Ominous Dark Clouds Over Bengal’s Skies…

A demonstration by the ‘No Vote to BJP’ campaign in Kolkata, (older image) courtesy The Telegraph

As close to 8.5 lakh voters spread over 35 Assembly constituencies go to vote today in the last phase of Bengal’s elections, the line from the famous jatra Nabab Siraj-Ud-Doula from which the title of this post is extracted, haunts. The original ‘jatra pala’, written by Sachin Sengupta was staged in 1938 had a dialogue that announced the dark clouds collecting at Bengal’s horizons. The lines ‘Banglar akashe aaj durjoger ghanaghata/ Taar shyamal prantore rakter alpona’ have since resounded in the many iterations of the play, over the decades. The figures of Siraj-Ud-Daula and the traitor Mir Jafar have generally become part of Bengal’s political vocabulary but this time round the sense of Bengal being under attack from ‘outsiders’ has been pervasive. Along with that other episode of political folklore – repeated attacks by the borgis or the plunderous cavalrymen of the Maratha Empire, on Bengal has been recalled often. The attacks by the borgis were followed, only a few years later, by the Battle of Plassey (Palashi), in which Siraj-Ud-Daula was defeated after Robert Clive bribed Mir Jafar, his army commander, to betray the Nawab. 

This time round too, it is widely believed, the aggression by ‘outsiders’ cannot and will not succeed but for the Mir Jafar’s who collaborate with the aggressors.

Regardless of the results of the elections, there is little doubt that the politics of West Bengal is set to change forever after 2 May 2021. For there is little doubt that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is going to massively increase its tally of seats and votes polled, in comparison to the last Assembly election in 2016. In 2016, it had managed to win only three seats though it did corner 10.2 percent of the votes polled which was around 7 percent less than what it had got in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections but was probably closer to its actual support in the state. From all appearances, though, it does not seem that the BJP is going to win the elections despite its no-holds-barred bid to do so. However, there is no doubt that it will increase its seat tally to around 70 to 80 seats – and if some of their machinations aided by the Election Commission succeed, the score could go up to a hundred seats.

Most people in the state probably do not really get what this can mean for them and for their everyday lives. Needless to say, there will be further communal polarization and phenomenal increase in communal violence targeting minorities – apart from the fact that for ordinary people everyday life is likely to become hellish with the Right Wing policing of women, of lovers, of what ordinary people can and cannot eat and so on. However, we who live in North India know that it is not just problems like these that they can create; they can actually make the task of governing the state impossible on an everyday basis.

Once they have the critical mass, they will leave no stone unturned in making it impossible for the state government to function, so that all the accumulating anger gets directed against it. And in this, the central government will play an active role, contributing its bit. The current oxygen crisis in Delhi and the frightening number of deaths that are taking place daily, is only a case in point. On the one hand, the sanctioned amount of oxygen for Delhi has been reduced, while on the other, unofficially, the BJP-ruled state government in Haryana (from where Delhi’s supplies came) suddenly diverted even the limited amounts elsewhere. In this cynical game, it matters little to the BJP that ordinary people in their hundreds are dying. And to cap it all, right now, in the midst of this massive crisis, the central government has amended the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) Act to make the Lieutenant Governor co-terminus with the government of Delhi, reducing the elected government to a municipality with no decision-making powers.

One should also remember that the March 2020 communal violence in North East Delhi was not executed in a BJP-ruled state but in a state where it has a very solid critical mass but has been unable to win elections for a very long time. That the carnage was jointly executed by the local BJP, the central government and the state police that is directly under the home ministry, should tell us that deaths, violence and a state of perpetual fear, especially for the Muslims, is the staple on which this party lives. 

Role of the Left Front-Congress Samyukta Morcha

That the ordinary people in the state cannot really understand the full implications of what BJP’s phenomenal growth – not to speak of victory – can mean is not surprising, for they have no direct experience of it yet. Nor do they have access to information. To be able to make an informed choice, you need to have all the relevant information. As it happens, since the entire media has been reduced to a propaganda machine for the central government and the BJP, people only get to hear of one side of the story that is most often full of half-truths, outright lies and utterly frivolous, diversionary stories. In such contexts, electoral campaigns become important occasions for taking the relevant information to the people of remote areas as well. However, this opportunity was not put to use at all this time during the election campaign, except by the Trinamul Congress and independent citizen groups like the ‘No Vote to BJP’ platform.

In fact, the very opposite has been happening. Just about ten days ago, octogenarian Communist Party of India (CPI) leader in Birbhum, Krishnapada Sinha Roy, said in an interview that he had never, since Independence, seen such a serious threat as there is now but ‘Abbasbadi Alimuddin [pro-Abbas (the cleric ally) CPI-M] and Adhirpanthi Congress [Adhir Chowdhury’s Congress] are seeing Mamata Banerjee alone as the main enemy. Consequently, in their campaign, they are focusing their ire only at Mamata and saying nothing about the BJP.’ Krishnapada Sinha Roy’s statement is important because he is a leader of a party that is part of the Left Front. 

A similar thing is said with much greater vehemence by noted Dalit writer Manoranjan Byapari, who is now contesting as a Trinamul Congress candidate. Byapari is cetainly not a TMC person and his long Facebook post can be read as a kind of ‘explanation’ as to why he stands with Mamata Banerjee and the TMC. Drawing an allegorical reference to the Mahabharata war where all the important personages and relatives are arrayed on the side of the Kauravas, Manoranjan Byapari says: ‘The crimes of those who sold away the rail[ways], sold away planes [airports], swindled lakhs and crores of PM Cares money, mortgaged the Red Fort, mortgaged a couple of thousand tonnes of the country’s gold, helped 37 Gujarati businessmen to clean out 14 banks and escape, murdered helpless people brutally in Gujarat and Delhi, those who have a thousand corruptions from Rafael to Vyapam to their credit – their crimes are not crimes in the eyes [of the Left-Congress Morcha]. Anger has made them blind to all this.’

