The Latin design Divide et Impera, i.e. ‘Divide and Rule’ has been a very old European political strategy. British, in India, and other colonial rulers applied this (strategy) for dividing the people into various fictitious fragments so that they could not come together and fight unitedly against the despot. In India, the British exercised this policy for the first time in Bengal in the Battle of Plassey and later across the country. History, it seems, is repeating itself in Bengal when a fake narrative of “Bengali vs Outsider” is being created in the forthcoming Assembly elections in West Bengal. Basically, when politics is guided by vested interests, sadly, national and public interests are the biggest casualties. Sundry tactics are adopted, then, to protect and further these vested interests and (mis)rule. Time tested ‘Divide and Rule’ policy of colonial rulers comes in handy for such powers, which the present dispensation of Bengal is also trying to exercise.
Creating Revulsion for Non-Bengalis
Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee, facing a tough challenge of anti-incumbency in the upcoming Assembly elections in Bengal seeks to corner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and described it as an ‘outsider’ in Bengal. This is an effort also to lend a new spin to the fight. A new narrative of ‘Bengali vs outsider’ or ‘Bengali vs non-Bengali’ based on the premises of ‘Bangal Shudu Bangalider’ (Bengal is only for Bengalis) and ‘Abangali beriye jao’ (Non-Bengalis get out) is TMC’s latest creation. The concern that dovetails this narrative of hate and fragmentation is whether this prejudice is legitimate; and if it can withstand the constitutional, political, cultural and national litmus test.
At the constitutional level, if one examines, the phrase “Bengali vs Outsider” seems to hold little validity amongst educated minds. Albeit under the influence of fanatical politics, it has the potential of a ticking time bomb that threatens to blow up a peaceful nation into a bleeding one, as it has since the past few months in Bengal.
The Constitution of India, prepared under Harendra Kumar Mukherjee’s leadership, Vice President of the Constituent Assembly and a Bengali, and Babasaheb Ambedkar, Chairman of the Drafting Committee, does not differentiate between citizens. According to Article 5 of the Indian Constitution, any citizen will be a citizen of the whole of India and not just a State. Besides this, any citizen can fight election in any State or region of the country, not only of Lok Sabha but also the Assembly elections. It is mentioned in Article 173, clearly, that any Indian citizen is eligible to become a member of the Legislature of any State. This ‘Bengali vs Outsider’ slogan is a vain attempt to hide TMC’s failings through the tactics of distraction and has no standing on the constitutional criterion.
Mamata Banerjee’s insecurity driven taunt that Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah come from Gujarat, and despite so desire to ameliorate suffering of people in Bengal; is grossly unfair and reeks of unfairness. One must not forget that the PM or the HM of India belongs to the whole country and not to any State, as did the former President, Pranab Mukherjee.
If tested on a political pitch, a regional party in one State, according to the Representation of the People Act 1951, is an external party, technically, in another state. For example, the DMK of Tamil Nadu in Bengal or the Shiv Sena of Maharashtra in Tamil Nadu can be called an outsider party. However, the Constitution and the law of the land allows even such regional parties complete leeway to contest elections in ‘other states’. Here, one must remember that the political spheres of national parties like BJP, Congress or CPI (M), etc. is not confined to one single State and permeates all over India, which contest elections in almost entire country. Terming such parties ‘outsider’, shows a bankruptcy of political understanding. Interestingly, TMC labelling other parties as has been contesting elections in many States like Jharkhand, Bihar etc. outside Bengal.
Prabhu Shri Ram is being projected, deceitfully, to divide the people as the cultural icon of only North India and an outsider for Bengali culture. One must remember that among Indo-Aryan languages, after Sanskrit and Apabhramsa, the first Ramayana was composed not in Hindi or Gujarati but in the Bengali language
Reverence for Bharat Mata
Besides this, the phrase ‘Bengali vs. Outsider’, on the cultural plane, is entirely unacceptable as Bengal and India's rest are a unified whole and integral to each other’s identity. In fact, on an individual level, Bengal is the cultural soul of India. ‘Bharat Mata’, India’s most popular symbol is a classic case in this instance. It is important to note that although the birthplace or country has been envisaged as the Mother itself in India since ancient times, there are many mantras in Vedas maintaining “Earth is mother, I am son of the Earth” (Mātā Bhūmiḥ Putro’ haṃ Pṛthivyāḥ); but it was in the land of Bengal, where for the first time, this great land was referred to as ‘Bharat Mata’.
In 1873, the term ‘Bharat Mata’ was coined for the first time in Kiran Chandra Banerjee’s play “Bharat Mata”. Bharat Mata was conceived, here, as a goddess, blessing with energy and fervour the patriots in their fight against the British. Taking this concept further, in 1882, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, in his book ‘Anand Math’, depicted Bharat’s ‘Bhoomi’ (land) as Bharat Mata, which, later, was adopted as a symbol of Indian nationalism throughout the country. Subsequently, the famous Bengali painter Abanindranath Tagore, for the first time, made a portrait of Bharat Mata wherein she was depicted as a goddess attired in saffron having four arms, revered throughout the nation for eternity.
