While Syama Prasad Mookerjee strove hard to ensure that Bengali Hindus live and thrive in free India, his early death and a lack of leadership in West Bengal altered the political dynamics. In three odd decades, the CPI(M)-led Left Front changed the State’s demography
When Syama Prasad Mookerjee decided to “divide Pakistan” he had once famously quipped before Jawaharlal Nehru that while the latter had divided India, he (Syama Prasad) had divided Pakistan one of his principal objectives was to ensure that Bengali Hindus get a space where they can live and perpetuate culturally and civilisationally. In fact, on this issue, as in many others, Mookerjee received support from the indomitable Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Sardar Patel’s position on Bengali Hindu refugees, like that of Syama Prasad’s was unequivocal and forthright and in sharp contrast to Nehru’s dithering and confusion. In fact, Sardar Patel had argued that if the large number of Hindus from east Pakistan was made to leave their home and hearth due to “unsatisfactory conditions created there, the Pakistan Government must provide additional space for their settlement.”
By 1950, when the trickle of Hindu refugees from east Pakistan converted into a wave because of the intensification of anti-Hindu pogrom, Sardar Patel, according to author Durga Das, “gave out that if Pakistan could not guarantee safe and honourable existence to the Hindus, it must be made to yield a part of east Bengal to India for their rehabilitation”. Sardar Patel’s attitude in support of the Bengali Hindus so unnerved and flared Nehru that he offered to resign. A study remains to be done on how Nehru displayed a step-motherly attitude towards the Bengali Hindu refugees, refusing the proposal of a complete exchange of population on India’s eastern flank, stalling any effort at giving adequate succour and compensation and always insisting that the Bengali Hindu refugees go back to their lands in east Bengal and continue living there despite acute persecution and insecurity. In the case of refugees from Punjab, as historian Prafulla K Chakrabarti pointed out in his classic study of the refugee movement in Bengal, The Marginal Men, “The rehabilitation of Punjab refugees was undertaken with the zeal of a man who knew that he could not neglect the issue and stay in power.”
But in the case of the Bengali Hindu refugees, Nehru applied an altogether different yardstick, he vehemently opposed any effort at “rehabilitation” and pushed for according only temporary shelter. Chakrabarti argued thus, “Nehru never ceased to rant against such a solution [exchange of population in the eastern sector] although he had precisely accepted such a solution in Punjab. An exchange of population was not a communal solution. It was the inevitable consequence of partition of India on a communal basis…”.
Mookerjee’s purpose in insisting that Bengal be partitioned and not handed over in its entirety to bring to fruition Jinnah’s dream of a consolidated Pakistan, saved Kolkata and the Bengali Hindus and ensured for them a spatial contour where they could live and thrive in free India. His refusal to go along with the pipe dream of a “united sovereign Bengal” floated by HS Suhrawardy and the ageing Sarat Bose, ensured that West Bengal survived as a separate entity. However, his early death and the lack of a cohesive leadership in West Bengal which could continue speaking and working for the Bengali Hindus, altered the political dynamics. In fact, his narrative of ensuring West Bengal as a space for Bengali Hindus has been systematically eroded, and he himself relegated by the comrades, the Congress and the Trinamool Congress as a communal figure best left untouched and uncelebrated.
In the last four decades, the dynamics of Bengal politics has further altered especially its demographic and denominational dimensions. In three odd decades that it had ruled West Bengal, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front assiduously worked to change the demography of the State. Much like the Congress in Assam, the CPI(M) in West Bengal allowed and encouraged infiltration from Bangladesh, looked the other way when such an influx generated social and denominational tensions and used the official State system to officialise the infiltrators and cede them political space and voice. The Bengali Hindus who came over as refugees were coerced into silence with the threat of being pushed out.
While presiding over one of the biggest de-industrialisation movement in the history of India or perhaps the world, while initiating the process of an acute politicisation of an entire education system, while perpetrating one of the most violent political culture that spit on India’s democratic aspirations, the CPI(M) also incubated Islamist groups and formations that indulged in political brigandage and lumpenism in order to sustain the communist brand of liberation politics. So consumed were the comrades with this radicalisation of West Bengal, so captive were they to Islamist vote-banks that, as a rule they glossed over any incident — much the same way West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee does now which adversely affected the Bengali Hindu. Thus, rapes and assault on Hindu women in fields in villages along the border drew from the patrician comrade Jyoti Basu, the derisive question, “Why do they go there?” Comrade Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, must to his chagrin, was forced to retract a statement he had made on the mushrooming of illegal madrassas along the West Bengal border and the threat they posed to national security.
Taslima Nasreen’s hounding in 2007 was of course one of the last and most grotesque manifestation of the result of appeasement politics in West Bengal during the CPI(M) rule. Deganga pogrom in 2010, where Hindu places of worship were vandalised and Hindus prevented from observing Durga Puja, indicated the nadir that had been reached. It was a TMC MP who had fanned the fires in Deganga and thus Ms Banerjee too, along with the comrades, kept silent. Both the TMC and the CPI(M) have been, as subsequent events have proved, complicit in the neglect and marginalisation of the Bengali Hindus in West Bengal, using them as pawns in their power games and doing precious little for their collective welfare and empowerment.
Even in the Kaliachak incident, the CPI(M) politbureau which otherwise passes resolutions on all and sundry issues, was silent, talking only of law and order and of course, as is its obsession, blaming the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party! The Congress, as a marginal player in West Bengal since 1977, has of course gone along with this marginalisation of Bengali Hindus, ignoring the legacies of BC Roy, Surendra Mohan Ghose and others.
Ms Banerjee has out shone the CPI(M) in its own game of radicalising Bengal’s political space. Kaliachak is the latest symptom of this radicalisation. The TMC’s welcoming and sheltering rabid elements of the Bangladesh Jamaat, its silence on the Khagragarh blasts Ms Banerjee’s ridiculous bamboo-like statement that India’s external intelligence agencies were behind it revealed her actual state of mind the TMC’s patronage of Islamist lumpens who changed sides after the 2011 Assembly elections — one may recall how the Mamata Government gave permission for a massive rally organised by a section of TMC’s minority leadership in March 2013 in the heart of Kolkata in support of the Jamaat in Bangladesh her repeated refusal to condemn attacks on Hindus, their localities, markets and homes, is in fact intensifying and expediting the radicalisation of West Bengal. Yet, post Kaliachak, no Bengali intellectual dared condemn the episode, or write letters against it to the President of India complaining of intolerance, nor did they take out candle marches or castigate the Chief Minister, these are obviously reserved for the plebeian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and not for the Tagore-loving, easel-handling and Islamist-abetting Ms Banerjee!
West Bengal is again at a crossroads with its very raison d’être facing a formidable challenge.