April 12, 2021

Video: Is Modi's Kashi Corridor laying the ground for another Babri? | The Caravan Magazine


Since 2018, to make way for the Modi's Kashi Vishwanath corridor project, the Uttar Pradesh government has cleared 45,000 square feet of land surrounding the temple. Visible now, in clear relief, is the Gyanvapi mosque. Many in Varanasi see this as deliberate—a golden opportunity for Hindu groups to stoke communal tensions in the area, to their political benefit. Video by Rough Cut Productions. Read Sushil Kumar's report on the Kashi Vishwanath corridor here: https://caravanmagazine.in/religion/h...

Video: What a BJP Victory in Bengal Would Mean for India – a Step Closer to Hindu Rashtra | interview with political scientist Prof Partha Chatterjee (Bengali with english subtitles)


April 07, 2021

India - Delhi: Sai Baba Labelled a Muslim & Jihadi, Idol ‘Demolished’ in Shahpur Jat area

 o o

Communal politics

Labelled ‘jihadi’, Sai Baba’s idol demolished in Delhi. Hindu hardliner exults. Devotees despair

The demolition is inspired by the same ideas that animate attacks on religious minorities, say scholars.

Apr 04, 2021


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Delhi: Sai Baba Labelled a Muslim & Jihadi, Idol ‘Demolished’ 

“Sai Baba was a lawless raider. His name was Chand Khan. He was a jihadi,” Narsinghanand Saraswati said.
The Quint
“Sai Baba was a lawless raider. His name was Chand Khan. He was a jihadi,” Narsinghanand Saraswati said. | (Photo: Screenshot of video)


India: Dike Dike Hao Hushiar - Beware of the Communal Crocodile [ Song in Bangla] April 2021


India: Bengal is in the throes of unalloyed bigotry | Sankarshan Thakur (The Telegraph, 07 April 2021)

 The Telegraph

07 April 2021      E-paper

The air’s changing

STATE OF PLAY | Bengal is in the throes of unalloyed bigotry
Representational image.

Sankarshan Thakur   |     |   Published 07.04.21, 12:11 AM

One afternoon three or so years ago, I stepped out of our Calcutta offices for a smoke and a shot of bhaanr (earthen cup) coffee. Within earshot from where I stood is a small shrine to Hanuman that hugs the corpulent trunk of a banyan. The neighbourhood is a busy wholesale warren, scores pay obeisance to the deity as they pass by. That afternoon, a quite unusual devotee had arrived below the banyan. He wore a saffron shirt and a tilak emblazoned across his temple. There was a swagger to his manner. He hadn’t arrived to pray, he was hectoring the mahant of the shrine, a quiet, wizened man always turned out in dhoti and kurta. He sat there, in his implacable little space, hearing out what sounded more and more like a burst of bluster. Paraphrased, this is what the mahant was being told: the colour of the shrine is all wrong, it needs to be saffron, not white; it needs ornate lighting and it needs a loudspeaker which can drown out the azaan call that routinely rings out from a nearby mosque; it needs activity, bhajan and kirtan, some action. This was no way to run the affairs of a temple, help was required to assert its presence and help was at hand; “Panditji, kaho to log bhijwaaben? (Should I send men, Panditji?)” At this point, the elder could take it no more. He shed his calm and barked back: “Yeh Bangaal hai, aur yeh pracheen mandir aisehi rahega jaise rahaa hai, yahan tumahara hukmarani nahin chalega! Prasad lo aur badho aage!” (This is Bengal, and this is an old temple, it will run as it has run in the past. Your diktat will not work here, receive your prasad and carry on!) The visitor, most likely a sangh apparatchik out to push his authority, hovered a moment on the dare, then turned and picked his way.

Three weeks ago, I was in central Calcutta again, in the vicinity of the Hanuman shrine, in a similarly busy lane opening on Dharmatala. I saw a febrile chant stampede across the streets: ‘Jai Shri Ram! Jai Shri Ram!’ There was nothing like a prayer to the intonation of it; it was the bellicose outcry of assertion and arrival. It reminded me instantly of that afternoon three years ago, and it made me wonder if the mahant under the banyan would still be able to bark back in the face of the new refrain strutting the streets: “Yeh Bangaal hai!” If at all iterated, his riposte would sooner be drowned than heard in today’s Bengal.

