There is an ancient proverb in Bengali language – ‘bangalir baro mashey tero parbon’ i.e bengali people have 13 festivals in 12 months. However these numbers are gradually increasing after the fall of Left government in West Bengal. Bengal had some popular religious festivals, , like Durga Puja, Kali Puja, Saraswati Puja, Laxmi Puja, Jagadhatri Puja, Viswa Karma Puja etc. However apart from the festivities linked with Hindu religious ceremonies , people from these regions also partake in other religious festivals like Eid , Christmas on a wide scale.
Bengal had a synchronic nature of religious assimilation, harmonisation of all traditions,which had its root in the 19th century Bengal Renaissance. Bengal witnessed communal turbulence during the time of partition. Interestingly the post independent Bengal polity was soon captured by pro peasant and working class politics under the leadership of the Communist Party. The Hindu refugee influx from est. while East Pakistan was ideal for the Hindu right wing to utilise and extend its popularity but they couldn’t succeed in doing so. Communists took the reins of championing the refugee rights in the state. They tactfully swapped the issue of religion and caste with class politics. The subsequent years witnessed a rapidly growing popularity of the Communists. After that a coalition of the Communist and Left wing parties took over the office of the state in 1977. It was world’s the longest running democratically elected provincial communist coalition government within a bourgeoisie state. The entire period witnessed a different form of governance compared to the other provinces in the country, i.e, separation of religion and politics. After the defeat of the Left Front in 2011 the Trinamool Congress substituted it, Bengal polity began to witness a new nature of political narrative in the region. The not so famous religious festivals among the Bengali folk began to mushroom across the region. These mostly include the cloning of north Indian religious festivals such as Ram Navami, Hanuman Jayanti, Ganesh Puja. The magnitude of these ‘new’ festivals often resulted in transgression of the traditional above mentioned festivals. Large religious processions with swords and guns have become a common phenomenon which is yet to be understood.
According to the database of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, the number of Ganesha worships in Kolkata alone is about 1,570 as of 2018. This phemomenon is increasing day by day. Ganesh Puja is not a commonly celebrated religious festival in Bengal. In 2015 , West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee officially announced to grant an aid of 2 lakh rupees to 15,000 clubs in the first quarter and 1 lakh rupees from the next quarter. However her benevolence is heavily taxed from the taxpayers money. The number of the clubs getting ‘grants’ in the state is increasing exponentially. Recently, Miss Banerjee even went to the extent of waiving aside constitutional provisions by granting Durga Puja aids to 28,000 clubs. She also announced a provision for monthly stipends to the Imams and Muezzins of the state. Besides that , she has been creating numerous examples of starting different festivals in the state after coming to power. One popular claim behind these ‘grants’ is that it is about the development of the sports culture of the state. Here arises the fundamental question regarding the necessity to have a sports ministry ! Secondly, none of the clubs getting ‘grants’ have filed any audit report. Instead a few of them have submitted a peculiar report proclaiming ‘spent on right account’ which has no legitimacy at all.
Unironically the state unit of BJP is not far behind. Wherever their organisation is strong , they too are giving monetary aid to the local clubs. Interestingly, both the parties are presenting the theories of ‘developmental politics’, ‘public outreach’ etc. Although, both are competing to use peoples’religious beliefs for their own political gain. There is a mutual understanding of the two to slowly marginalise class politics in the state.
By giving ‘grants’ to the clubs , the ruling TMC intended to occupy the political space and to mobilise its members for electoral success at the micro level. It has already become a political custom to transform the members of these clubs a mere docile body by giving ‘grants’ and mobilise them in favour of the ruling party. There are also instances of mobilising the local youth to foment religious tension. As a result , religious polarization and riot like conflicts are coming into prominence in the state which has not witnessed communal polarisation since post partition.
A pivotal question arises here , what’s propelling the TMC and BJP to launch this new set of unfamiliar idol worshipping customs in the state? This requires a serious theoretical understanding. Firstly, the pivotal reason behind this course of events is ‘populism’. In other words, doing something new in order to gain popularity. The other existing religious festivals have very little scope of portraying populist tendencies. More importantly , the point is to create a lumpen culture in society ideal for the right wing parties like TMC and BJP to mushroom. The popularly celebrated festivals of Bengal don’t portray muscle power or lumpen culture in the society. On the contrary the conventional religious festivals had already left behind any sort of orthodox overlay and converted into a harmonious festivity of the Bengali people, rejoicing irrespective of their caste, religion or class.
Then why is there a sudden need to import new idolatries which are unfamiliar in popular Bengali imagery? Let’s start with ‘ Ganesh Chaturdashi’ It begun as a part of the Hindu nationalist project. In personal religious practices it was already there in the Indian state of Maharashtra but Bal Gangadhar Tilak gave Ganesha and Shivaji Utsav a physiognomy of mass celebration. The logic behind this was that without ‘power projection’ colonial rule cannot be overthrown.