No child of Mother India is a child of a single State and orphan in the other, but is accepted as the entire nation’s child. Neither for Mother India nor for the upholders of its sovereign and constitutional framework is anyone an outsider or insider; from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Gujarat to Bengal and Arunachal, we all are Indians. One must not forget that another great soul, Swami Vivekananda, born in the land of Bengal, repeatedly proclaimed and felt proud that he was an Indian and not just a Bengali.
In the same vein, Prabhu Shri Ram is being projected, deceitfully, to divide the people as the cultural icon of only North India and an outsider for Bengali culture. One must remember that among Indo-Aryan languages, after Sanskrit and Apabhramsa, the first Ramayana was composed not in Hindi or Gujarati but in the Bengali language. Bangla poet Krittivas composed ‘Krittivasi Ramayan’, one century before, ‘Ramcharitmanas’, the most popular ‘Ram-Katha’, by Hindi poet Tulsidas. ‘Krittivasi Ramayan’ has the same popularity in Bengal as that of the ‘Ramcharitmanas’ in Hindi regions. It’s also worth noting that although ‘Ram-Kathas’ were written in almost all Indian languages, however, its immense popularity in Bengal can be gauged from the fact that after Hindi, most ‘Ram-Kathas’ have been written in Bangla. It’s not without reason that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s “Hare Rama-Hare Krishna” chant resonated in Bengal in the medieval period.
Prabhu Shri Ram Transcends Boundaries
Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel Laureate, hailing from Bengal, was also impressed with Shri Ram’s character delineated by Bhabatosh Dutt, a Padma Vibhushan awardee and noted educationist, in his book ‘Rabindranath Tagore on the Ramayana and the Mahabharata’. Tagore, himself, in his preface of dance-drama Rakta Karabi’, and in the poetic composition ‘Ahalyar Prati’, described Shri Ram’s character as synonymous with delightfulness, beauty, peace and greatness. It’s needless to reiterate that compartmentalising Shri Ram to a certain region of India or an ‘outsider in Bengal’ is the same sectarian political design.
During India’s freedom movement, a golden chapter in the history of modern India, the people of Bengal and other States dreamt to liberate not one state but all; their fight was for the Independence of the whole nation and all its countrymen, not just a state. All the Indians struggled as one, bonded by the strong feeling of togetherness and the need for restoring dignity of all. Even during our first freedom struggle of 1857, when Mangal Pandey of Awadh laid the foundation of the struggle in Barrackpore, Bengal, the desire was not to free one State nor to fight for the dignity of only a single group. Whether it was the agitation against the Partition of Bengal and the Swadeshi Movement of 1905, or the Champaran Satyagraha in Bihar by Gandhi, the Jallianwala Bagh agitation in Punjab or the Civil Disobedience and Quit India movement, or Netaji Bose’s attempt to rally forces for the ‘Azad Hind Fauj’; everyone’s goal was to achieve Independence, of not just one particular State, but of the nation as a whole.
Another dimension of this controversy is associated with the nation, national unity and integrity, which ‘Bengali vs. Outsider’ dispute can jeopardise. Many regional parties are trying to create a tension of ‘regionalism versus nationality’ for some time. Creating a bogey of pseudo-identity of such kind of sub-nationalism, to shine its politics, is inimical to the national spirit and national interests, endangering national unity and integrity.
It’s unfortunate that in the land of Bengal, a pioneer State spreading nationalism during the freedom struggle across the country, TMC, today, toeing the line of Tamil Nadu’s DMK and Maharashtra’s Shiv Sena etc., is trying to provoke the bogey of sub-nationalism and regional sentiment. This is a grave situation, especially when the country is facing China’s dangerous aggression, the nefarious activities of Pakistan, and Nepal’s unwanted stance on the instigation of China. Such instances of cheap politics weaken the nation and national spirit, which any responsible politician must avoid. It’s a bitter fact that if there is an election, there will be politics, but the electoral battle should be fought on ground realities of economic development, alleviation of poverty, national security and others, governed by a vision of progress.
Apart from this, instigating Bengali sub-nationalism and calling non-Bengalis as ‘outsiders’, renders 20 million Bengalis living in different states, outside Bengal, psychologically vulnerable. In addition to this, it should not be forgotten that in Bengal, especially in Kolkata, a large number of workers come from the surrounding states. Besides, rich Marwari community of Rajasthan also has a significant presence here. These non-Bengalis, constituting a good number of Bengal’s population, have played a substantial role in the building of Bengal. The ‘Bengali vs Outsider’ dispute aims to erode the spirit of unity, and usher in a new era of violence and turmoil at the behest of crude and insensitive political forces, vying to create a new tension for non-Bengalis in Bengal, and for Bengalis nationwide. Rabindranath Tagore would be a sad man today to see Bengal falling to ruins and his dream of “Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls… Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake,” crumbling.
The commoners of Bengal, it seems, have understood this time around the nefarious design of ‘Divide and Rule’ and made up their mind to usher in a new era in Bengal by defeating this fake narrative and bring “Asol Poriborton”.
(The writer is an academician teaching at the Central Department of Hindi, Delhi University)