Bengal is changing, or it already has; it isn’t the Bangaal the old mahant was invoking. We shouldn’t have to wait for the outcome of the assembly elections to acknowledge or understand that change. If Dharmatala is ready to echo the sectarian rabble-rousing of the northern heartland, something has changed, and it is not a fleeting change that will arrive and depart with election season. There is an unspoken, but probably well and widely understood, code to the ‘asol poribartan’ being promised — ‘real change’. It’s akin to the promise of ‘achchhe din’ whose distillation we all now know is unalloyed bigotry. Bengal is in the throes of it. It is a change that will leave much more than merely the banyan tree mahant censored.

I hope Bengal understands the meaning of it; I fear that it may not. I fear, even more deeply and despairingly, that it actually does. That a securely buried demon seed from the past has been watered, and coaxed to sprout. And that such sprouting has become, tragically, a vociferously celebrated thing. Do more Partitions await Bengal? Or, to put it more bluntly, are Bengalis happy to build welcome arches to another one? And if so, where do they intend to sow the walls? And how many?

I am not a Bengali, and I must seek pardon for affecting familiarity. I belong to a benighted neighbourhood called Bihar. Biharis have bestowed upon themselves the extreme poverty of pride, we are perhaps to Bengal what Sudama was to Krishna. But one of the things I did for the longest time take pride in was that Biharis were not sectarian about the daily conduct of their lives. There were flaming hiccups of infamy, of course — Bihar Sharif, Nawada, Bhagalpur. It cannot be said faith does not turn Biharis to bigotry; it often does, but the bouts came, most often, with a post-script of shame and apology. I come from a north Bihar village called Singhwara, which is twin to Paigambarpur. My grandfather’s most fulfilled afternoons were the afternoons on which he and Bachcha Mian from Paigambarpur would share a sip of tea and savories. Our rides home from the nearest railhead would always be on Wajib Mian’s open Willys. Singhwara households, even to this day, fetch their mutton from Daroga Mian and Ghafoor and Saddam, who have succeeded their father in the trade. But none of that is to suggest that cracks haven’t opened on either side of which we whisper unspeakable things and bear dark mistrusts. There were always walls, but there existed conversation across them. They shuddered when bricks began to be prised away for a project of ‘nationalist sentiment’. A few years down the line, all came asunder, but because it was patently a thing of sectarian pathology and hatred, it was no thing of pride.

When I arrived in Calcutta to work more than a quarter of a century ago, I discovered my world, shattered and shaken by what had befallen Bhagalpur in 1989, suddenly rejuvenated. The Calcutta street was the reconjuring of home. I discovered a city willing to embrace beyond distinction of class, creed, and tongue. Perhaps I was wrong even then, perhaps what I perceived was a delusional invention of desire. But it was real and tactile too, make no mistake. The lordly rested in their mansions, north and south of Park Street, but the lungi-clad daily wager looked no less lordly snoozing away a sweltering afternoon on the back of his cart, or bathing with abandon on the many hydrants that gurgle along the city’s streets. They earned a half a penny worth but they were afforded to believe themselves no less worthy. I hope I don’t sound like I am patronizing poverty; I merely wish to say pelf isn’t a precondition to pride, and Calcutta breathed that almost surreal egalitarianism. Perhaps it still does, but it is no longer possible to be sure. Can it be said for certain that the impulse convulsing across Bengal is an impulse that answers to humanity? Is it an impulse that sings the song Bengal’s great sons have bequeathed mankind? Is it not an impulse amplifying the chasm between shei samay and ei samay? Can anybody be certain that in the run-up to these elections the humanity that was Calcutta has remained a living thing, or not come under assault?

I wonder, and I have spoken from the heart; I am told that requires, in New India, an apology.


