The battle for Bengal will be akin to the third battle of Panipat, says Ashutosh

Today, the biggest political questions being asked in the corridor of power is - can the BJP win West Bengal? Can Mamata Banerjee be defeated after two stints as Chief Minister? In all honesty, not many have a clear answer, but what is true is that the Battle of Bengal will be the most crucial election before 2024, when the next parliamentary elections will be fought. So far, the effort and the killer instinct that the BJP has shown in Bengal, are both
infectious and intimidating. One can disagree with the BJP’s ideology, and their approach to fighting an election but no one can deny that other political parties could learn a few lessons from them.

Bengal was the state where the BJP had a negligible presence before 2014 and had anyone at that time predicted that in a few years, the BJP would be a serious contender for power in the state and a threat to Mamata, no one would have taken it seriously but today it is a reality; this hypothesis cannot be dismissed as delusional. The BJP, under the ‘charismatic leadership’ of Modi and the ‘organisational genius’ of Amit Shah, has turned into an election machine, whose march, at times, seems unstoppable. For the 2021 state elections, it has already raised its stakes and pitch so high that winning it has become a matter of life and death for the party.

Jump in vote share

In the 2019 parliamentary elections, the BJP most unexpectedly won 18 seats, whereas in 2014, it had only won two. In the most dramatic fashion, it raised its vote share to 39 per cent in comparison to the Trinamool Congress’s 44 per cent. In the 2016 assembly elections, the BJP could only
muster 10 per cent votes, so the 29 per cent rise in votes in just three years is unimaginable. It is in this context that the BJP’s challenge can’t be taken lightly.

Bengal is also important for reasons other than political. The BJP, unlike the Congress, is not an independent political entity; it is the political wing of the RSS, the mother organisation of the Hindutva politics. In 1925, it was formed by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, at one time a Congress leader in Maharashtra for a purpose. Hedgewar was very upset with the politics of Mahatma Gandhi. He viewed the latter’s support for the Khilafat movement as an attempt to appease Muslims. It was also the time when Maharashtra witnessed the carnage of communal riots. It was not coincidental that V D Savarkar’s thesis of ‘Hindutva’ became public in 1923, two years before the formation of the RSS.

Savarkar's theory

Savarkar firmly believed in the ‘two-nation theory’ - that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations and cannot coexist. In his opinion, the preceding 1,200 years of Indian history had been a continuous war between Hinduism and Islam and this war would continue till one was decisively defeated.

While defining a Hindu, Savarkar, creates the theory of the ‘Other’. He admits that Indian Muslims and Christians, despite being the original inhabitants of India, cannot be called Hindus because India is not their holy land. Savarkar writes - “... in the case of some of our Mohammedan and Christian countrymen who had originally been forcibly converted to a non- Hindu religion, and who consequently have inherited along with Hindus, a common Fatherland and a greater part of the wealth of common culture ... are not, and cannot be recognised as Hindus. For though Hindusthan to them is Fatherland as to any other Hindus, yet it is not to them a Holyland too. Their Holyland is far off in Arabia or Palestine. Their mythology and God, ideas and heroes are not the children of this soil. Consequently, their names and their outlook smack of a foreign origin.” Without hesitation, he further writes, “Their love is divided. “

So, for the original icon of Hindutva, the loyalty of the Muslims and Christians to India as a nation, is doubtful. The RSS is greatly inspired by Savarkar. And its ideological child, the BJP, is no exception either.

Political colour

M S Golwalkar was the second chief of the RSS. He not only expounded the theory of Hindutva but also gave political colour to the whole argument. Like Savarkar, he also called Muslims the ‘dangerous other’, who couldn’t be trusted about their patriotism to the country. In fact, he identified Muslims as the ‘internal enemy’ of the country. He writes, “It would be suicidal to delude ourselves into believing that they have turned patriots overnight after the creation of Pakistan.

On the contrary, the Muslim menace has increased a hundred-fold by the creation of Pakistan, which has become a springboard for all their future aggressive designs on our country.” He pointed to the Partition to suggest that wherever Muslims were in a majority or in large numbers, they were a threat to national security and integrity. He identified “Kashmir, Assam, Tripura and Bengal as the next target” of Muslim aggression.

The BJP, in the last six years, has succeeded in winning and forming governments in Assam and Tripura. In its opinion, it has greatly neutralised the Muslim majority in Jammu and Kashmir, by abrogating Art 370 and section 35A. Bengal is the state where till now, it has not met with the desired success. It certainly did very well in the parliamentary elections, but it can achieve its ideological goal only after having a BJP government in Kolkata.

Muslims constitute 27 per cent of the population in West Bengal. In demographic terms, Bengal is third in the pecking order of Muslim population. After the Partition of India, a majority of Muslims became citizens of East Pakistan, which later became Bangladesh in 1971. Because of the genocide in Bangladesh, then East Pakistan, lakhs of Bengali Muslims migrated to West Bengal. In the BJP’s opinion, these migrant Bangladeshis have further complicated the already existing ‘Muslim’ problem and the threat to national security and integrity has increased manifold.

Best chance

The BJP believes that in their rush for the Muslim vote, the left parties, which ruled Bengal for thirty-five years and later, Mamata Banerjee, did nothing to annihilate the threat. The BJP was earlier not in a position to challenge these parties in the state but since Modi became the Prime Minister and with the colossal election machine at their disposal, with the help of mainstream TV channels, it has convinced itself that it can take Mamata Banerjee head on. The 2021 assembly elections, in their view, is their best chance to dislodge Mamata Banerjee.

The party has unleashed all its might. It realises that given the long, secular tradition of Bengal, the electoral battle will not be easy. Therefore, it must fire on all cylinders; it must go for the kill. In the days to come, the shrillness of the rhetoric and bitterness of the discourse might cross dangerous decibel levels. And why should it not, as it is going to be a test case for the party’s ideological pursuits and about its winning electoral formula. Watch out for this election. This is no ordinary battle. This is like the third battle of Panipat.

The writer is an author and Editor,

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