Have you ever felt like a stranger in your own house? Treated like an alien in your own homeland? Seems like an impossible proposition, but ask any native of Assam and he will cite several instances when he felt homeless in his own land.
The larger Indian psyche, often out of ignorance and, at other times, out of apathy, fails to register that Assam and the Assamese consciousness are as much a part of India as the rest of the mainland’s citizens. And that is where it all begins. Assam’s problem has never been India’s problem and Assam’s story has never been India’s story, be it in the media, history books, cultural manifestos, and political and infrastructural ambitions.
Talk of how, year after year, the state sees perennial floods which affect 2-3 million people in over 27 districts, causing deaths, forcing over 40,000 people into relief camps, submerging more than 1 lakh hectares of agricultural land. Yet, Assam suffers silently and nobody knows about it, thanks to the media looking the other way.
Talk of connectivity issues which the region has struggled with for decades now, with its first MMLP being set up only this year.
Talk of the 600-year old reign of the singular and glorious Ahom dynasty, which shaped the region’s prosperous history, preventing both the Mughals in the Middle Ages and the British until 1826 from setting foot there—and which hardly finds any mention in the history curricula in India. It is no surprise, therefore, that Assamese students shoulder a rich legacy, which the rest of their counterparts hardly know of and, hence, often condescend.
Talk of the Assam Agitation, which claimed young lives over the burning issue of indigenous identity and rights, and gave birth to the Assam Accord, which is a reminder of the courage and uprightness of this peace-loving people. While others take their “Indian-ness” for granted, the Assamese have burnt their own flesh and blood on the pyres of citizenship to protect their Indian identity.
Talk of the state’s demographics. According to the Hazarika Commission report (constituted in 2015), the number of Hindus in some of the most vulnerable districts—Goalpara, Dhubri, Bongaigaon, Kamrup and Nagaon—has been falling drastically while that of the Muslims has registered a sharp rise. This is primarily due to the influx of Bangladeshi immigrants. According to some studies, the Hindu population in Goalpara, for instance, was a little over 54% in 1951. It came down to about 38% in 2011 and is expected to decline further to nearly 23% by 2051, going by current trends. Similarly, in Nagaon, it went from 59% in 1951 to 45% in 2011 and is projected to be 30% in 2051. On the contrary, the Muslim population has gone up from 43% in 1951 to 56% in 2011 in Goalpara, from 40% to 55% in Nagaon, and from 29% to 39% in Kamrup. Going by these figures, at least four districts will turn into Muslim-majority ones, after being Hindu-majority for decades, as a result of illegal immigration.
Independent estimates put the number of illegal immigrants in Assam at 1.5 million to 2 million—or roughly 25% of the total Muslim inhabitation in the state. Obviously, this has led to drastic changes in the demographic profile of Assam, creating social discord and unrest. These illegal immigrants have managed to secure all sorts of state-documents and availed various government schemes, including the MGNREGA and National Rural Health Mission. Thus, they have largely cornered the benefits, sheltered and patronized by the then government seeking to create potent minority vote-banks out of these illegal immigrants—leading to legal citizens losing out.
The Bangladeshi illegal immigration has had security implications for India too. Several armed insurgent groups such as the ULFA based themselves in Bangladesh. It was not just a matter of sanctuary. These outfits have been able to operate because of the networking they created among the illegal immigrants living in India. Besides, some of these organizations are said to have developed contacts with known anti-India groups such as the Harkatul-Jihadi-e-Islami (HuJI).
The Hazarika Commission categorically states that illegal immigrants will reduce the indigenous Assamese population to a minority in the region by 2047. Consider the CAA and proposed NRC against the backdrop of the above facts and figures, and it will not be difficult to comprehend why, while the rest of India cries foul, Assam is in favour of the NRC, albeit with certain modifications. In fact, many opine that the drastic demographic alterations in Assam are a precursor to the fate of India if the NRC is not implemented at the earliest.
Ever since the CAA came into force on 10 January 2020, there have been many voices from the region demanding how the number of tentative migrants could be as low as 40 lakhs. It is expected to be much higher, having built up over decades. Similarly, Assam insists on having a cutoff date for migration from Bangladesh, precisely 1951, instead of March 24, 1971 (while the cutoff date for rest of India is July 19, 1948), irrespective of the religion of the migrant seeking refuge in India. Although, the Indian government seeks to make an exception for Bengali Hindus who migrated to India from Bangladesh before 1971, Assam is completely opposed to this provision, and, if you consider how the state has been economically and socially burdened to the point of dilapidation due to illegal influx over several decades, it makes sense.