In other words, the most dangerous aspect of the situation is that the Left Front and the Samyukta Morcha (SM), and especially the CPI-M, have completely abdicated on their fight against the BJP and concentrated their fire on the TMC. This is of course, nothing new. In fact, in the 2019 parliament elections, they had actively garnered votes for the BJP. Even though the ‘Ebar Ram, Pore Baam’ [Ram Today, Left Tomorrow] slogan was not an official slogan, there is no doubt that that was the actual slogan of action on the ground. At that time it wasn’t a question of who will wield power in the state but of who will come to power in the Centre and the West Bengal CPI-M had no qualms in enabling Modi’s re-election and BJP’s consolidation in the state. This time round, it is a question of who will rule the state and the slogan once again, loud and clear, that resonates on the ground is ‘Ekushe Raam, Chhabbishe Baam’ [Ram in 2021, Left in 2026].

‘We have been so battered and beaten by the TMC that we have had to go to the BJP’s protection to save our skin’ – that is my paraphrase of the arguments that are being put out to justify this atrocious political line. Putting it thus might anger the CPI-M but is there really any other way of reading all that is said  by their leaders and cadre alike, almost in so many words? This insanity cannot be explained in terms of any strategic or tactical logic, certainly no Marxist logic that I am aware of. It is like the spoilt brat, in order to escape being bullied by a local dada landed up on the laps of the super gangster.

So the second sense in which politics in the state is bound to undergo a big change is actually visible in already this stance of the CPI-M. On the basis of what it has been doing over the last three years and what it continues to do even now, it seems to me that one will have to assume that the CPI-M has decided to remain, in effect, a party of the BJP camp in the state. The way the CPI-M leaders and their social media started amplifying the Amit Shah line after the Sitalkuchi killings leaves very little to the imagination on that score. And no less damning was the stand that the CPI-M and the SM took at the all-party meeting with the Election Commission, where the TMC put forward the demand of clubbing the remaining four phases of the elections, in the face of massively rising Covid 19 cases. The CPI-M and the Congress supported the BJP and EC stand of carrying on the process to the bitter end, knowing full well what disastrous consequences that would lead to. (For the moment I will leave aside the fact that the idea of having elections in eight phases was in any case an unprecedented move by the EC to help the BJP). The following graph prepared by Shoaib Daniyal (see the above link for details) of  for the Scroll.in says it all. (See the exponential rise since the 4th phase)

What else can one make of this perverse and utterly unfathomable stance of the CPI-M, save that it has decided that it would aid and abet the BJP without any regard for the possible consequences of that decision? Identifying the ouster of the TMC as its top priority has no other politics behind it except its desperate wish to come back to power, even if that means becoming a fascist collaborationist force.

In this context, CPI-M’s Left allies will be faced with an important question after the elections. They will have to decide where they stand in the battle that is bound to reach a qualitatively different stage after 2 May – a phase of unprecedented violence, where one will have to assume that the CPI-M will continue with its line of playing along with the BJP.

Before concluding, it is perhaps necessary to underline one point here very clearly. There is a lot to be critical about in the way the TMC has conducted itself and there may be many of its actions that call for criticism and sometimes, opposition on the streets. In order to identify the BJP as the main enemy, it is not at all necessary to abandon the stance of opposition to specific decisions and policies that the TMC government might initiate from time to time. What should be clear however, is that regardless of whether the TMC returns to power or not, the struggle against the BJP will have to remain the focus of any future democratic politics.

3 thoughts on “Ominous Dark Clouds Over Bengal’s Skies…”

  1. 1. At the onset I would like to point out that the historical reference to Battle of Plassey be is flawed with factual error. It is commonly believed that Mir Jaffer was commander of Siraj’s army, but that’s incorrect. Sachin Sengupta was no historian. In the time of nationalist movement against the British rule, we needed some icons and villains too. Thus, Siraj was portrayed as last independent Nawab and Mir Jaffer as the villain. Noted historian Rajat Kanta Ray in his “Palashir Sarajantra o Sekaler Bangasamaj” demystified that. In fact. Mir Jaffer was sacked by Siraj for pilferage much earlier to the development that led to the battle. When Siraj came to know that the French army won’t be able to come to his rescue, he went to Mir Jaffer and requested for his help. Bu that time he was roped in by Clive with a secret deal. So the question of “betraying” does not arise.

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    1. @Rajat Roy,
      I am not interested in the historical veracity of these details – nor I am sure is a playwright. Historians have yet to learn how to read fiction and fictionalized accounts or indeed more difficult questions of popular memory. If there were no playwrights or novelists and fiction writers but only historians, I can assure you the world would be a very boring place to live in. As should be evident, my concern was with popular memory and with the dialogue from Sachin Sengupta’s play – for its sheer poetry – NOT with whether Mir Jafar was actually still a commander when the battle was fought.

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    2. I don’t think this response has any real relevance in the context of this article. Historical accuracy is surely an important thing, but to isolate one admittedly minor aspect of an analysis of a very topical issue — which, by the way, draws precious little from the said inaccuracy — is to me neither here nor there. And Mr Nigam has, to my mind, outlined the shape of things to come post the elections with admirable clarity.

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