving force in ensuring the complete electoral success of the party in Assam.
Public holidays, sociocultural practises amongst other "seemingly small" things have been reshuffled by the BJP in the region. Celebrated by all within the region regardless of cultural and religious differences, Namami Brahmaputra is a festival that's held to appreciate the beauty of the Brahmaputra river. Now the festival is observed and led with Hindu rituals. The signifnance of the river to tribal communities as well as other religions was completely disregarded. Additionally, Friday holidays observed by Muslims in lieu of Sunday holidays have become disallowed.
The saffron party pushing for the settlement of Bangladeshi Hindu's in Assam does two things. Firstly, at the top of the BJP PR list: the unification of two communities, the Assamese Hindus and the Bengalis Hindus of the Barak Valley. The second, the true goal of the party: the exclusion of Non-Hindus throughout the Barak Valley.
Often mockingly called "Bangladesh" by BJP members in an attempt to instil Xenophobia throughout, Dhubri district is one of the few Muslim majority distrcits in Assam. The district has fallen victim to the spread of the false narrative that it has been "infiltrated by Bangladeshis".#
The Political Department of the Government of Assam saw to the termination of the Assistant Government Pleaders (AGPs) at the Foreigners Tribunal in Dhubri district. The following AGPs were terminated: Aminul Islam, Kamal Hussain Ahmed, Nasir Ali Mondal amongst others and were then replaced by Rituparna Guha, Gokul Chandra Karmakar and Adhir Chandra Roy.
Religion, caste and social class should have no bearing on the appointment of government officials, and yet a pattern is almost immediately seen when reading the list of those terminated in contrast to the list of their replacements.
This pattern points to the clear intent of the BJP in ensuring that no one with a relatively Muslim sounding name should have anything to do with the Foreigners Tribunal, specifically in the district. Additionally, with the alleviation of lock-down throughout India, the NRC is more than likely to resume quickly, and now, the BJP have a dream team in place for Dhubri.
The BJP in Bengal
In fear of losing it's Bangla identity, West Bengal has seen a surge of sub-nationalism in the past few years. Post the Lokh Saba elections, where it became known to the state and the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) that the saffron party were real contenders, Bengal, terrified of an infiltration of Hindutva ideology, has clung on to identity cleavage.
This emergence of ethno-linguistic cleavage would have had the BJP shaking in fear, but the party is well versed in nationalism and identity politics and has risen to that. In an attempt to convince West Bengal that the BJP has no intention of squashing the state's identity, it has ensured the celebration of Bengali poets such as Rabindranath Tagore and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay. The BJP also, at any given opportunity will remind the state that Syama Prasad Mookerjee is it's icon.
The BJP knows that it has poor candidates, so in addition to appeasing via identity politics, it's also gone on a hiring spree and essentially is trying to recreate the "personality" and celebrity factor that it has with Modi. This is where they bring in in the big guns, poaching from other parties.
Bengal’s political focus is changing rapidly. In a show to flaunt it’s toxic brand of Hindutva the BJP used Rama Navami, a festival that celebrates the birthday of the God Rama. The BJP organised groups of children, armed with swords and knives to march all over Bengal, a brazen display by the RSS through the BJP, but by no means isolated. Ram Navami was part of a bigger picture, a picture that RSS ideology will persevere through Bengal, that they are not just limited to social media.
Historically, Bengal has always had a large Muslim population, and this is why it’s always been the target of nationalists. Without Bengal in its hands, the RSS and the BJP’s vision of a Hindu Rashtra is not possible, they are locked on to winning the state. Although the implementation of Muslim bigotry by the BJP on a local level strengthens this, there is more nuance to this polarisation.
Along with Kerala, Bengal was one of the first points in the sub-continent to be touched by European colonialism. Bengali and Dravidian politics due to this, have adopted socialist politics as its state’s norm, the two have had longer exposure to ideas beyond Bharat, were the birthplaces of intellectuals who are a big part of the foundation that is present day Indian politics. This is loathed by the RSS. The idea that a state within India would include what the RSS deem to be European ideas and values is everything they are against. Symbolically, to win over Bengal would mean a salute to "anti-intellectualism", a banner raised to “anti-western” thought, a fully realised conquest. This isn't to say that Mamata Bannerjee's cling to ethno-linguistic cleavage isn't also alarming. To politicise a people, to categorise them based on anything other than humanity is inherently dangerous. A nation punctuated with identity politics would also need to be unpacked and it's our responsibility to do so.