The conflict that has erupted in many pockets of Assam is also fallaciously viewed through the prism of Hindu-Muslim tensions alone. The ethnic aspect of the matter cannot be ignored here. A significant chunk of people in Assam is averse to citizenship being granted to Bengali Hindus who fled Bangladesh as refugees. According to them, the present national government is attempting to make Assam a dumping ground for Bengali Hindus through an amendment of the Citizenship Act which seeks to grant citizenship to minority communities in neighbouring countries. In other words, the Assamese are sceptical that the present government seeks to replicate what the Congress regime did for decades – building minority vote banks by legitimizing illegal migration with relevant documents and patronage.
Due to this, there is a significant possibility of the state witnessing a three-way communal strife between the Assamese, the Bengali Hindus and Bengali Muslims. However, there is another section of Assamese people, a much larger section presumably, although not as vocal as the other, who are of the opinion that Bengali Hindus do not pose a threat to their way of life, as compared to Bengali Muslims, and that those primarily responsible for the ongoing influx of illegal immigrants into Assam are Bengali Muslims. Therefore, depending on demography, conflicts have taken a religious angle in some regions and an ethnic angle in others.
However, the dominant response from all over the country, to Assam’s opposition to CAA and NRC in its present form, has been calling the native Assamese as “anti Bengali”. But the facts are far from this and the Assamese is only voicing his existential predicament through protests. Anakshi Dev Choudhury, a consumer insights professional and an Assamese settled in Mumbai, says, “As a proud Assamese, I do not want to be a minority at home. My family did their bit for the state, now how do I watch the culture and heritage be washed away? People who are not considered legal citizens of the nation in other states, how can they get voting rights in Assam?”
Tripura, for example, was home to a diverse mix of over 15 tribal communities. Today, it is a 65% Bengali state. What then happened to the indigenous people? Look at the international borders around the state if you need an answer. The insecurity of the Assamese is due to several factors and a Citizenship Bill and the NRC should aim at assuaging those sentiments rather than opening a can of worms that will erode the socio-political and cultural fabric of this beautiful and peaceful region further.
To these are added the reduction of CAA and NRC into brazen political ammunition, whereby politicians across most political outfits are using it as an election agenda and furthermore as an unabashed tool of harbouring Islamophobia. Assam is a fertile ground for the blossoming of diverse cultures and religions in harmony: Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Bengali, Assamese, Marwari, several tribal ethnicities, all flourishing together without asserting hegemony over the others. However, political motives and vendetta aim to project Assam as averse to cultural and religious multiplicity in the wake of the CAA and proposed NRC.
We have to be realistic about current circumstances. There doesn’t appear to be a solution which would please everybody, and Assam with the entire Northeast appears to be on the verge of turmoil which it cannot escape. Illegal immigration is like cancer and, sometimes, the only solution to chemo. Many a times, even chemo may not help. A forced deportation of 40 lakh people (the numbers might reduce considering they still have time to appeal and prove their citizenship) might be that chemo, although such an exercise appears impossible to carry out. The Assamese, who are very naturally and thankfully still a majority in their own state, feel threatened by existential and political abnegation.
Let us therefore address the elephant in the room for the way it is, and not as a Hindu versus Muslim or Assamese versus Bengali issue. The CAA and NRC, framed in a way that reflects the wishes of the nation, its people and its inherent socio-political soul, would perhaps be our best foot forward to deal with the cancer of illegal immigration under the present circumstances.
The writer is founder and editor-in-chief of Tribe Tomorrow Network. The views expressed are personal.
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Our vision is to change bamboo perception from poor man’s timber to wise man’s timber: Yogesh Shinde, Founder, Bamboo India
Founder of Bamboo India Yogesh Shinde recently joined NewsX for an thought-provoking chat as a part of NewsX’s special series ‘NewsX India A-List’. In an exclusive chat, Mr. Shinde said that the motto of Bamboo India is to reduce the usage of plastic by replacing it with bamboo in our daily lives.
Yogesh Shinde, the founder of Bamboo India, recently joined NewsX for an exclusive chat as part of its special series NewsX India A-List. In an exclusive interview, Mr Shinde talked at length about the necessity to reduce plastic, which could be possible only by the advent of bamboo. Bamboo India has been manufacturing local grown bamboo, which can be the most effective solution to reduce the usage of plastic. “To contribute something to India’s economy brought me back. In any time in the future, when the history will be written, I will be known as a contributor, not as a spectator. ” exclaimed Mr. Shinde, who had been a part of the corporate culture but decided to walk on the path of social entrepreneurship owing to his growing concern over increasing pollution in India.
