Will the next Battle of Plassey (well, figuratively) be fought between the BJP and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC)? Wherever it is fought, around Plassey or well to the south of it, it promises to be a dirty war. It will be driven by religious demography.
The original Battle of Plassey was fought in 1757, when the forces of the British East India Company defeated Siraj-ud-Daula, the French-backed Nawab of Bengal, paving the way for British domination over eastern India.
Plassey is near Murshidabad, the defeated Nawab’s capital. Murshidabad today is the largest Muslim-majority district in West Bengal, with a minority population share of a hefty 63.67 percent. Together with Malda (52.05 percent), North Dinajpur (47.36 percent), Birbhum and South 24-Parganas (all barring Birbhum bordering Bangladesh), this group of districts has been the core support base of the “secular” parties in the past – the Congress and the Left. Murshidabad, Malda and North Dinajpur gave the Congress and the Left all their seats in the last Lok Sabha elections.
Mamata Banerjee actually lost the last Battle of Plassey in May 2014 (in both Murshidabad and Malda) to the Congress and the Left. Her victories came in south Bengal. The real battle for Bengal has, thus, moved well south of Plassey, to the southern districts of West Bengal, where the Trinamool won most of its seats by walking away with the lion’s share of the Muslim minority vote. This is where the BJP will hope to do better the next time, starting with the Kolkata Municipal Corporation elections in 2015. The state assembly elections are due in 2016.
The question is whether the next battle to the south of Plassey will pave the way for the BJP’s gradual rise in eastern India, including West Bengal, or will see a consolidation of all the “secular” parties to put it down. Without this consolidation, the battle will largely be between BJP and Trinamool.
Sunday’s rally (30 November) by BJP President Amit Shah in Kolkata, staged inspite of Banerjee’s strenuous efforts to thwart it, was a huge success, with a large crowd attending it. Shah make his intentions clear with a simple statement: “I am Amit Shah, a BJP worker. I have come to Bengal to uproot the TMC.”
Religious demography will play a huge role in his calculations, and also that of the Trinamool.
The two issues Shah used to pound the Trinamool were the Burdwan blasts last month and the Saradha scam. As Firstpost has noted, Shah accused Mamata Banerjee of "shielding the Saradha scamsters and harbouring terrorists". He said: “Bengal needs a government which is patriotic, which doesn’t save the culprits of the Burdwan blast, which does not indulge in corruption,” The Indian Express reported Shah as saying at the rally.
The words “terror” and “patriotism” in the BJP’s lexicon are dog whistles for “Islamic terror”, and this time the focus of attention is the fundamentalist Jamait-e-Islami Bangladesh (JIB), which is alleged to have been planning terror attacks in that country from bases in West Bengal. Mamata Banerjee’s party is seen to be linked to the JIB, which is alleged to have obtained some funding through the Saradha Ponzi scheme.
So, the dotted line link Shah sought to draw was clear: Saradha scam-black-money-Bangladeshi Muslim-migrants-terrorists-Trinamool.
As if to prove the link, a day before Shah’s rally, the Jamait-e-Islami-e-Hind in Kolkata staged a massive protest in a show of muscle. As The Times of India reported it, “Kolkata was ambushed by a Jamait…rally on Saturday afternoon… At least 11 policemen — including three IPS officers — were injured in brick-batting and 13 police vehicles damaged. Journalists were attacked for ‘intruding on the space meant for rallyists’ — which was Red Road, the city's VIP thoroughfare.” President Pranab Mukherjee had to take a detour due to the Jamait’s forcible occupation of the space.
The message is clear, since the rally could not have been staged without Trinamool’s wink-and-a-nod. What Banerjee’s party is saying is this: she will use the Jamait and clerics to counter the BJP. In Trinamool’s case, the fight for “secularism” is also a dog whistle to egg Muslim bodies to rally to her support. The Imam of the Tipu Sultan Mosque in Kolkata has been batting for Didi for quite some time now.
The purpose of the Jamait rally was to intimidate the centre, whose National Investigative Agency (NIA) is now probing the local links of the Bangladeshi Jamait and has made many arrests. Mamata Banerjee clearly wants to use Muslims to lead the battle against the BJP in Bengal.
Communal undercurrents will decide the next Battle of Plassey – including the bigger battle to the south of Plassey. West Bengal’s Muslim population has risen by nearly 2 percent over the last decade – which is impossible without migratory additions – from 25.2 percent in 2001 to 27 percent in 2011. The latest census figure is a leaked one, and hence not formally authenticated by the Census Commissioner. But the information has been in the public domain for more than eight months now, and has not been contradicted. Hence there is more than a reasonable chance it is true.
The next Battle of Plassey will thus be a covertly communal one: it will be fought between the Nawabs of Trinamool’s support base against the BJP’s expected vote base.
The portents are not good for secularism in West Bengal since both the armies are depending on a communal polarisation. West Bengal in 2016 may be the Uttar Pradesh of 2014.
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Updated Date: Dec 01, 2014 19:00:51 IST