Amit Shah had a Mission Bengal this time. And India knows now what a mission of Amit Shah and BJP looks like.
On 15th May, 4 days before the last day of voting, Kolkata once again saw the extent of RSS hooliganism. During an election road show of the BJP president Amit Shah in North Kolkata near Vidyasagar college, BJP activists vandalised Vidyasagar College, broke open the gate and demolished the statue of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, the celebrated social reformer of the Bengal Renaissance, situated inside the college.
The immediate pretext was the election campaign of BJP before the last phase of election. Section 144 was imposed in the area where Amit Shah was holding his road show. Central forces like the CRPF was in charge of security while his road show was going on. During the road show, some protesters at Vidyasagar College tried to show him black flags and raised slogans like ‘Amit Shah Go Back’. Given what Bengal as well as the entire country has faced in last five years of Modi-Shah rule, this is the least that a living democracy can do. But constitutional principles such as democracy are absent from the political dictionary of RSS that has ruled the country for last five years. At this slightest sign of opposition, the BJP activists did all they are trained to do to silence it. They vandalised the college, broke open the door and demolished the statue of Vidyasagar.
There was an outpouring of anger in Bengal against this hooliganism. The targeting of the Vidyasagar statue generated a huge anger against BJP-RSS brand of politics. Under pressure, Amit Shah addressed a press conference next day in New Delhi, where he, using his best skills to lie, said that he was under attack during his road show, and claiming that it was because of CRPF that he could be rescued safely from the spot! All available evidence and credible reporting of the incident show exactly the opposite. Amit Shah’s claim has also been effectively exposed by fact-check website AltNews. It is visible from authentic footages of the incident that BJP activists wearing saffron and ‘NaMo Again’ T- Shirts are vandalising the college. They threw stones at the college and forcibly broke open the college gate.
The Election Commission preponed the date of last day of campaign to 16th evening from 17th 5pm. It was clear to everyone that the date was preponed only to allow Narendra Modi to have the last word and the last rallies the next day. And Narendra Modi, who has mastered the art of diversion and lies, promised that he will build a Panch-Dhatu (made of five precious metals) statue of Vidyasagar at the same place. Narendra Modi’s promise only further exposed the irony of BJP’s ‘statue politics’. A party that governed Gujarat during 2002 anti-muslim genocide has built the highest statue of Sardar Patel in the name of ‘Statue of Unity’, and is now promising a taller statue of Vidyasagar after BJP hooligans broke an existing and much-respected statue in an educational institution!
The statue of Vidyasagar is not the first one that faced rampage under RSS rule. Countless statues of Babasaheb Ambedkar have been demolished in the country after BJP came to power. A statue of Lenin was uprooted in Tripura after BJP won the state assembly. Statues of Periyar in Tamil Nadu, Michael Madhusudan Dutt in Asansol, Sukanta Bhattacharya in Tripura - all were defaced and damaged in last five years.
Breaking statues of Indian symbols who have any progressive role in shaping our history, in making the country a more secular, caste-less, gender-just and egalitarian place, is the norm under BJP rule. The incident of 15th May in Kolkata brought out the real contradiction between progress of India as a nation and the politics of the RSS. Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar is remembered till this day for his role in ensuring a law for widow remarriage and his positive contribution in promoting women’s education among many other things. RSS/BJP’s very existence is antithetical to women’s equal rights. It was the RSS that vehemently opposed Hindu Code bill brought by Dr. BR Ambedkar that proposed equality of inheritance for Hindu daughters. Pro-RSS publisher Gita Press has published books justifying domestic violence against women. UP CM Yogi Adityanath had written blogs on how women can never be independent. In the last five years we have seen BJP supporters taking out rallies in support of rape accused- from Kathua to Unnao. They have run the vicious anti-women and communal myth of ‘love-jihad’. They let loose moral policing forces such as ‘Anti-Romeo’ squad in UP. They have physically attacked women in pubs in Mangalore. Golwalkar, RSS founder, himself ridiculed the idea of equality for women, in his book Bunch of Thoughts. The saffron brigade cannot digest any thought of women’s equality, independence and freedom. Activists and leaders trained in the RSS gharana thus demolished the statue of Vidyasagar in Kolkata.