Tracing the journey of the inception of Bamboo India, Mr Shinde said, “The inception of Bamboo India occurred with the vision of ‘Brush, Collosion, Awake’. The motto behind the establishment of the company has been the reduction of plastic with bamboo. India is the second largest bamboo growing country but is not contributing to the bamboo world market. We are not even in the top ten list to import the products. On top of that, we are the world largest bamboo importer. That made me very scared and I thought that we must do something about it. Our target is very simple. We want to reduce plastic waste from our mother Earth.”
Interestingly, Bamboo India is also known to make very innovative products, one of them being the bamboo toothbrush. Emphasising on the need to reduce plastic and shift from plastic toothbrushes to bamboo ones, Mr. Shinde stated, “Plastic toothbrushes are one of the leading pollution contents in the world. As every one of us have been talking about the increasing global warming, I, as an individual, thought of manufacturing bamboo toothbrushes in India. We are one of the first companies to have started manufacturing bamboo toothbrushes with local grown bamboo”. He believes that the usage of sustainable products will be a long term affair. Applauding those individuals for their effort in promoting the principles of sustainability on social media and playing an important role in the reduction of plastic, Mr. Shinde calls them ‘the real superheroes’.
The path to sustainability, which has been led by Bamboo India, has also provided inspiration to other companies to manufacture bamboo toothbrushes. Commenting on the journey of Bamboo India so far, Mr. Shinde said, “To convert the bamboo perception of poor man’s timber to wise man’s timber is what our journey is all about.”
When asked about the challenges one has to confront while running a social entrepreneurship enterprise, Mr. Shinde said, “The first challenge is definitely fundraising. As Bamboo is not a traditional business in India, we faced difficulties in terms of financing. None of the single companies has offered us a loan because they did not understand the potential of bamboo and that is not the end of the world for us. We get funds from friends and family”.
Sharing his vision of the company, Mr Shinde said, “In the next five years, all our products will be available at local medical stores. Till the last four years, we have been a small startup. We have reduced 14 kilograms of plastic with our own initiative. Once the media starts showing interest in the venture, it will be a wildfire and more plastic would be reduced. Bamboo toothbrushes would be available in the supermarket across India by end of this year and maybe the next year, this product will be available all across the globe”.
‘Startup is all about scaling up’: Disha Singla, Co-founder, Supreme Incubator
In an exclusive interview with NewsX, Disha Singla talks about her journey, the future of startups, and how Supreme Incubators is leading the way for new startups in India.
Disha Singla, Co-founder of Supreme Incubator, recently joined NewsX for an insightful conversation as part of its special series NewsX India A-list. In the exclusive interview, Disha spoke about the inception of Supreme Incubator, the functioning of a startup incubator, future of startups in India and how her organisation is paving the way for young entrepreneurs to lead a change.
Speaking about the inception of Supreme Incubators, Disha said, ”A couple of years ago, I went to a business school in the USA to pursue my degree with a major in entrepreneurship. I spent a lot of time around startups there. In fact, my own startup was incubated by my university. I got connected with mentors and potential investors over there while working with other startups, who were at the same initial stages. All of this inspired me to further pursue my passion. When I came back to India, I hosted some events here and received a great response. We started receiving applications from all over the country and we connected those startups to potential investors and mentors and received phenomenal feedback from them. It has been two years now since the inception of Supreme and it has been going great. We are focussing on Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities, we uplift the startups by connecting them with potential investors, experts, and specific mentors so that they are able to grow in a short period of time.”
Giving our viewers an insight into the functioning of an incubator, she said, “An incubator takes action towards creating an adept ecosystem by connecting them with experts and advisors. These mentors are expert in their domains and have led their own successful ventures. They are leading large corporations so they know how to run large organisations. We at Supreme have mentors from different fields, some mentors are experts in business and technology while many of them are experts in artificial intelligence.”
Further emphasising how Supreme is different from other incubators, Disha expressed, ”We focus more on a personalised approach. Every start-up, which is accepted in our cohort, gets personalised assistance and guidance as per their industry type. We provide industry-specific mentors to them so that they receive mentorship and guidance throughout their tenure, which will help them to move in the right direction in the least possible time.”
When asked about her views on the start-up ecosystem in India and how it has changed and evolved over the years, Disha said, ”The startup ecosystem has definitely developed at a very fast pace over the last 10 years, especially over the past 5 years. When I was in high school, I used to keep up a lot with news-related to business. Earlier, when we used to hear the word ‘startup’, we had to understand what it is but now everyone seem to say that they want to get into the start-up ecosystem. Startup is all about scaling up. There are a lot of challenges and the success ratio of startups are very low. Yet everyone is excited about this term ‘startup’. We have also seen a lot of companies coming up in India, with so many success stories. I think everyone gets motivated to pursue the field that they are passionate about.”
