Interview: Surjya Kanta Mishra

‘Hindutva forces, Trinamool benefit each other’

Print edition : May 12, 2017

Surjya Kanta Mishra.

Interview with Surjya Kanta Mishra of the CPI(M).

THE rise of aggressive Hindutva in Bengal politics is a new phenomenon. In the 34 years of Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front rule in the State, politics based on religious identity was never allowed to surface, nor could the radical forces of Islam and Hindutva find any scope to come to the fore. In an exclusive interview with Frontline, Surjya Kanta Mishra, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and the party’s State secretary, spoke on the present situation and what it portends. Excerpts:

There has been a sudden and unprecedented growth of Hindutva in West Bengal. Why do you think that has happened?

It has to be understood in the global and national perspective. There has been a rise of the right wing the world over. If you go back to 2014, 20 per cent of European Parliament members were from the right and neo-fascist parties, and in 2014 itself, there was a change in the Indian situation with the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] winning the Lok Sabha elections. Unlike the first NDA [the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance] government, this time the BJP secured a majority by itself. This change in India is in keeping with the global change. There is an economic basis to the change as well. The global meltdown in 2008 led to the growth of crony capitalism. There was a lot of discontent among the people. This discontent was utilised by the right-wing forces in the absence of any Left alternative. One can see the parallels for oneself in the chauvinistic slogans “America for Americans” in the United States and “Hindutva for Indians” over here. India’s case cannot be taken in isolation from what is taking place the world over.

Of late, what took place in Bengal during the Rama Navami celebrations has never been witnessed before. Here, the ruling party itself is hand in glove with the ruling party at the Centre and is directly responsible for the growth of the RSS in the State. We are not allowed to hold meetings in school grounds, but the RSS can hold camps for weeks at the same place.

During the recent communal tensions in Dhulagarh in Howrah, we saw that two Trinamool MLAs, one from the minority community and the other from the majority community, taking separate sides. Nobody prevented them from doing so. The government doesn’t even have the political will to curb this dangerous trend. If the situation was tense, they should have called an all-party meeting. But the ruling party concentrated on attacking the Left. The RSS was allowed in the region but not Sitaram [Yechury], [Mohammad] Selim and other Left leaders.

During the Rama Navami processions, when people were moving around with arms, the government did nothing. Where did they get those arms from? They are not available in the market, so obviously they have been planning this for months. Brandishing arms like these has nothing to do with Rama Navami celebrations. It was manufactured communal polarisation. It was obviously planned for a long time. This communal divide helps both the ruling party in the State and the ruling party at the Centre. Trinamool itself is getting communally divided. There are many there who are RSS by day and Trinamool by night or vice versa.

There are many, including some in the BJP, who feel that it is Mamata Banerjee’s brand of minority appeasement politics that has led to this spurt in Hindutva. Your comments.

The Hindutva forces and the Trinamool benefit each other. The more the RSS becomes active, the more it gives scope for the fundamentalist forces in the minority community to spread their influence. We consider majority communal elements to be the main danger. This is true for the Left anywhere in the world: in Bangladesh it would be the Islamic fundamentalist forces, here it is the majority communal forces who pose the main danger. Essentially, the characters of the RSS and the Trinamool are the same. For their sustenance they need this kind of polarisation.

When the Khagragarh blast [an accidental blast in Khagragarh in Bardhaman, which brought to the fore an elaborate Islamist terror network operating in the State] happened, it was evident that the blast took place in a house that was the party office of the Trinamool. It was the Trinamool that arranged to rent out the house to those people [operatives of the banned Jamait-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh]. Before the NIA [National Investigative Agency] stepped in, they destroyed the evidence. Now see the charge sheets, they don’t go into these things. What was the role of the ruling party? What was its role at the local level? It is like match-fixing.

Do you think Hindutva has become a focal point in Bengal politics?

This is definitely an unprecedented thing. But their basic target is still the Left, not only in Bengal but also in Kerala and Tripura. The Trinamool and the BJP want the political space just between themselves. This kind of a situation has not taken place in West Bengal since Partition. In the 34 years of Left Front rule, communal forces could not raise their head in the State. It is no longer an emerging danger; the danger is already in place. The BJP is now claiming that it is the second party in the State.

Yet, many feel that at present Mamata Banerjee is still the only secular force in the State in a position to counter the rise of Hindutva.

What is secularism? We have consistently said that secularism considers religion as an individual matter. The State has the responsibility to protect the right of the people to pursue their own religion. It must be separated from the functioning of the government. But under the Trinamool, the State’s secular character has been abandoned. The Chief Minister has been attending Muslim functions wearing hijab and also taking part in the immersion ceremonies [during Durga Puja].

What did the Left Front government do to maintain communal peace in the State?

We did the direct opposite of what this government is doing. Can you imagine our Chief Ministers Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee taking part in religious ceremonies? Whenever communal forces tried to raise their heads anywhere and under any circumstances, like during the destruction of the Babri Masjid or during the anti-Sikh riots, the Left government immediately called in the Army and called an all-party meeting. We fought the right-wing forces politically, ideologically and administratively, and by our practice. To claim that we are secular and then to indulge in such activities as the Trinamool does is something we never did. Nothing like what is happening now could have happened when the Left was in power.

Where is the State heading?

We had given a call: defeat Trinamool to save Bengal. The State is heading towards disaster. It is a three-pronged attack that the ruling party has launched, on the livelihood of the people, on democracy and on the secular fabric of the State. The ruling parties at the Centre and in the State are one in these attacks.

It is now time for the Left and other democratic secular forces to come together in the broadest possible platform and fight against both these forces. What is happening to Bengal will soon happen to the rest of the country. The illusion that the forces of Hindutva create can obtain a fanatical support for the time being, but will ultimately be dangerous. If you relax the battle against the present regime in the State, it will help the BJP, and if you relax the battle against the BJP it will help the Trinamool.

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