March 31, 2021

2021 West Bengal Polls: many left workers make the ideological shift to the right-wing party | report by Parth MN (Al Jazeera, 31 March 2021)

 al jazeera

Why ex-communists are joining Modi’s BJP in India’s West Bengal

With assembly polls under way, many left workers make the ideological shift to the right-wing party, which has never ruled the state.

A BJP supporter with his body painted gestures during an election rally addressed by India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Kolkata [Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP]
A BJP supporter with his body painted gestures during an election rally addressed by India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Kolkata [Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP]

Nadia, West Bengal, India – Kumaresh Adhikari became a political activist much before turning 18 – the age when you can vote in an Indian election.

In his teens, he would plaster the walls in his village in India’s eastern West Bengal state with posters of the party he believed in as he mobilised more activists to join the ranks.

Five decades later, at 71, his commitment towards galvanising public support for political mobilisation has not changed. However, his political affiliation has.

Adhikari, who once worked for the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) is today a campaigner for the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Modi’s BJP, which has never won power in West Bengal, has emerged as the main challenger in an eight-phase state legislative assembly election that started last week and will end on April 29. Results will be declared on May 2.

Adhikari, who lives in a remote village located near India’s eastern border with Bangladesh, explains why he now sits on the right of India’s ideological spectrum even though he started his journey with the left.

“The communists spoke up for the poor. I came from a poor family so I identified with them,” he said, sitting across his furniture shop in Kadipur village in Nadia district, about 120 kilometres (74 miles) northeast of state capital, Kolkata.

“So many years have gone by, but I am still poor. The CPM did not create enough jobs. They did little to alleviate poverty. Just look at my village.”

Adhikari quit CPM to join BJP ahead of state elections this year [Parth MN/Al Jazeera]
The left front – of which CPM is the main party – ruled West Bengal for 34 consecutive years from 1977 to 2011 – one of the longest-elected communist governments to rule in any part of the world.

Adhikari’s Kadipur village falls in Krishnaganj constituency, which the CPM represented in the state assembly for all of those 34 years before Trinamool Congress (TMC), led by its firebrand chief Mamata Banerjee, came to power in 2011.

‘From left to Lord Ram’

West Bengal has a long history of political violence, with the large CPM cadre accused of attacking opponents, often fatally, during their decades of rule.

After the TMC came to power in 2011, the brunt of the new governing party’s brute force was borne by the left by workers such as Adhikari.

“I have been tied to a pole and tortured by TMC goons,” he told Al Jazeera. “The CPM became so weak so quickly after they lost power that they could no longer protect activists like me.”

For him, joining BJP was a matter of survival. “BJP is a force in India and they have the resources and might. I had to join them for survival in 2014. There are many like me,” he said.

As West Bengal goes through another election, the trend of left workers and voters deserting the party to join the Hindu nationalist BJP continues to be seen across the state – a phenomenon locally described as “Vaam se Ram” (From the left to Hindu god Ram).

BJP supporters wearing Modi masks gather for a rally addressed by the Indian leader in Kolkata [Bikas Das/AP]
The reasons behind the trend are multifold: desperation to protect themselves from attacks by TMC workers; fatigue after decades of CPM dominance; little potential for growth in a party seen as redundant; and, most importantly, the Hindu supremacist campaign run by the BJP and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), in the state.

Inspired by the rise of Nazism in Europe, the RSS was formed in 1925 and aims to create an ethnic Hindu state in India by denying other minorities, mainly Muslims, their political rights.

After their induction into the BJP, many former CPM workers Al Jazeera talked to in West Bengal said they undertook a training programme conducted by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a far-right RSS affiliate accused of attacking Muslims and Christians across the country, to help them make the ideological shift.

The fresh BJP recruits said they were told by the VHP about the importance of “prioritising Hindus” and how Muslims were involved in the smuggling of cows, which many Hindus consider sacred.

Somen Ghosh runs a cybercafe in Krishnaganj constituency [Parth MN/Al Jazeera]
Somen Ghosh, 33, used to be a prominent activist with the CPM’s student body in Krishnaganj. He says he has spent the past year looking after 250 cows seized by India’s Border Security Force (BSF).