Finally, on a concluding note, Disha shared her vision of the company and expressed that the company is looking forward to work with startups that offer different niches and who are determined towards uplifting and volunteering for a social cause. ”At this point in time, as an incubator, we accept startup applications from different industries so, in the coming years, we definitely want to get into different niche segments and to connect to those startups which are focussed on non-profit ventures and startups doing some social cause. we would definitely like to pursue startups from these niches as well,” she stated.
Fashion isn’t just about a fashion show, catwalk, behind the scenes or what we see on Instagram: Rina Dhaka
In an exclusive interview with NewsX, Rina Dhaka, one of India’s most celebrated fashion designers, spoke about her journey so far, changes in the fashion industry and much more. Read on!
Rina Dhaka, one of India’s most celebrated fashion designers, joined NewsX for an exclusive interview as part of NewsX India A-List. She burst on to Indian fashion scene in the late 80s and has showcased her work at The Louvre Paris, and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York among many others.
Talking about her incredible journey so far, she said, “When I came around, there was no such career path for people in designing as such. There was late Rohit Khosla as a designer and there was Ritu Kumar in the northeast. But this whole industry as such didn’t exist. My journey, in fact, is what youth is, youth is all about innovation. That was the need of our hour. Our hour means, me and my contemporaries like Rohit Bal and Tarun Tahiliani; we all came around at a time and we were very heady with that period of time. There was no concept really about money, it was all about creativity, craft and trying to pursue some kind of fashion. In fact, at par with the rest of the world, there was really no design industry, even in the west. There were high street stores like Selfridges, Bloomingdales in America. Designers, as a category of clothing, came about the same time as us. And look where it is today. We have schools of fashion, we have students coming out of these great schools every year and there is a booming trade and industry. When we found the FDCI, we were just nine members. Over a cup of chai every evening and a few laughs, we created this body of FDCI. Today it itself has millions of followers on Instagram and it runs successful events like fashion weeks, which can help designers in India and internationally come together and get work. So yes, fashion has really been a long way and my journey is that journey too.”
Expressing her views on how the landscape of the fashion industry changed over the years, especially with inclusion of issues that matter to young people like body positivity and inclusivity, she said, “Lakme approached me to do a plus-size show and we did the casting for plus sizes. This was, i think two years or maybe two and a half years ago. There were 300 models, who came for audition, we only announced an hour before. Fabulous, body positive, not shy, very confident, and frankly, they could do runways anywhere. These are plus-size models. And one of the girls I picked out from a crowd called Sakshi. She has gone on to be on the cover of every national magazine. Today, she is India’s most celebrated model. Now in fashion weeks, we have to have a better ratio of plus-sized models as well. This is where the journey of inclusivity has got us and then the noise that we made in the years prior to that, took us there. I’m really happy that it’s no more about a size eight, which is called a sample size and passion because we always made samples are the first pieces on that size, which was the model sizing. Today, a sample size is also a plus size.”
When asked about the difficulties faced by the fashion industry in the past one year and are things coming back to normal, she responded, “Fashion is actually one of the trades which teaches you, especially for all of us who have been designers and my contemporaries. We are always in competition, we’re always running to the next season. We’re always pressured against, what we call a deadline, and the deadline has the word ‘dead’ and it’s not a fake word. It really is that you have to die before you finish the clothing. You are really as good as your last collection or your last show. The year was hard. Everything was shot and the costs were high. There was also the demand totally shrunk. People realised that. My own very old client, who always has to buy something new that I have to offer, who is also like my muse, said, ‘Rina, what have I been doing with my life? Where am I going to go wearing these coats? I don’t know what I’m going to do, I have no need. I have decided not to be an active consumer anymore’. This was like what the industry faced, especially the luxury industry of ours. In terms of exports as well, there were a lot of uncertainties, fears with stores, closing down, customers patterns, buying patterns and needs changing. ‘How do you reinvent yourself’ was something we all learnt. We’re on that journey now, we’re on that road now. I must say we’re like roaches, we will survive because our trade has taught us such. So, you can’t write us off as yet. We just go through, go through this.”
