online india casino,internet casino near me,real teen patti cash,Appeaser versus outsider—the battle of narratives in Bengal polls
Whether it is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) trying to secure the votes of Dalit Hindu refugees, such as the Matuas, by promising to enforce the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA, in west Bengal or Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee forming her party’s Hindi cell last year on September 14, the day the Constituent Assembly adopted Hindi as one of the official languages in 1949, religion, language and regionalism have never played a bigger role in any Bengal assembly election than now.
The battle for securing votes of citizens, representing various castes, religions and linguistic groups, has manifested itself in the narratives that BJP and TMC leaders have placed before voters over the last few months.
While the BJP had primarily projected Banerjee as an “appeaser” — a code for what the party alleges is the TMC government’s pro-Muslim tilt — the chief minister has labelled the BJP’s national leaders from the Hindi belt as “bahiragato” (outsider) to Bengal’s culture and spirit.
The two narratives, political observers suggest, are reflected in campaign speeches, social media posts and personal remarks because there is no homogenous vote bank that any party can solely rely upon.
The question of appeasement
Bengal’s Muslim population stood at 27.01% during the 2011 census and is projected to have increased to around 30% by now. The community can play a decisive role in as many as 120 of the state’s 294 assembly seats, according to surveys done by both the BJP and I-Pac, the company run by election strategist Prashant Kishor who was roped in by Banerjee after the BJP won 18 of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2019.
According to the 2011 census report, the Muslim population was predominantly high in the districts of Murshidabad (66.28%), Malda (51.27%) and North Dinajpur (49.92%). In South 24 Parganas, located adjacent to Kolkata, it was 35.57%, while in Birbhum, the figure was 37.06%. In Darjeeling, Jhargram, West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura, the districts where the BJP won six Lok Sabha seats, Muslims comprise less than 10% of the population.
With elections in the Muslim-dominated regions scheduled to take place in the coming phases, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while addressing a rally in Bengal on Tuesday, said, “Didi (Banerjee) recently asked Muslims to vote for her. It indicates that she is losing the Muslim vote bank.”
On Wednesday, the Election Commission (EC) served a notice to Banerjee for the remark she made on April 3, saying she violated the Representation of the People Act of 1951 and the Model Code of Conduct now in force. “The EC serves notices like this. It is nothing unusual. The chief minister will give her reply to the EC,” said TMC Lok Sabha member Saugata Roy.
To establish their allegation of appeasement, BJP leaders said that in 2017, the state government deferred the immersion of Durga idols, which involves large processions taken out by community clubs, so that Muharram processions could be held on the scheduled date. The saffron camp also targeted Banerjee when Saraswati Puja at a few schools in North 24 Parganas, Malda and Murshidabad became controversial in recent years because of opposition from local Muslims.
As chief minister, Banerjee has drawn flak from the BJP for offering monthly stipend to imams (head clerics) of all mosques in the state since she came to power in 2011, attending Eid programmes with her head covered and chanting a particular holy script at political rallies.
These are now being cited by BJP leaders at every rally. “Don’t you want a state where Durga Puja and Saraswati puja can be held freely? Do you want the politics of appeasement to continue?” Union home minister Amit Shah asked BJP supporters at a roadshow in Howrah district on Wednesday.
A Cabinet minister, who did not wish to be quoted since he is contesting the polls, said, “The BJP raises baseless allegations to justify its rhetoric. The chief minister shows equal respect to all religions. Since 2011, the government has donated money to around 28,000 community clubs that organise Durga Puja. More than ₹700 crore has been spent on this account in 10 years. The government has renovated all the famous Kali temples. Banerjee visits churches during Christmas and the state holds a carnival at Park Street in Kolkata. Do you see such things happening in any BJP-ruled state?”
“As far as deferring Durga Puja processions or trouble around some Saraswati Pujas are concerned, they were stray incidents,” the minister added.
In an apparent bid to silence her detractors, Banerjee, on September 14 last year, announced a monthly stipend of ₹1,000 and houses for some Hindu priests. “Many of them are very poor. They sought my help several times. Priests who do not have houses will be given the same under the state’s rural housing scheme,” Banerjee said.
“Please do not think we are doing this only for Hindu priests. We are ready to help clerics from other religions as well. The state Wakf board already gives a stipend to the imams. We thought of doing something for the others. The state has already given a 700-acre land to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) at Nabadwip (Nadia district),” Banerjee said on that day.