“The cows were being smuggled by Muslims and BSF caught it,” he said. “But someone has to look after the cows. As a Hindu, it is my duty.”

Political aspiration is also a reason behind left workers joining India’s governing party.

Rita Biswas, 40, who worked with the CPM for 10 years between 2001 and 2011, said she joined the right-wing party in 2018 because she wanted to become a respected political activist in her constituency.

“I got nowhere working with the CPM,” she said. “They expect you to toil without any personal returns. Why is it wrong to harbour personal ambitions?”

A resident of Ghugurgasi, another village in the Krishnaganj constituency, Biswas runs a self-help group for women. She says she also has to protect herself from the “hooliganism of TMC workers”.

“My husband is a migrant labourer. He is mostly working out of the village. I need to think about me and my family’s safety.”

Biswas said she joined BJP because she wanted to become a respected political activist in her constituency [Parth MN/Al Jazeera]
West Bengal opposition leaders and voters were often attacked or threatened by CPM workers during their long rule.

“Mamata Banerjee was one of them,” said Mohammad Reyaz, a Kolkata-based academic and political commentator.

“Therefore, when she came to power, she did not allow any opposition to thrive. There are villages in Bengal where CPM offices were never allowed to open after 2011. The BJP provided an alternative to the CPM cadre and voters being pushed to the margins.”

Election data supports Reyaz’s claim. Between the state polls in 2016 and the national election in 2019, the CPM’s vote share in West Bengal dwindled from 26.6 percent to 7.5 percent. At the same time, the BJP’s vote share rose from 10.16 percent to 40.7 percent.

The Jangalmahal region, once a left-wing bastion with a large tribal population and one of the state’s most underdeveloped areas, has seen an overwhelming shift to the BJP since 2009.

Jangalmahal consists of six West Bengal districts – Purulia, West Bardhaman, Bankura, Birbhum, Jhargram and West Medinipur – and shares the state’s western border with neighbouring Odisha and Jharkhand states.

BJP, which had little electoral presence in this region, has virtually wiped out CPM now.

The left workers think they can enable the vote share of BJP and then get it back once the TMC is out of the way. But it does not work like that.

Ayesha Khatun, left politician

Kalicharan Shaw, who works for the BJP’s media cell in West Bengal, said the shift from left to right in West Bengal has little to do with ideology.

“Ideology largely works with the urban, elite electorate, which is still voting for the left,” he said. “The situation in rural areas is different. For them, representation matters.”

Shaw said the left had West Bengal for 34 years but the party was “dominated by upper castes” among the Hindus.

“The state has a significant population of scheduled castes, backward castes and scheduled tribes. They are our biggest vote bank because the left never nurtured or produced a leader from these communities,” he said.

Beginning of end

The tectonic shift away from the left, however, came in 2007 at Nandigram, a town 130 kilometres (81 miles) south of Kolkata, when the government led by Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee wanted to acquire farmland to develop a special economic zone.

But the farmers, backed by opposition leaders, protested the acquisition. To break up the agitation, left-wing cadres allegedly attacked the site. Official records showed 14 deaths, but more than 100 people were said to be missing. Allegations of rape were also made.

The Nandigram incident marked the beginning of the end for the left in West Bengal. In the last national election held in 2019, it drew a blank. In 2014, it won just two out of 42 seats.

However, Mohammad Salim, a senior CPM leader, said the situation in West Bengal has changed in the past two years.

“During the coronavirus-induced lockdown, TMC and BJP were nowhere to be seen,” he told Al Jazeera. “We were in the streets, fighting for those struggling with economic hardships.”

Salim said the CPM is still raising the issues of students, women and farmers in the current election. “But the media is ignoring it. We have analysed our failures and you will see a rejuvenated CPM in the upcoming elections,” he said.

On the ground, though, the reality appears to be different. For a party that dominated the Jangalmahal region for years, its presence today is strikingly underwhelming as flags and posters of other political parties drown out the CPM campaign.

Sadanand Singh said the condition of workers has not changed much in West Bengal [Parth MN/Al Jazeera]
At a brick kiln in one of the remote villages of Purulia district, none of the labourers Al Jazeera talked to said they would vote for the CPM.