On a concluding note, she shared a piece of advice for the young designers and said, “Have strong health. Don’t ever ignore your health because you need health. A lot of these children go out and eat on the roadside food. Some of them succumb to jaundice, there were a lot of interns who would get jaundice because of the water, in the early days, not now maybe now they’re more aware. Second, Fashion isn’t a fashion show or a catwalk, behind the scenes or what we see on Instagram, or social media or television. In reality, it is quite dreary and dreadful. It is a lot of pursuit. You go into these dirty lanes following your garment or where it’s made to get it done. One has to be prepared for the monotony of the daily life that you need to pursue to stay in the grind of completing your work. ”
Sachin Sinha on how IQLECT’s BangDB is solving data-related problems
Sachin Sinha, founder and CEO of IQLECT recently joined NewsX for an insightful conversation on data analytics and Artificial Intelligence as part of its special series NewsX India A-List. On a mission to solve data-related problems using AI, his company aims to create a cost-effective AI-enabled data analytics platform. IQLECT’s novel database BankDB performs 2X better than most of the leading big products in the market.
“We want to simplify and democratise the way data is being ingested, processed, and analysed so that any big or small company can leverage the intelligence of data, apply it in the ongoing operations, and take the benefits of the data. We work towards simplifying the whole procedure and make it available for everyone, not just the big enterprises,” said Sinha.
IQLECT presents a method of converging everything data-related to its clients so that one doesn’t need to collect different data from different sources. He shared, “We have created a platform and if you think of it as a black box, then what comes at the top is the set of domain-specific solutions. We have created different applications that cater directly to all kind of domains, where all the user has to do is a sign-up and get ready to receive benefits of the platform.”
Speaking about the range of product lines offered by his company to its clients, Sinha said, “Let’s say if someone is running a consumer internet service, and wants to understand every single user in a better way so that they can ensure engagement to have a better conversion rate at the end of the day, they can use our ShopIQ app. Once you plug it in, you will start getting all the intelligence instantly which is the core of your every single customer on the visitor domain. You can then decide what appropriate action needs to be taken.” When asked about the expansion of his company, he replied that not only big but small businesses are also collaborating with the organisation and the company’s focus is currently on the infrastructure domain.
Talking about their most highlighted product BangDB, a novel database and first of its kind from Asia, that performs 2X better than most of the leading big products in the market, Sinha emphasised, “We want to analyse the data as it is being generated. If you see this from a layman’s perspective, data, like vegetables, are perishable. If you don’t use it immediately, its value gets decreased by 80% so you need to capture the data to extract the intelligence. BangDBcomes with an inbuilt streaming engine and processing workflow which you can utilise to ingest any kind of data. As long as you have BangDB, it can ingest any kind of data irrespective of its shape, colour, and size.” What makes the product novel is that it has been completely built in India from scratch.
On the incorporation of AI in BangDB, he expressed that the product allows the user to have a predictive analysis as it requires latency in terms of rapidness. “You need AI to be present where the data is instead of taking the data to the AI. Since BangDB deals with the data, we can’t offload the responsibility of AI to the user. Hence, what we have done instead is integrate both the AI and the data so the data remains right where the BangDB is. Once you have the BangDB, you have the AI as well as the streaming which will allow you to easily ingest the data and the AI would then do the predictive analysis.”
Throwing light on its market functionality in India, Sinha said that the risk-taking capabilities in the market have increased over the years. BangDB has filed for dozens of patents and already got a few along with backing from many leaders. The community version of the database is available free of cost and allows the user to ingest and extract data and intelligence. As IQLECT looks to take head-on some of the leaders in the global market, he said, “We are the only company from India which has created such a high-core tech platform.”
FROM A MARGINAL PLAYER TO THE CUSP OF POWER: BJP’S BIG RISE IN BENGAL
The BJP, which had a vote share of 0.58% in the 1982 Bengal Assembly elections, is now all set to take part in a neck-to-neck battle with the current ruling party in the state. Despite facing violent attacks, the party has seen a meteoric rise thanks to its key strategists, the RSS’s careful organisational skills, and the TMC’s many faults.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) contested the West Bengal Assembly election for the first time in 1982. The primary objective of the party was to create a nucleus for a future third force in West Bengal politics. The party contested 52 Assembly constituencies and got around 1,29,994 votes in the state.
From a vote share of 0.58% in the Assembly election in 1982 to over 10.16% in the 2016 Assembly elections, and from 0.4% in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections to over 40% in 2019, the BJP has come a long way in Bengal, laboriously treading on a road mired with thorns of propaganda, bloodshed and violence, losing 130 of its dedicated cadre and over 1,500 still in captivity, embroiled in false cases filed against them by a ruling regime that seems to be getting increasingly insecure by the growing popularity of the saffron party among the masses.
