Edlyn Cardoza | 04 February, 2021 | Mumbai
The state of Bengal is currently witnessing the blend of inferior mobilisation and Hindutva against the political-cultural elite.
A voter who belongs to the Matua community, in West Bengal’s Thakurnagar, said thar Jai Shri Ram has become like a mudradosh – a catchphrase for them. He continued saying, “ We initially began utilizing the catchphrase to tease the Trinamool, but now it has become as normal, and as natural as greeting someone good morning in English.” Upon asking on how Jai Kali and Jai Durga – which are the more deeply associated Bengal deities, hadn’t instead become the revitalizing cry, to which he said that Ram was as familiar to them as it is to others.
West Bengal is set to head to the polls later this year, it is at the convergence of changing cultural contours, shifting political dynamics, and challenged identity claims. Identity is always a two-way process. A specific medium of recognition by a group requires others to endorse it. Consequently, the claim that Bengal is the intellectual-heartland of India is shared by a huge section of non-Bengalis, in this manner constituting the image of the state being different. Irrespective of the changing political setting over the last four decades, right from the Left Front Left Front to Trinamool Congress (TMC) rule, the cultural elite, i.e., the Bhadraloks have been fierce conservators of Bengal’s sense of exceptionalism and have guarded it passionately. For example, a quintessential Bhadralok would censure and lament the rising decisive religiosity in other parts of the nation while shielding Durga Pujo in Bengal essentially as a social gathering.
But since 2018, especially the social changes, and political shifts among the subaltern sectors in rural and mofussil Bengal, have raised eyebrows about the Bhadralok sense of entitlement in speaking and representing for the state. However, what Bengal is witnessing is a new wave of subaltern assertion, by using the instrument or source of Hindutva to push the narrative.
The developing cultural and political salience of the Jai Shri Ram motto in Bengal was reflected in three significant moments. The first was during the 2018 communal riot in Asansol on the event of Ramnavami; the second, was as when people chanted as Bengal’s chief minister – Mamata Banerjee’s motorcade passed through Chandrakona in May 2019, in Bhatpara and West Midnapore in North 24 Pargans; and lastly on 23 January, when the slogan was raised in the presence of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee during the ongoing celebration of Subhas Chandra Bose’s birth anniversary in Kolkata.
The Bhadralok’s response to the slogan has been one of unease. It asserts that the motto has never been a part of Bengal’s strictness and is practically alien to the land, and subsequently those invoking must be the migrants from the neighbouring states. These occurrences are also viewed as the handiwork of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Nonetheless, a closer, critical look would uncover that this argument, protecting the specificity of Bengali religiosity and shifting the fault entirely to the BJP and migrants isn’t just false, but also fails to consider the role played by the TMC. It additionally also disregards ground realities.
Through 294 assembly constituencies in the state, four ground realities have become evident.
The first is that the BJP outside Kolkata is organisationally powerless, and even after a spree of rebellions from the incumbent, needs strong local leadership. Two is the overwhelming majority of Hindus are spellbound against the TMC, allegedly on the virtue of widespread corruption and systemic violence by the ruling party’s rank and file in conspiracy with the state police. Three, it is essentially the erstwhile supporters of the Left who have been on the receiving end of the TMC’s excesses, and are presently clamouring for “vengeance.” And, finally, except a few pockets like as parts of Malda, Musrhidabad, and Dinajpur, both the Left and the Congress are not considered as a credible option by pro-change voters. Consequently, the BJP had become the default recipient of the current disdain against the TMC.
Even a cursory glance at the convergence of these realities showcases that the salience of the slogan has deeper roots. On the off chance that the BJP is so feeble outside Kolkata, crediting it, albeit negatively, with the capacity to incide citizens in various parts of the state to taunt, challenge, and lastly endure the brunt of the chief minister’s anger, by chanting Jai Shri Ram, doesn’t quite add up. The quest for the underlying forces behind the motto should be aimed at the social realm and the role played by the TMC itself.
Essentially the interiors of South Bengal, reveals the ordinariness of Jai Shri Ram greetings, serenades, and sloganeering among a vast section of Bengalis who are opposed to the TMC.
For example, respondents across castes at Chowkbazar in Balrampur assembly constituency in Purulia shielded the slogan as a way of getting back at the TMC allies, and asserted that the district leader of the TMC ridiculed their sentiments by asking the question Who is Ram?, reported The Hindustan Times. A school teacher at Bishnupur claimed Ram to be a necessary part of everyday life, and contended how Ramayana is recorded even in the globally famous Baluchari silk sarees. At Habra in North 24 Parganas, a group of respondents communicated their anger and annoyance at the government capturing some people for using the slogan. Incidentally, in many of these places, the same individuals deplored the poor authoritative profile of the BJP.
The Hindustan Times said that the narrative of Jai Shri Ram goes way past the BJP in Bengal. The slogan has become a code of fortitude, a method of greeting, and a sign of anti-TMC union. What’s more is that it has become a regular divide of political outline that is not only against the TMC, but also against the patronising attitude of the old elites who advantage ideology over the ordinary dubious experience of the subalterns. It implies the combination of the inferior with Hindutva against the perspectives of Bhadraloks.
Image Sources :
- India TV