BJP’s Mission Bengal
In 2014, West Bengal was one of the states that resisted the so-called ‘Modi Wave’ pushed enormously by huge amount of money, corporate backing and communal polarisation all over the country. The BJP had secured only two MP seats out of a total of 42 in Bengal. Trinamool Congress is running the present state government in Bengal. Facing anti-incumbency in states where the BJP secured most of the MP seats in 2014 and where BJP also rules the state, it was a well-calculated move of Amit Shah’s party to mark their presence in Bengal in order to manage the electoral loss from other parts. And one by one West Bengal saw all of the BJP’s nasty game plans to mark their ‘political presence’.
In November, 2017, Mukul Roy, a prime accused in Narada Sting Operation and Sarda Chit Fund scam joined the BJP. He was one of the most important leaders of the Trinamool Congress before he joined the BJP. The BJP’s much-used strategy of incorporating corrupt leaders in the party to start their political venture in a state was seen in Bengal through Mukul Roy’s induction in the BJP.
The most vicious RSS game-plan of communal polarisation and aggressive posturing during religious festivals was also experienced by Bengal in last five years. Making every religious festival moments of conflict is what marks the RSS gameplan to polarise the state on religious lines. Several anti-Muslim riots, killing of son of an Imam in Asansol, aggressive Ram Navami processions led by BJP leaders wielding weapons such as swords and tridents - all these were introduced in Bengal’s political landscape by RSS to ‘take over’ the state.
West Bengal has also been the recent target of huge fake news network and social media ads pushed by huge amount of money as part of BJP’s Mission Bengal. Pratik Sinha of AltNews has stated in an interview that West Bengal and UP were the prime targets of Fake News during this election. Most of the fake news are religious in colour, portraying leaders of opposition parties, especially the CM Mamata Banerjee as being anti-Hindu and pro-Muslim etc. The use of money power to push pro-BJP, communal content was also visible this time in Bengal. BJP has spent more than 3 crore and 97 lakh on its Facebook campaign since February and 31% of it is spent targeting West Bengal according to data given by Facebook’s Ad Library. This is only a part of the huge money that BJP has spent to push its propaganda in social media, given the fact that the Facebook have had a history of hiding its financial transactions in India.
The last, but not the least, important aspect of BJP’s Mission was to manipulate democratic institution to reign over the state. The EC that has been complicit in letting BJP leaders including PM Narendra Modi violate Model Code of Conduct throughout the election process, has shown its partisan bias for BJP in the last phase of election in Bengal. The last date of campaign was preponed by EC immediately after the Vidyasagar College violence only to let Narendra Modi throw his ‘Pancha Dhatu’ statue jumla in election rally the next day. The opposition was silenced clearly by the EC so that further exposure of BJP after the Vidyasagar College violence could be halted.
The design of the election schedule earlier by the EC also raised doubt over its neutral credentials. While the BJP needed to focus on Bengal, the EC designed a schedule of 7 phases from 11th April to 19th May. Polling in West Bengal happened in all the seven phases. And as has been reported by news portals, Amit Shah and Modi attended the second highest numbers of rallies and road shows in Bengal after UP. BJP’s Mission Bengal needed more time to spread hatred and communal polarisation in Bengal. The election schedule designed by the EC suited their plan.
The ruling party of Bengal the TMC has been relentlessly targeting the left using its state machinery to finish off pro-people opposition. The TMC’s response to BJP’s aggressive communal posturing has not only been inadequate but problematic as well. The TMC came down to competitive communalisation of politics in response to BJP’s communal posturing. In 2017, just after the Ramnavami procession with weapons organized by RSS, participated and promoted by BJP leaders in several districts of Bengal, TMC leaders appealed to people to celebrate Hanuman Jayanti in a similar manner. This has been the pattern of TMC to counter RSS’s communal design. The CPIM on the other hand, has also failed to prioritise the anti-fascist task of alerting the people of Bengal to the RSS design in Bengal. This has left people in the CPIM’s own base vulnerable to communal and Islamophobic campaigns targeting the TMC for the wrong reasons. Worrying reports of long-time CPIM voters and cadres shifting to the BJP camp have come from all over Bengal.
So far, the BJP has unleashed all the arrows in its quiver in Bengal. The people of Bengal have expressed their outrage at each such instance. The election is over. We are waiting for the results and anticipating the Amit Shah game of manufacturing majority by hook or by crook while this article is being written. But one thing is clear. The battle against aggressive communal, hate filled propaganda of the RSS is far from being over in Bengal. And at such a juncture, let it be a call for all anti-BJP forces that there is no bigger enemy than the fascists for the people of India.