The BJP leadership wanted to rejuvenate the party with fresh faces before the 2016 Assembly elections. The central leadership wanted an organisation man and a new face to take on the TMC. Dilip Ghosh was brought in. He hailed from the Jungle Mahal’s Gopiballavpur.
His predecessor had been hesitant to launch full-scale verbal volleys at the Bengal CM, but Dilip Ghosh did not mince words in his scathing attacks upon Mamata Banerjee and her government. People thought the BJP was reluctant to take the TMC head-on, but Dilip’s arrival changed that perception for good. He took on Mamata right, left and centre. It gave confidence to workers and to voters too.
However, that landed him in situations where he and his convoy were attacked several times by the cadre of the ruling party in Bengal.
Sadly, after Mamata came back to power with an overwhelming majority in 2016, utilising the many attacks on the BJP state president, the BJP was not able to capitalise on plenty of existent issues to launch an aggressive campaign against the TMC. Sambit Pal, in his book The Bengal Conundrum, observes that be it in the May 2018 Panchayat elections or the proposed Rath Yatra in December 2018, the BJP leadership was busier fighting the TMC government in the courts rather than on the streets of Bengal. When the BJP planned five Rath Yatras in December 2018 across the state, culminating in the Modi rally in January 2019 at Kolkata’s Brigade Parade Ground, the TMC refused permission citing law and order issues. The BJP in turn did not aggressively campaign against the Mamata government and instead took the matter to court. Many such incidents exposed the BJP’s lack of organisational capabilities to act as a formidable opposition.
Around this time, the BJP launched the mantra of “win the booths, win the Assembly”. Despite early setbacks, Amit Shah set a target and directed each worker to visit at least 4-5 houses in every booth. The idea was to spread out to around 80,000-odd booths in the state and form a strong organisational net. Over the next year, the BJP recruited around 200 vistaraks for West Bengal.
In the meantime, attacks on BJP karyakartas continued. In Purba Burdwan Kalna district, BJP MP (nominated) George Becker was attacked when he visited the locality to attend a booth vistarak programme. This was not an isolated incident. Women leaders were not spared either—Mahila Morcha president Locket Chatterjee was also attacked in Birbhum district. BJP Yuva Morcha president Debjit Sarkar was arrested during a bandh called by the party against the killing of a school student in Islampur in North Dinajpur. The students and local people were protesting in Islampur against the appointment of an Urdu teacher when they actually needed teachers in other subjects. The boy met his end when the police opened fire on the agitating crowd.
THE BACKEND ARCHITECTS
In 2018, while Ram Lal and Shiv Prakash were already looking at boosting the organisational setup in the state, Amit Shah brought in Arvind Menon as deputy to Kailash Vijaywargiya, who was working as an observer for West Bengal. His job was to help Bengal BJP leaders mobilize grassroots workers and leaders to form booth committees, which was the goal of the national president. He started with North Bengal in 2018 to give a necessary boost to the workers and organisation, mixing with villagers and common people, thereby installing confidence in grassroots BJP workers. Meanwhile, Dilip Ghosh, working closely with strategist and defected TMC leader Mukul Roy, declared that the BJP was ready to take on the TMC in 60% of the areas. The BJP state president stood by the state party leaders and kept reiterating that the BJP was ready to take on Mamata Banerjee.
In 2018, the BJP’s electoral progress and success in the Jungle Mahal districts, especially Jhargram and Purulia, directly reflected the organisational boost. In Jhargram, the BJP bagged the majority of seats among 24 Gram Panchayats and 10 were hung as no party got a majority. In Purulia, the BJP got 10 Zila Parishad seats while the TMC got 25. In the Panchayat Samiti, the BJP was victorious in 142 seats and in Gram Panchayats, they won 644 seats. Mukul Roy can claim credit for this spectacular victory of the saffron camp because he used his sources in the TMC to extract unhappy workers from that party to vote and work for the BJP.
However, in May 2018, two BJP workers were found dead in Purulia in close succession. One of them was Trilochan Mahato, whose body was found hanging from a tree with the following written on his shirt in Bengali: “This is for indulging in politics from such a young age of 18. Been trying to kill you since the vote. Failed. But today you are dead”. This incident shook the state BJP thoroughly. The murder of two BJP workers in a district where the BJP had fared well exposed, on the one hand, their growing political acceptance and strength and, on the other, their inability and weakness in protecting their own cadre from such violence and atrocities.
Amit Shah further brought in the architect of Tripura victory, RSS Pracharak Sunil Deodhar, for a brief period to Bengal to assist Shiv Prakash, Arvind Menon and Kailash Vijaywargiya. The result of these behind-the-scenes architects’ relentless perseverance resulted in extending the party’s organization in a large number of villages and towns before the elections in 2019. From 452 mandal committees in 2015, the BJP reached 1280 in 2019. Setting up 12,407 shakti kendras and appointing 10,266 full-time shakti kendra pramukhs, many BJP district units got new party offices, bringing in much enthusiasm among the grassroots workers.
