From day one, the campaign has been going on in West Bengal — the last polling date was April 29 — which was intense, bitter and abusive. Above all, these state assembly elections have been transformed into one or the other about the identity of Bengal.
Banerjee’s “Bangalore May (Bengal Daughter)”, “Bohiragatos (Outsiders)”, her politicians are “Gujarati Gangsters (Top Two Central Leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party)”, and the slogan “Un-Bengali”Jai Shri Ram‘. Left has a viral music video “Nijder Mawte, Nijder Gone (Our song, in our own way), “In which a dozen lights from the Bengali film, theater and music industries, without naming the BJP, Bengal will not accept hatred, fascism and more (https: // bit. Ly / 3cGqy6c). For almost half a century. The BJP’s plank was to join the national mainstream in the socio-economic development of West Bengal after the rule of the Left Front and the Trinamool Congress (TMC).
Extraordinaryism is probably an idea deeply rooted in the Bengali mind. Bangla is the only Indian language with the word ‘other’ – ‘obangali’ (non-Bengali). Bengalis know that their state has produced the largest number of Nobel laureates (including Ronald Ross and CV Ramon, who did the prize-winning research in Calcutta) and believe that the Bengali people are more cultured and developed than the rest. Gopal Krishna Gokhale, a Brahmin from Maharashtra, set out to deceive and insult the rest of India – especially those in power in Delhi – what Bengal thinks today and what the rest of India thinks tomorrow.
But Bengali pride must conquer small considerations of money (‘Hather Moila’, dirt in one’s hand, in a popular Bengali idiom). We Bengalis believe — no, we know that Bengali intellect is superior. Hindi speakers, do not compare, and those who are south of Vindhyas did not put tamarind in everything they cooked? And all this was part of a big conspiracy to oppress the Bengalis. But we ignore it. We must overcome in our own way.
Over the past few weeks, I have spoken to some Kolkata friends. For many of them, the main concern is the “crisis in secularism”, “toxic nationalism” and the consequent threat to Bengali culture and morality. But one school teacher said: “It is ridiculous that many parents of children I teach vote for the ruling parties in the state, even though they want their children to come out of West Bengal for higher studies. From school. I am questioning them about this discrepancy, but no credible answer has come yet. “He also pointed me to the census statistics. The population of Kolkata is aging faster than any other Indian metro (https://bit.ly/3sKt4hk).
However, socio-political discourse in West Bengal seems to have changed significantly over the past few years.
For example, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, issues like ‘Tolabaji’ (robbery) by TMC politicians and cadres came to the fore. In response to his party’s backlash, the number of TMC seats in the House fell from 34 to 22, with Banerjee publicly urging his people to “cut money” to give back to the victims in all 42 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state. Political violence — widely but less commonly reported in the mainstream media — also came to the fore.
In the case of bohiragatos or outsiders, in many parts of Kolkata today one can hear more Hindi than Bengali if one is walking on the road. For decades, the number of immigrants from the Hindi belt has been high. Banerjee’s own old assembly constituency may be Bhabanipur Bengali-minority. From Burrabazar in Kolkata, one of the largest wholesale markets in Asia, to Siliguri, the northeastern entry point, major trade and commerce is controlled by Marwari businesses. A large portion of small and micro enterprises, from commercial vehicle operators and grocery stores to pan-beedi vendors, are now ‘outsider’ owned.
Most big real estate developers are not of Bengali origin. The fashionable Kolkata nightclubs do not have much of a young audience. Almost all Bangla films — mainstream and art house — are being produced by non-Bengalis these days. For the past three decades most of the commercial investment in West Bengal has been ‘outsiders’ who consider the state as their home. So, who is Bohiragato?
This state election will be a sort of waterfall as it poses crucial unavoidable questions on how Bengalis and the people of Bengal see themselves right now. Whoever wins, ‘poriborton’ or change is inevitable. Even Banerjee, if she continues, will not be the same, or she will not have a lot of policies and positions. One hopes that Bengal will win no matter what.
Sandeepan Deb is the former editor of ‘Financial Express’ and the founding editor of ‘Open’ and ‘Swarajya’ magazines.