“The government will prepare a map where all places of worship will be marked. The ones in poor conditions will be renovated and preserved. Those with no definite owner or trustee will be taken over by the government,” she added
In 2019, Banerjee increased the quantum of grant given to Durga Puja organisers from ₹10,000 to ₹25,000. In September last year, she increased the amount to ₹50,000. Opposition parties, including the BJP, accused the TMC of using tax payers’ money to please community clubs in the run-up to the assembly polls.
The BJP’s former state president Rahul Sinha, who is contesting the polls, said, “In 2017, the chief minister banned Durga idol immersion for a day to facilitate Muharram processions. This made people furious. She wanted to control the damage last year.”
Political scientist and former principal of Presidency College, which is now a university, Amal Kumar Mukherjee said, “At least one of the BJP’s allegations, that Banerjee appeases the minority community, is true. After coming to power in 2011, she started giving monthly allowance to the imams of all mosques without considering the state of Hindu priests. She has been attending religious congregations of Muslims by covering her head. This is clearly a policy of appeasement.”
Reacting to the BJP’s scaled up campaign against Banerjee, Saugata Roy, who, on Tuesday, addressed rallies in Howrah district where the Muslim population is sizeable in some poll-bound parts, said the narrative will yield no result.
“I am returning from programmes in Howrah. On Monday, I attended meetings in Hooghly district. The BJP’s campaign will have no impact, no matter what they do,” said Roy.
Muslim politics in the state is also now confronted with a new variable.
In Hooghly district, the Furfura Sharif shrine is one of the most popular places of pilgrimage places in Bengal. It is built around the mausoleum of Pir Abu Bakr Siddiqui. It also has a mosque built in 1375 and draws millions during the Urs festival and the annual fair dedicated to the Pir.
Abbasuddin Siddiqui, one of the young successors of the Pir, has become a challenge for the TMC ever since he formed the Indian Secular Front to contest the polls as an ally of the Left parties and Congress. Urban development minister Firhad Hakim recently visited Furfura Sharif when senior clerics from the Siddiqui family distributed clothes and blankets among the poor. Hakim also delivered a speech.
Pirzada Jiauddin Siddiqui, son of Allamah Kutubuddin Siddiqui, the most senior among the clerics at Furfura Sharif, said, “The other clerics do not support Abbasuddin’s politics. Banerjee has done a lot for common people. We do not see it as appeasement.”
The politics of insider-outsider
Significantly, Banerjee’s “outsider” remarks have drawn strong reactions.
In almost all her recent rallies, Banerjee ridiculed BJP national leaders for trying to reach out to Bengali voters by speaking the local language and mocked them for their pronunciation and physical appearance.
“What do you (BJP) know about Bengal? These leaders land from other states and read out text that appear on the screens of teleprompter machines. Don’t get fooled. They talk about being Hindus. What do they know about Hindus?” Banerjee said at one of her rallies on Monday and chanted four long mantras.
On March 24, Modi made one of his sharpest speeches against this narrative, saying nobody can be called an outsider in a land where icons such as Rabindranath Tagore, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay and Subhas Chandra Bose talked of unity and one nation. He accused the chief minister of insulting BJP leaders and making fun of them by calling them tourists and demons.
Quoting the national anthem Tagore composed, Modi said in Bengali, “You call me an outsider? No Indian is an outsider here. We are all children of India.”
Kolkata-based political science professor and election analyst Udayan Bandopadhyay said, “Banerjee is propagating her subnational thoughts and only time will tell whether this strategy can succeed. Bengal has contributed immensely to national politics in the past and even Banerjee has been a union minister. Yet, except for the brief period in the 1970s when Bengal had a Congress government, the state’s relations with the Centre have been marked largely by conflict.”
“Banerjee, however, has slapped the ‘outsider’ tag on leaders like Modi and Shah purely for political reasons. Union ministers and national leaders can always come to Bengal but the fact that they have to visit the state every alternate day somehow proves that the BJP has failed to generate strong local leaders who can pull the party through the polls. Banerjee is conscious of that,” Bandopadhyay added.
Academic Amal Mukherjee, on the other hand, feels it is wrong to tag the BJP as a party of outsiders.
“The BJP is a national party and it is expected that its central leaders will come to Bengal to campaign. Had the TMC been a strong national entity, wouldn’t its central leaders visit the states? Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan has come from Mumbai to campaign for Banerjee. In a sense she, too, is an outsider,” said Mukherjee.
“Banerjee claims to be the daughter of Bengal. Does it mean that the local leaders of the BJP are not sons and daughters of this soil? A chief minister should be more careful with words,” Mukherjee added.