New Delhi: The stage was set, the audience was packed and the rather diminutive Bipin Chandra Pal auditorium in Delhi’s Chittaranjan Park was brimming with nervous anticipation.
Dilip Ghosh is perhaps is the first BJP MP to have been felicitated by Delhi’s ‘bhadralok’, a diaspora of ‘probashi’ Bengalis residing in south Delhi’s cushy Chittaranjan Park, long known as a small bastion of Bengal in the heart of Delhi owing to its humble beginnings as a colony of resettled refugees from Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) post-Partition.
On a humid Thursday evening towards the end of July, a chunk of this diaspora gathered to felicitate the “new faces of Bangla” or newly elected MPs from Bengal. The event was organised by a freshly formed citizens’ organisation called ‘Voice and Echo of Bengal’.
The name was curiously fitting as the event resounded the political reverberations churning in Bengal right in the heart of the capital. The event seemed to provide a window into the changing face of Bengal’s politics and the shifting identity of the ‘bhadralok’.
Though several MPs had been invited, only Dilip Ghosh, the BJP Bengal unit chief and newly elected parliamentarian, turned up. If the arrival of just Ghosh accompanied by Anirban Ganguli, director of SP Mookeherjee Research Foundation and face of the BJP’s ‘intellectual’ front in Bengal, was a bit of a dampener (after all, the crowd was expecting the likes of Roopa Ganguli, Mukul Roy, Babul Supriyo and other known faces) the audience did not let it show.
As soon as the MP arrived, the crowd rang with a now-familiar volley of chants: 'Jai Shri Ram', 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai'. Surprised at this sudden shift in the mood, the reporter took a look around the hall to realise that the MP had been accompanied by his own squad of cheerleaders, hefty men in dark shirts who were now squatting among the feeble-looking senior residents of CR Park and frequently launching into their favourite slogan.
The rest of the evening played out like clockwork, albeit a little haphazardly. Ghosh took the stage and ranted off what appeared to be a page out of the Bengal BJP unit’s manifesto. From his speech, it was clear that all that was wrong with Bengal was Bangladesh and the ruling dispensation that was soft on people from Bangladesh.
Though things like the National Register of Citizens (NRC) were not implicitly mentioned, the agenda was clear: Once Bengal was under BJP’s control, all outsiders would be back in their place.
“Didi does not allow Durga Puja, but allows namaz. What will the state of Bengalis be if Bengal becomes Bangladesh?” Ghosh asked. “They are not allowing us to celebrate our victories today. But I ensure you, I will not leave any one,” he said, referring to the Trinamool Congress leadership that Ghosh vowed to dismantle within a year.
“When Bengalis celebrate their freedom, will they say Vande Mataram or Inquilab Zindabad?” Ghosh asked. His entire speech was a haphazard assortment of such pointed proclamations and questions.
Indicating that the TMC had looted the cultural riches of Bengal and exploited its art and literature, Ghosh claimed the BJP would be bring the state out of its 50-year-long slavery. “Bangla will shine again,” he said and the audience cheered.
The president of Voice and Echo of Bengal, Dr Ananda Mukherjee, has been with the BJP since the late 1980s. Also, many of the volunteers working for the event were wearing badges of the BJP logo and seemed overwhelmed at having met the senior party leadership. And yet, many residents expressed disappointment at the one-sided narrative of the guests.
“We had come for the musical performance and a cultural gathering, instead we had to sit through a political rally,” said an elderly woman, who had come with her granddaughter and a friend upon invitation from one of the organisers.
Yet another resident, a septuagenarian living in the neighbourhood from the 70s, said that these things were inevitable. “So far, you only knew two kinds of Bengalis. Communists and ‘Congressi’ (supporters of the grand old party). These are new kinds of Bengalis,” he said, adding, “This should also be allowed space. Politics is all about change.”
And change has definitely arrived. Only 15 years ago, more than two dozen of the 42 parliamentary seats in Bengal were held by the Left. The Lok Sabha Speaker was Somnath Chatterjee, a Communist Party of India (Marxist) veteran, who held the post for five years (2004-09).
Today, the Left is all but obliterated in the state (and from most parts of the country’s politics and collective imagination save some bastions in the south) and a limping Congress is fighting with two seats.
Meanwhile, the BJP, ever ready to fill in anti-incumbent vacuums, has made major inroads, winning 18 of the 42 seats and leaving the TMC greatly bruised, especially in north Bengal.
Not all among the organisers in CR Park, however, were happy with the way the evening panned out. Speaking to News18 after the felicitation, convenor Anirudhha De expressed displeasure at “hijacking” of the event by “some political entities”.
“We had wanted an event where these newly elected leaders would come and tell us what is beyond their “sabka saath sabka vikas” motto. We wanted to hear Parliamentarians talk,” De said. “However, what happened was a political rally.”
De said he would ensure the group steers clear of such blatant politicisation. “We are a voluntary social organisation. We want to talk about social issues like degeneration of youth, alcohol and drug addiction among youth,” said De.
Years ago when MPs from Bengal were felicitated in the capital, most of them were Leftists, belonging to the then leading dispensation CPI(M). Is the change in pace suiting the Bengali cultural identity? CR Park resident and a shopkeeper, S Ghosh, said that it was. “Bengalis have always been Ram-bhakts. Why not? Ram is everyone’s. However, the multiculturalism of Bengal should not be hampered.”
With the upcoming state elections, the BJP is hoping to consolidate its place in the Assembly as well and it has already started banking on popular faces. Actors Parno Mitra, Rimjhim Mittra, Surojit Choudhury and model Pamela Goswami recently joined the BJP.
Because in Bengal now, star power matters. Think of Nusrat Jahan winning the controversial Basirhat constituency or (as the BJP would deign to remind you) Bangladeshi actors being used in election campaigning.
Amid Didi’s frenzied warnings against ‘RSS goondas’ meddling in the state and the aggressive pace of the BJP's proliferation, Bengal Assembly that changed colours from red to green (and white and blue) only a few years ago now seems to be on the brink of embracing a saffron wave.