ROLE OF THE BJP IT CELL
Another organisation that gave the party and its leaders, workers and supporters the much-needed push was the IT Cell. Shiv Prakash brought in Ujjwal Pareek, a Kolkata boy, to head the BJP’s social media team in Bengal. The IT Cell’s job was to operate the “BJP4Bengal” Facebook page as well as its Twitter handle, apart from the 50,000-odd WhatsApp groups. When Mamata Banerjee reacted belligerently to the “Jai Shree Ram” slogan in West Midnapore’s Chandrakona, the IT Cell stitched together a video which asked the question, “Is it a crime to chant Ram’s name in Bengal?”. That video was made viral and it stoked a fire among Bengal’s masses, awakening their dormant Hindu religious sentiments, especially among the youth in the suburbia.
THE RSS ANGLE
The RSS through its shakhas and other social organisations has been able to influence people at the grassroots immensely. RSS activists don’t work directly for candidates but for ideas and issues which align with the RSS-BJP ideology. They form different organisations in different areas, for instance, in Hooghly during the last elections, they formed an outfit called the Hooghly Zila Janakalyan Samiti. This outfit’s job was to distribute leaflets and carry out a door-to-door campaign.
Until a few years ago, the RSS had about 700 shakhas in South Bengal and about 300 in North Bengal, but the figure went up in South Bengal to 1200 and to 400 in North Bengal by 2018.
It is the RSS which helped to capture and consolidate the Matua vote for the BJP before the 2019 elections, closely working with the Matua community and organising “mochchab” every fortnight. A “mochchab” is a community programme where members of the community socialise and share a meal together. The RSS used these informal meetings to discuss the NRC and Citizenship Bill/Act to gain the confidence of the community in favour of the saffron camp. Sambit Pal mentions in The Bengal Conundrum how, apart from organising mochchabs, the RSS also kept working with frontal organisations like the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram which works in tribal areas running hostels and schools like Ekal Vidyalaya and involving people in social activities, mass marriages, etc. The VKA did not directly participate in BJP politics but their social influence helped BJP gain popularity and credibility among tribal and backward populations in North Bengal. Other organisations like the Sree Hari Satsang Samiti helped the BJP make headway through the RSS activities without much publicity and politicking.
The Sangh outfits were also like a protective umbrella, always standing in support of Hindu groups whenever there were communal clashes in the state. Saffron flags in minority-dominated remote villages showed how these organisations helped to turn the story around for the BJP and also mobilised Hindu voters across suburban and rural Bengal, observes Pal.
With every by election in West Bengal since 2016, the BJP has gained in vote shares at the cost of the Left front. This vote shift peaked in the 2019 Lok Sabha election with the BJP winning 18 out of 42 seats. The BJP’s vote share shot from 10% in 2016 to over 40% in 2019, with the Left’s vote share declining from 27% to 7.5%, the Congress’s share collapsing by 7% and the TMC falling by 2%. In numbers, roughly 1 crore voters seem to have shifted their allegiance from the Left towards the BJP.
Dibyojyoti Basu, a senior journalist, opines that the main reason for the BJP’s rise in Bengal is the tyrannical nature of the Mamata Banerjee government. “Extortion and Chanda Raj are back with a bang in Bengal, much to the consternation of businessmen, commoners and the overall hoi polloi. People are disgusted with the misrule. Thus the cry for change,” he says.
TMC’S MINORITY APPEASEMENT POLITICS
Excessive minority appeasement by the TMC has also driven the Hindu voters away from it and towards the BJP. Once in power, Mamata Banerjee rolled out several Muslim-specific policies such as granting an allowance or stipend to imams and muezzins, extending scholarships to Muslim students of Class I to X, offering reservation to Muslim OBCs, banning the telecast of a drama series by controversial author Taslima Nasrin on the demand of conservative Muslim clerics, and making Urdu the second official language in districts where the Urdu-speaking population was more than 10%.
The Mamata government also gave a grant of Rs 300 crore to the Aaliah University, which was started during the Left front’s rule, and constructed special hostels for Muslim girls in districts.
Additionally, Mamata Banerjee increased the number of tickets given to Muslims in the Bengal Assembly elections. She covered her head and attended prayers in mosques, mixed Arabic words with Bangla in public meetings, roped in influential urbane Urdu-speaking Muslims and also gave more weightage to Urdu-speaking Muslims in her cabinet as compared to the previous Left government.
