KOLKATA: After a heavy doze of communal polarisation over the last three years, Bengali subnationalism is slowly emerging as a rallying cry in West Bengal ahead of the assembly elections due next year.
Narratives themed around 'Bengali pride' and 'natives versus outsiders' are slowly gaining momentum, with various outfits raising the pitch for reservation for domicile Bengalis in jobs and education in the state, where, until a few years ago, cultural subnationalism was an alien concept.
After the electoral reverses in the Lok Sabha poll last year and the rise of the BJP as a prime contender for power, TMC supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has often invoked Bengali subnationalism, and called the BJP a party of "outsiders".
She has gone to the extent of saying that West Bengal should not be ruled by "Gujaratis and outsiders", apparently targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who belong to the western state.
The saffron party has termed it a "desperate attempt" by the TMC to stave off an "imminent" defeat in the assembly elections and divide the majority community along ethnic lines.
In an attempt to project itself as a party which respects Bengali sensitivities, the BJP is propping up Jana Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee as its icon, and has been steadfast in observing the anniversaries of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay.
The politicisation of ethnic sentiments in the state has coicided with the ascent of the BJP and increased activities of far right Hindu outfits, which organised rallies and other events on religious occasions such as Ram Navami a festival not very popular in West Bengal- unlike states in north India.
Clashes have occurred during Ram Navami processions which the BJP claimed was the handiwork of Muslim fundamentalists.
Several outfits like Bangla Pokkho, Jatiyo Bangla Sammelan and Bangla Sanskriti Mancha that pander to Bengali sentiments have emerged on the state's political landscape, and accused the saffrom camp of trying to "impose" Hindi and "north Indian culture" on Bengal.
"Ram Navami celebrations in the name of Hindutva were the first signs of trouble. The way Bengalis are being demographically threatened by non-Bengalis, the day is not far when they will turn into a minority in their own land, not just in terms of population but also culturally," Kaushik Maiti, a senior leader of Bangla Pokkho, told PTI.
Maiti, however, denied the charge that it bore allegiance to the TMC, and said the outfit had long been demanding reservation in jobs and education for Bengali natives.
Anirban Banerjee of Jatiyo Bangla Sammelan said its programmes and demands are aimed at securing the economic and social rights of Bengalis in West Bengal.
"Why can't we bask in Bengali pride? If Gujaratis can boast of their identity, Tamilians can do the same in Tamil Nadu, why not Bengalis? Many states have domicile reservation, so why can't Bengal have it?" he asked.
Such outfits first came into limelight when they protested against the attempt to include Hindi and Urdu as mediums for an examination to recruit police constables in 2017, following which the decision was withdrawn.
The desecration of the bust of social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar during a BJP procession in the last phase of the Lok Sabha polls, followed by the publication of the final NRC list in Assam in August, which was claimed to have left out around 12 lakh Hindus including many Bengalis, gave the TMC a stick to beat the BJP with.
The latest to add fuel to the fire was the alleged online vilification of Bengali women, with many fans of deceased actor Sushant Singh Rajput calling her rumoured girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty and others from the community "gold diggers" and "witches".
Many in the state have also expressed displeasure over the exclusion of Bengali as a classical language from the Centre's National Education Policy (NEP) 2020.
"Why are Bengali women being trolled and abused online as witches who use black magic to control men? Why was Bengali, the fifth most-spoken language in the world, not included in the list of classical languages in the NEP? The answer is bias and hatred towards Bengalis," Banerjee claimed.
The TMC, somewhat diffident after the BJP made deep inroads into the state in the Lok Sabha polls, clinching 18 seats against 22 that Banerjee's party won, is now on the offensive, as it seeks to capitalise on the exclusion of Bengalis from the National Register of Citizens and Bengali language from the list of classical languages.
"The rise of the saffron camp in Bengal has instilled fear in a larRead More – Source