Ganesha, Hanuman, Rama worshiping in popular fashion has a tremendous ‘power’ (masculinity) dimension. In West Bengal, Goddess Kali, Durga, Saraswati, Laxmi etc are manifestation of feminine ‘power’ which is not compatible to the Hindu nationalist project of the Sangh Parivar. Ideologically the saffron brigade worships masculinity , vigor of the kshtariyas – the martial class. The slogan ‘long live motherland’ is not an integral part of sangh’s oath taking ceremony. It is a mere eyewash in the broader sense like ‘Mother England’ or ‘Rudina’ in Russian. The affinity towards fascism gets prominent at this juncture The then national anthem of the fascists “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles” clearly hailed the fatherland. It was one of the slogans of the Nazis. Masculine power, vigor of the Kshatriyas- there are clear similarities in flaunting ‘power’ and ‘muscle’, between the fascists and sangh parivar. Nazi leader Horst Wessel’s song has been used across the globe by the right wing forces. Be it Golden Don of Greece or be it All Russia Fascist Organisation or the Falangists of Spain- everyone has created their party song in their respective language by borrowing with that of Horst Wessels’s.
Horst Wessel was a road side hooligan who was turned into a ‘martyr’ by Joseph Goebbels. During that turbulent period of Weimar republic, Hitler needed some martyrs who were ‘exclusively’ his. West Bengal also had a similar incident on 21st July 1992 – when an unruly mob led Miss Banerjee was baton charged and fired upon by the police. Ofcourse some people were shot dead But why? What they want to do? Who were they? They wanted to overthrow a democratically elected government by means of terror! Both Mussolini and the Fuhrer needed to eliminate some of their own henchmen in order to increase their clout upon their organization From ‘heil fuhrer’ in Nazi Germany to ‘Duce Mussolini’ in Italy, salutations for fascist heads of states have managed to transcend national boundaries. Extravagant coinages which bear uncanny resemblance are ‘long live Mamata Banerjee the fire brand daughter of Bengal’ and ‘Hail Modi’ have indigenous origins.
After the BJP came to power at the Centre in 2014, there has been a qualitative change in the political landscape across the country. In 2014 the political wing of the Sangh Parivar, BJP came to power with a massive mandate and then again in 2019. Since the formation of BJP there has been an unprecedented proliferation of Hindutva, resulting into riot like conflicts, lynchings, murders of rationalist writers , s. The second term of the NDA government is pushing an agenda (NRC) that threatens the minorities and rallies the Hindu majority around the goal of abandoning secularism.
On the other hand, the work of selling to government agencies is going on at a fast pace . GDP has dropped down to -23%! Unemployment has increased by 15%. Fanatics are being used to spread hatred against minorities.
The national political situation also has implications for West Bengal. The state is witnessing Hindu right wing consolidation in recent times. Not only did the BJP registered a 40.25% vote-share in the state but for the first time in the history of post independent Bengal the electorate voted along religious lines rather than mere political ideology. There was indeed a huge Hindu consolidation behind the BJP while Muslims rallied behind Mamata Banerjee. The second term of the TMC in the state and two respective terms of BJP at the centre have witnessed a shift in Bengal’s polity. The verdict of 17th Lok Sabha in West Bengal is indicative of the emergence of the BJP as a strong rival to the ruling Trinamool. This has implications for national politics as well. The absence of a concrete ideology of the TMC in face of a well ideologically organised right wing political onslaught is compelling it to take populist measures in order to combat (if wanted to do at all). There is also an allegation of mutually sowing seeds of polarisation to eradicate the secular, progressive forces in the state. From the early days of national movement the right wing and their school of thought was there, solidly anchored into the ground. However, after the change of the guard in 2011 they have come out into the open on an unprecedented scale. This surge is essentially due to the lack of a concrete political ideology on part of the ruling TMC. The policies and politics undertaken by the TMC government have paved a solid pathway for the dormant right wing force to taste blood.
The whole process is an attempt to create a cultural environment free from politics – this is completely untrue because it is already known that all the ‘grant recipient’ clubs were assuming pivotal roles at different stages of elections favouring the ruling party. As some clubs are dominated by the BJP cadre, they have also started ‘festivals’ using this ‘grant’. Thus using a portion of government grants, the RSS-BJP are strengthening their foothold. Through these ‘festivals’ , the ruling party is cleverly giving space to the right wing across the land. The people of Bengal have never seen the aggression of the Hindu community with arms in the name of Ramnavami. In no case did the state administration take any action. As a result, the perpetrators are getting more courage to trample the progressive ideals with the long standing agenda of a communist free land.
Sourav Goswami is a political activist and a junior journalist in a leading Marxist daily Ganashakti (Peoples Power) News Paper in West Bengal. Email: email@example.com