This kind of blatant appeasement of minorities has not augured well with most Bengali Hindus. Dibyojyoti Basu adds, “For the sake of Muharram processions the Mamata government postponed the Durga Puja immersion ceremony. The chief minister had also in the recent past objected to Ram Navami celebrations in Bengal.”
Dr Jayanta Gupta, a renowned gynaecologist in Kolkata, says that the TMC has resorted to minority appeasement to expand its vote base without any particular vision for the overall development of the state. The dole-outs have multiplied in 2021 keeping the election in mind, with Maa Canteen serving egg curry and rice for Rs 5, the Swasthya Saathi Card that promises treatment at government and private hospitals at shockingly unrealistic subsidies (no wonder the card is being turned down by most hospitals), financial grants to “paara” clubs (local clubs) working under the TMC banner at the expense of taxpayers’ money, etc.
Rampant corruption unleashed by the ruling party and widespread unemployment are also part of the cancer that is rapidly eroding Bengali society and unabashedly exposing the can of worms that the TMC has opened, resulting in the Bengalis’ patience wearing thin. The citizens of this state are now looking for change and the BJP with its pragmatic vision and nationalistic tone is increasingly finding a place among the masses, Gupta says.
What further adds to the BJP’s armoury is rampant corruption and widespread unemployment in the state, along with the widespread anger among the Matua community for being stateless and homeless in India for so many decades. The recently passed Citizenship Bill actually fulfils the Matua demand and hence gives the BJP a strong support base in the region. To add to Mamata’s worry is growing claimants for Muslim votes in the state—from AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi to the Indian Secular Front is backed by Islamic cleric Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui.
If several opinion polls are to be believed, it will be a neck-and-neck contest between the TMC and the BJP. It is already showing signs of going down to the wires for both the camps. It remains to be seen how the BJP will further galvanise public opinion against the ruling regime, now that the CBI enquiry into various scams has engulfed the Chief Minister’s nephew, Abhishek Bandopadhyay, and his wife, Rujira Narula.
The road to Nabanna still remains an uphill climb for the BJP because the steepest peaks will unravel themselves now that the election schedule has been announced by the Election Commission.
The writer is founder and editor-in-chief of Tribe Tomorrow Network. The views expressed are personal.
‘ANGANA MOREY’ HITTING NO. 2 ON BILLBOARD GLOBAL CHART A PLEASANT SURPRISE: SHREYA GHOSHAL
Singer Shreya Ghoshal recently got candid with NewsX in an exclusive interview as a part of its special series NewsX India A-List, wherein she spoke about her latest song release Angana Morey, her musical journey and more. Angana Morey is garnering a phenomenal response in India and around the world.
Not only the song is being loved by the listeners but is also smashing records of singers like Selena Gomez and has made it to number 2 on Billboard’s Top Triller Global chart. Angana Morey is even more special to Shreya as it is in collaboration with her brother Soumyadeep Ghoshal.
Expressing her gratitude to all the love and appreciation coming her way for Angana Morey, Shreya said, “While making this song, we did not have any such expectations. It’s a pleasant surprise and a great feeling. The fans are rejoicing. Somewhere they always hoped that Shreya or as they call me Shreya Di will make it to the Billboard one day. It’s a sweet gesture, I am elated and hope it’s the start.”
Sharing insights from the making of Angana Morey, she expressed, “Angana Morey was born in the lockdown so it was an interesting experience. Soumyadeep is a fabulous musician. This was our second project together. Over the phone and on video calls, we only talk about music and the possibilities of doing so many different things. He pushed me into it and said that don’t worry about what the trends are or what are people doing off late, you should do whatever you want. That is how Angana Morey was born. This is a very different song from my kitty and that’s why I went Indie. When you are doing independent music, you have no pressure of following any rules. So I broke all of them and did a slightly classical-based number with very modern, electronic and transient, groovy elements in it.”
Shreya spoke about her first song and how that proved to be a game-changer for her, “The first song that I did would always be the most momentous experience and time of my life. Bairi Piya from Devdas changed my life. I was around 16-years-old. Being called for a song like that by Sanjay Leela Bhansali for a film of that stature was unexpected. It was amazing and since then there has been no looking back. There have been many more such songs, milestones, concerts, world tours, and experiences that have added many more layers to my life and how my journey has moved from here to there but it’s too hard to count them now. I am blessed but I will always look back at my first song, my first film as the most sentimental, the most emotional and important milestone of my life.” On a concluding note, she crooned Ghar More Pardesiya from Kalank.
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