Sadanand Singh, 37, and his wife Dipali, 28, toiling in the twilight in Dabra village, said their families traditionally voted for the CPM, but the next generation has moved away.

“The condition of workers like me did not change much,” said Sadanand. “When TMC came around, we gave them a chance. But that party also turned out to be disappointing. Now, we have a new option in BJP. We should try that out too.”

The prospects of a rising BJP, which had little say in West Bengal until 2016, has made several West Bengal observers nervous. The party, heading the federal government since 2014, has been accused of throttling freedom of expression, jailing its critics, and persecuting the minorities, mainly Muslims, who constitute more than 14 percent of the country’s population.

In Bengal, Muslims form nearly 30 percent of its population, raising concerns over the BJP gaining a strong foothold in the state.

But critics say the CPM also failed to stop communal forces from entering West Bengal by ignoring the right-wing party. Instead, the CPM were bent on defeating the TMC in the 2019 election.

In the elections that year, CPM supporters were seen campaigning alongside BJP candidates with saffron flags, while the left-wing party’s leaders were said to be aware of the transfer of their vote to the BJP.

Former West Bengal Chief Minister and CPM stalwart, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, had reportedly warned against this trend. “There is no use in leaping from a TMC frying pan into the BJP’s fireplace,” he had said.

Ayesha Khatun, 50, who was the left-wing coalition’s candidate in 2014 and 2019 national polls from Rampurhat in Birbhum district, expanded on the “mistake” committed by the communists in propping up the BJP to defeat the TMC.

“The left workers think they can enable the vote share of BJP and then get it back once the TMC is out of the way,” she told Al Jazeera. “But it does not work like that. The public is not a property of anyone’s father.”

Source: Al Jazeera

Excerpt from The fine print in Hindutva | Anshul Trivedi (The Hindu, March 31, 2021)

 The fine print in Hindutva

Modern democracies are erected upon the twin pillars of rights and representation.
 [ . . . ]
"...academia is in denial about the ideological resonance of Hindutva among the subaltern sections because of a flawed understanding of the Hindutva project and its relationship with the politics of representation.
"The claim that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) aspires to revive an old, ritually sanctioned, caste-based social order is incorrect. Often, examples like the introduction of policies like reservations for Economically Weaker Sections are advanced to bolster this claim, ignoring the fact that parties like the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, and the Janata Dal (United), which were catapulted to power by the Mandal agitation, put up only a tokenistic opposition to it. The ambition of Hindutva is not restricted to pushing a certain policy — it is to convert Hinduism into an ethnic order and reconstitute it as a race, a term repeatedly employed by Savarkar. This entails the process of simultaneous inclusion of the marginalised within Hinduism and the exclusion of the Muslim and Christian ‘other’. As a result, Hindutva has always nurtured a disdain for rituals. They are only a means of political mobilisation and reinforcing the Hindu identity, bereft of any innate sanctity. This is apparent in the party’s duplicitous stance on eating beef, a practice it opposes in the Hindi belt but condones in the northeast...
"It is this model of ideologically unanchored identity politics, based solely on representation, which paved the way for Hindutva’s rise. The project has cracked the code of such representational politics and successfully mobilised subaltern communities, producing a string of subaltern leaders...
''It must be emphasised that while the BJP has left the representational matrix untouched, it has clamped down on the domain of rights, as is evident by wanton invocation of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the introduction of laws against ‘love jihad’, steamrolling Bills through Parliament, enabling opaque political funding through electoral bonds, facilitating the corporate takeover of the economy and destabilising elected State governments. The present model of the politics of representation is incapable of addressing these issues that confront our democracy.
"Democratisation has increased the thrust towards ritualistic inclusion within Hinduism, and hence, it seems unlikely that mere representational rejigging will dent Hindutva’s hegemony. A challenge to Hindutva requires a complete reorientation of politics from demographic imperatives to democratic ones, for which the opposition needs to foreground issues of rights and transparency along with representation. [ . . .]