Bahujan Politics of Bengal and the Indian Secular Front | The Background

Monday, August 2, 2021

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Bahujan Politics of Bengal and the Indian Secular Front

Soumitra Dastidar

In the run up to the Assembly poll, there was a conscious effort to build a binary atmosphere via social media, in the main, throughout West Bengal- either BJP or Trinamool Congress (TMC). There are only two political forces to reckon with, nothing in between. In parliamentary democracy, you have multiple political system. But in election fight, it is found to turn into bipolar fight; nothing else matters much. Incidentally, in this election, the Left as well as the Congress have failed to win a single seat, which has bolstered the concept of this bipolarisation to a great extent. You might get millions of votes, but there is no need to give importance to it save appraising BJP and TMC’s. Media is called the ‘fourth estate’. But simply put, for advertising revenue or for cosiness to power, the mainstream media perpetually fails to come out of the binary politics and remains indifferent to the voices outside the periphery of this binary politics. Like it or not, the rise of ISF in the West Bengal Assembly election is a vital phenomenon. The melting away of the Left-Congress is being discussed at length. But no one bothers to analyse the rising of ISF. There is an eerie silence prevailing. But the only seat the Sanyukta Morcha was able to won was accomplish by a a party formed only three months back before the poll took place.

Post partition, it is for the first time, perhaps, a political outfit as small as ISF, has cut into the mainstream political arena of Bengal and has gained such a massive mandate. It took less than three years for a political party like Muslim League to disappear from the political scene of West Bengal. Owing to supremacist politics of the Congress party, the elite Muslims gathered under its umbrella for survival. In districts like Malda- Murshidabad- Dinajpur, minority vote bank was built for the ‘secular’ Congress. As a party, it wanted to mollify factionalism by using the Muslims captive through electoral politics. The Muslim elites too had their own calculation- to wipe out the ‘communal’ badge and mingling with the national politics as soon as they can. The nationalist Muslims, on the other hand, were dismayed by this sudden change of the ‘League’-affiliated Muslim politics. But they remained mostly silent and did not raise much hullaballoo as the Congress ‘syndicate’ overpowered them. After so many years, we are witnessing a successful application of ‘Bahujan’ politics espoused by Jogendra Nath Mondal and B.R Ambedkar through ISF.

Look at the programme of ISF. Please read the constitution of the party. It began with this; the name of the party is ‘Indian Secular Front’, ISF, in short. Here ‘Secular’ is not merely religious inclusiveness- it includes diversity in linguistics, castes, religions. Safeguarding language, religion, economic and political freedom of every citizen of the country is the objective and aim of the party. The party programme is candid when it says that it wants to establish a welfare state free of exploitation, which is an alternative to capitalistic society. It has stated to introduce free education till school final examination and has vociferously defended the water-forest-land rights.

ISF’s policy towards agricultural-industrial-health-education-employment sectors, doubtless, clearly point to a left orientated politics. It is clear and transparent, to say the least. After the verdict came out, those from the Left who are raising question regarding the alliance, equating ISF as a ‘communal’ outfit, expressing disdain are the product of age-old Manuvadi mentality. The programmes adopted by ISF have clear cut vision against divisive politics and Brahmanical-Manuvadi politics. So, it is only natural that the Varna Hindu Brahmanical political system of the state would be in jittery. But, in the long run, this jitteriness would be a positive sign for a political outfit like ISF to become more relevant throughout the country.

Instead of traditional Leftism, a neo-Leftism is on the rise (ascend). The traditional Left talks about class, belittling the caste equation most of the time. But, surprisingly, this neo-Left is talking about class politics in the garb of identity politics. The social superstructure of India is still feudal, patriarchal and Manuvadi in character. The conflict between the Manuvadi structure and the politics of Muslim-Dalit-Adivasi i.e. Bahujan politics has been going on in the society for a long time. Number of votes, or for that matter, winning or defeating in parliamentary politics, will not solve this conflict. It would not solve, for sure, the social conflict and who would ultimately dominate. The fangs of Hindutva would sharpen within this Manuvadi structure. That is definite. The corporate capitalism would gel further with this neo-Hindutva force. Neo-liberalism has struck a deadly blow to the marginalised section. Whenever ISF would utter the demands made by these marginalised people, it would go beyond community politics; it would become the voice of the voiceless.

During the election campaign, I was present in umpteen numbers of meetings organised by ISF. The babu bhadralok of the city, perhaps, would never comprehend the sheer spontaneous passion of the marginalised people. Unbeknown to most, new political vocabulary has cropped up in rural Bengal. In a remote village of Sasan, North 24 Parganas, as we were talking to local people, some of them remarked- CPM is nowhere to be seen. TMC is present with its might. But now here ‘Abbasism’ is gaining momentum. We are familiar with Marxism, we know a bit of Leninism too. But ‘Abbasism’ jolts us. The elite circle of the city is perturbed. A new narrative emerges outside the realm of this circle.

