Many political pundits may already have noticed that the election results in Bengal last week was not only a simple election; but, it was a watershed turning point in the cultural history of Bengal. Bengal has turned full ideological circle from right to left and then again to right in last 200 years.
Far right nationalist movement of 19th century
When Britishers expanded their power by defeating the clout of Muslim rulers in Bengal, the aristocratic Hindus got a tactically favored slots and they were also quick to realize the importance of new learning coming from west. On the one hand this created a class of Hindu intelligentsia, while on the other hand it also created a wider ability to assert the richness and power of Hindu philosophical traditions. Be it advent of Arya Samaj, Brahma Samaj, Ramkrishna, Vivekanand or social reformers like Ram Mohan Roy. All of this was very forcefully expressed in Bankim Chandra’s novel Anandmath and which was able to take this Hindu nationalism to the masses of Bengal. In summary the nationalism of Bengali Bhadralok was a rise of Hindu nationalism against the oppression of Muslim rulers.
Communist Movement of 20th Century
The first seed of communist thought in India was sown in Bombay ( province) when S.A. Dange set up a small press and a library in 1920 to publish and distribute Marxist literature in the country. During 1920 to 1924 and even during the strict British repression against communists, small groups aligned to communist thought proliferated all through 20s to 40s. It was in 1924 when few of the old comrades started communist party of India ( CPI) in Kanpur. Most part of 20s and 30s of last century, the communists were banned from operations and the members were haunted by the police. It was during the second world war that communists were released. It was this time when British policy of diverting all resources to western front lead to a famine of calamity scale in Bengal and millions died due to hunger. This is the time when Communist party were able to get inroads in to the peasantry and larger masses. This is the time which helped them become a political force in Bengal which culminated in to a full political movement during 60s and finally they came to power in early 70s with Jyoti Basu as the Chief Minister. The rise of communist ideology in Bengal was also a consequence of proliferation of such movements in other parts of the country like Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Return to the past
Recent elections result reveals that Bengal has already dialed back in time. Bengali intelligentsia has completely shunned the left and centrist ideology and also moved towards a right of centre position. BJP’s nationalist agenda is very clear a vote for right wing ideology. TMC has emerged as a reaction to the leftist and centrist ideology and has tried to create a regional ideology which is somewhere based on regional identity. Part of the reason for emergence of BJP in Bengal has been a reaction against ultra left and centrist ideology which allowed consistent Muslim appeasement and Muslim vote bank politics. Several districts bordering Bangladesh has seen significant change in the religious demography. BJP has been quick to mobilize and galvanize support around these resentments.
TMC will have to do fine-balancing between its Muslim voters and larger Hindu population
The dial has already started moving towards right. The time is ticking. The portraits on the walls have changed from Marx/Lenin, M N Roy to Rabindranath, Vivekananda, Paramhansa and also to Bankimchandra. The aspirations to rekindle the old glory and call for revival of glorious past has been out. Generations of Bengalis have learnt the first alphabet using Iswarchandra Vidyasagar’s Varna parichaya; the same people are now reading the books contemplating about ancient glory. Hindutwa revivalism is on the horizon in Bengal. The land reforms and factory movements are no more relevant. The increasing appeasement of Muslims coupled with politically supported demographic engineering through immigration is creating lot of discontent among the masses. They are trying to find the solution once again in the glorious past and the teachings of Bengal renaissance leaders.
TMC will not be able to stay aloof from this and they will have to adjust to this new reality. The thumping majority achieved due to complete support from Muslims will create its own dilemma for them. Only time will tell where will the equilibrium lie. One thing is certain however, the society is looking forward to some turbulent times ahead.
- Bhadralok Sena: How Bengali Elites Shaped Hindutva in 19th century : Live History India
- The Hindu wife and the Hindu nation: Domesticity and nationalism in nineteenth century Bengal – Tanika Sarkar, 1992 (sagepub.com)
- (PDF) Shakespeare, Macbeth and the Hindu Nationalism of Nineteenth-Century Bengal (researchgate.net)