Kolkata: Prime Minister Modi visited Assam and poll-bound Bengal to win over the farmers in these states but did not say a single word on the deadlock over prolonged farmers movement around Delhi demanding the rollback of pro-corporate farm laws. Nevertheless, in an oblique reference to the Twitter storm created by American pop singer Rihanna and Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg et al in support of the farmers’ movement, he cried foul and termed it ‘an international conspiracy against India’.
In a quintessential Modi style, he gave a twist to the international Twitter campaign by calling it ‘a smearing attack on Indian tea garden workers and those millions who associate their identity with tea’. Both Assam and Bengal have a large number of tea garden workers. Clearly, it was an allusion to his earlier electoral image-branding as a humble ‘chaiwala’ or tea seller in his formative days in order to turn the table on his critics, both domestic and foreign.
His intent became obvious as he trained his guns on the opposition parties including Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee for keeping mum on ‘international conspiracy against India’ while thundering that ‘Indians won’t allow the conspirators to succeed’.
A number of Indian celebrities have joined a Twitter war against Rihanna and others condemning their intervention into ‘India’s internal matter’ and asking for ‘an amicable settlement’ of farmers’ issues. The identical tenor and words used in these counter-tweets made the orchestrated move by the government and ruling party obvious.
It is not the first time Modi has made more out of innuendo and turned it into an attack on the larger identity of his home state, community, and Indian nationhood. He swivelled Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s sobriquet of him, ‘Maut ki Saudagar’ or the merchant of death after the Gujarat 2002 riots into an affront to Gujarati ‘Asmita’ or pride. Modi’s craftiness earned him a good dividend later also as he turned a Congress leader’s description of him as a Neech or mean man. The spin master turned it into an attack on his humble social position at the lower (Neech) rung of the caste hierarchy.
Silence on CAA-NRC
The Prime Minister also kept mum over another thorny issue; the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and its corollary project of the National Register of Citizens. Both Assam and Bengal are livid over these controversial legal moves, although for opposite reasons. The CAA offers citizenship to ‘persecuted’ Hindus and other illegal migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan except for Muslims. The NRC is meant for fishing out illegal migrants, mainly Muslims from neighbouring countries.
Recently, Modi’s Party BJP has won power in Assam by riding on the wave of anti-Bengali feelings irrespective of the migrants’ religion. The Assam NRC has already excluded around 20 lacs of ‘infiltrators’, mainly Bengali speaking settlers. Assamese-speaking people fear inundation by others for a long time. However, BJP in Bengal is trying hard to wrest power from the TMC by promising citizenship to a sizable number of lower caste Hindu migrants from Bangladesh. Thus ideological and realpolitik concerns of Assamese regionalism and BJP’s Hindu nationalism are at cross purposes now.
So Assamese are opposed to the CAA and want a more stringent NRC while Bengal is largely opposed to the NRC. The BJP government at the centre has put both on hold in view of the Bengal assembly poll which is due by May this year. In the meantime, Matua community in Bengal which is the largest group of Dalit Nomo Shudro caste is unhappy over the non-implementation of the CAA. Many of the group members feel that the CAA will facilitate their citizenship.
The BJP’s surge in Bengal as the main opposition to the incumbent TMC government has largely depended on religious polarization as well as demographic politics over Dalits. Both are aimed at cracking Mamata Banerjee vote-bank among Muslims and Matuas.
Development plank with Ram card
Modi played his ‘development’ card in his first election rally at the port town Haldia on Sunday but ended with his more tested ‘Ram card’ against Mamata dispensation. Rattling figures of proposed central Investments in railways, highways, and other infrastructure projects in Bengal, he accused his friend-turned-foe of betraying farmers in the state and promised to provide the central largesse@ PM Samman Nidhi which Mamata did not implement till late.
The fight for power between the Central and state ruling parties involves the political dividends out of cash transfer and social sector schemes, however meagre and ill-delivered they are.
The most popular flashpoint is over health over Health Insurance; Modi’s Ayushman Bharat versus Mamata’s Swasthya Sathi schemes. Modi blamed Mamta for depriving Bengal people of his scheme’s benefit while the Bengal chief minister insisted on her scheme as most beneficial to the people.
Attack on both TMC and Left-Congress combine
While targeting TMC as BJP’s main rival, Modi attacked the Lefts and Congress combine. Icing his cake with a pun over Mamata (compassion) and nirmamta (cruelty), he said she had sustained the corruption and repression as well as political violence of the earlier Left Front rule as well as the post-independence Congress regimes.
Although there is no sign of any reconciliation between the TMC and Left-Congress combine, Modi tried to pre-empt any such possibilities by accusing the non-BJP parties of having behind- the-scene electoral adjustments. Appealing to the voters not to vote for the Left-Congress combine either, he called for a ‘double engine government,’ that will pull through Bengal towards its earlier prominence in industrial and trade.
BJP is trying hard to popularize the slogan which means the rule of the BJP both at the centre and the state to make the development of the latter free from political tussles. It is another matter that it gels with RSS-BJP vision of India as a land of ‘one nation one election- one party and one leader rule’. The vision violates the federal and democratic principles of the Indian Constitution and more in consonance to Hitler-Mussolini regimes.