On the first Taraweeh namaz, incidentally, we slip into a two story building in Haraoa, where ISF candidate Kutubuddin Fatemi was praying on the rooftop. Fatemi was offering his munajat- O Allah! Please look after the poor Hindu and Musalman. Please look after friends and foes alike. Don’t pardon those people who exploit others. Please look after the agitating farmers. In the wee hours of the day, a new political narrative was on the making before our eyes.

Let us come to the point where we had started. The media harped all along election campaign on a binary narration. Nothing came up beyond that. The civil society of Bengal gave a damn about the new political narrative. ISF remains an untouchable entity belonging to Pirzada. A Pirzada wearing skull cap is bound to be communal- the elite circle is cocksure about it.

There was a concerted campaign to malign ISF. Allegations flew- BJP supplied money to ISF to divide Muslim votes. This vituperative attack was also supported by some ‘so-called’ Left leaders who questioned on the validity of the alliance. The idiosyncrasy of these leaders against ISF is concealed in their surnames. A bitter truth we have to accept. In this hard time, ISF has won the Bhangor assembly seat by over 28 thousand votes. It has come second in Haroa, Deganga, Asoknagar, Canning (East) and Amdanga securing huge votes. There should be a thorough research on this successful debut for a party which had been established in January this year, only three months before the election took place.

It is important because the politics of ISF is a paradigm shift in the history of West Bengal. We should put into perspectives some of the incidents and trends. We know that Malda, Murshidabad and Dinajpur had been a stronghold of the Congress party. The minority politics initiated by the party was done through the elitist section of Muslim community. In Murshidabad, it was Syed Badruddoza and later on it was ABA Ghani Khan Choudhury from Sujapur, Malda who took the initiative among others. They were all blue blooded Muslims. The hoi polloi followed them staunchly; a die-hard mass. But gradually it has thinned out. In this circumstance, the rise of ISF from the lower rank of the community is worth noting. The party has accumulated a huge percentage of votes mainly coming from the poorer sections of Hindus and Muslims in most of the seats they contested. If we only consider Muslim representation in the mainstream politics, the ascent seems to be exceptionally promising.

Secondly, it is partially true that TMC has got all the Muslim votes. Yes, a big chunk of Muslim votes went in favour of TMC. A large section from the community was apprehensive on the ascendant of BJP for many reasons. Their life could be in jeopardy if BJP comes to power was one among them and, nonetheless, that was a valid reason. So this swing towards TMC was mainly negative. On the other hand, ISF has secured massive votes in Bhangor and elsewhere. Almost 90 per cent came from the minority section of the society, which reflected the urge for education-health and overall development. That is, in all certainty, a vote for progress. This factor is not being discussed at all. It would have cleared the fact that in term of progress, ISF got a positive mandate. Wherever it has reached deeply or has campaigned well, the marginalised poor people has solidly favoured the party.

Simultaneously, it is also true there is a vehement opposition to Abbas Siddiqui from within a section of Muslim community as well. But, my assumption is, it is more sectarian than political. Pir followers versus Ahle-hadis versus Hanafi versus Jamaat i Islami- all these inter religious conflicts are having jarring effect on the political journey of ISF, for sure. It will be clear from this fact that the so-called ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ is a myth.

In the discourse of ‘Bahujan’ politics, Abbas Siddiqui is a marker. But the media has focussed all its attention on the persona and is deftly indoctrinating the public that barring him, there is no existence of the party or for that matter the ideology or the politics itself. The mainstream media is deliberately trying to derail the Bahujan politics; this is an age old Manuvadi trope and surprisingly the so called progressives are silent on this issue.

The rise of ISF in the parliamentary politics of the country is, doubtless, a rare occurrence. But post election, very few are deliberating on it, ignoring the phenomenon completely and pretending it as a bubble which has already burst off. But, this is a device very often applied in the mainstream politics. By ignoring the party, you are skirting the main issues. Those leftists who are criticizing ISF may well forget the fact that these people attended their election rallies in great strength. These were the people coming from the weaker sections of the society- poor labourers and farmers. They were like those lackeys, the foot-soldiers of the Hindu Zamindar culture of the past. The foot-soldiers were kept to give security to the feudal babus and this feudalistic attitude is still brewing in many of our left leaders.

In future, the neo-leftism of ISF would become more powerful. But first it should solidly strengthen its base. If it can maintain the spirit of Bahujan politics, Indian Secular Front would turn into a force of the poor Adivasi-Dalit-Minority sections of the society. In this epochal time, to ignore ISF would be a blunder; instead the phenomenon should come into the academic discourse more vigorously. Post partition, ISF is representing a new era. History will tell us, definitely.

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