Kolkata: Poll-bound Bengal today witnessed a political tussle over Tagore between Narendra Modi’s second-in-command Amit Shah and state chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s party. It was the second act of the day’s Tamasha as the prime minister visited Guru dwara Rakab Gunj Sahib in Delhi. He paid obeisance to the martyred Sikh Guru Teg Bahadur while forcing Sikh and Jat farmers to suffer the bitter cold under the open sky for three weeks for being stubborn on their demands for withdrawal of pro-corporate farm laws.
Had the poet cum philosopher been alive today, he would have left Shantiniketan in Bolpur, his second home and Karam Bhoomi, which still hosts his Visva Bharati, now a central university in sheer disgust. Shah, a hardcore RSS appratchik turned BJP leader is poles apart from Rabindranath Tagore’s ideas on pluralist Bengali and Indian culture, his vision about our syncretic civilizational ethos and mission for universal brotherhood. For that matter, Shah is far off from the worldview of the best known Gujrati, M K Gandhi who met Tagore at Bolpur and forged a bond despite their many differences.
Nevertheless, the shrewd politician tried his best to appropriate Bengal’s best icon by virtually kicking off BJP’s poll campaign in Tagore’s Karam Bhoomi while using every photo optics in places steeped in the poet’s memories. He visited Visva Bharati campus, spoke of the Nobel laureate’s contribution in Indian freedom struggle and culture and Gandhi-Tagore meeting.
Shah also enjoyed Bengali dishes at the home of a Baul singer in the company of Bengal BJP honchos. It is another matter that the household as well as the campus were sanitised from all protesters including students, teachers and other troublesome fellows. Even the movement of the host family members were restricted by the VVIP’s security minders.
However, despite ban on any protest in and around the campus by the university authority, a group of students and activists raised slogans and waved black flag during Shah’s visit there.
The poet was instrumental in popularising the tradition of Baul-Fakirs, the rural bards of Hindu-Muslim mixed faith and part of the pan-Indian Bhakti movement, mainly by lower castes poor. The party and its Parivar which strive on rabid religious polarization, Brahminical social order and denial of Dalit identity are no takers of the sentiments of these early Indian seculars and libtards.
Nevertheless, the cultural symbolism is part of political strategies. So Shah in his latest visit since Saturday continued to pay tribute to Tagore, Swami Vivekananda, Ishwar Chandra Vidya sagar and other Bengali icons and praised Bengali Asmita or identity-based pride. The coinage was first heard in Gujarat polls after 2002 communal pogrom under the watch of Modi-Shah duo.
He had pressing reasons to play up Bengali sentiments as Mamata and her party, Trinamool Congress, has been harping on cultural identity while calling BJP a party of outsiders, essentially north Indian. Bengal’s Hindu thinkers and mainstream politicians have largely conflated Bengali and Indian nationalism in terms of liberal Hinduism and modernist universalism, a far cry from the creed of reigning Hindutva forces.
The state BJP, despite having a bunch of feuding Bengali leaders, is still run by Delhi minders and the party is yet to find a suitable boy as a chief ministerial material. Nonetheless, Shah took pains to insist that Mamata would be challenged by a ‘son of the soil’.
During and after his impressive road-show, Shah trained his gun on Mamata’s Parivarbad, an allusion to her nephew Avishek whose control over the TMC has triggered defection of some party MLAs to BJP. More defectors are to follow along with their comrades from the lefts and Congress, he thundered. Corruption and political violence by Mamata’s men were other two major charges that he harped on. But he did not forget his signature tune: war on ‘Ghuspetia’ s or infiltrators from Bangladesh, an euphemism for Muslims.
However, Shah was cryptic on the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act that has promised to induct Hindus and others from neighboring countries but barred Muslims. “The law will be in vogue after the rules are rolled out,” he said without further elaboration. The BJP needs to dangle this carrot before the electorally important Matuas and other Hindu scheduled caste latecomers from Bangladesh before the assembly polls.
But it is a double-edged sword for the saffron party as the majority groups in Assam and other north-eastern states are doggedly opposing CAA. They fear it will regularize Bengali Hindus now excluded from the controversial Assam NRC that has made more than 19 lakhs people virtually stateless, mostly Bengali settlers for generations. TMC is hoping to counter the CAA bait with the further exclusion of Bengali, Hindus and Muslims under the National Register for Citizenship proposed by Modi-Shah regime.
In Kolkata, Trinamool Congress leaders staged a counter show at Tagore’s ancestral home in Jorasanko. Senior TMC leaders upped their ante against the saffron camp. Maintaining that BJP has insulted Tagore by printing his photo below Amit Shah during his campaign,they said that the ‘outsiders’ did not care about the respect that the icon had deserved.
The BJP Flex hoardings, with a photo of Shah on the top and image of Tagore in the middle and that of BJP leader Anupam Hazra underneath appeared in parts of Shantiniketan. Taking a potshot at the saffron camp, Panchayat Minister Subrata Mukherjee alleged that BJP’s poster has belittled the stature of Rabindranath Tagore. “Let the people of Bengal know that those who are ignorant of Rabindranath have come to occupy Bengal. They know nothing about Bengal and Bengali culture,” Mukherjee quipped.