Ram through Hanuman

Founding Hanuman temples, especially in areas dominated by SC and ST communities, has been an integral component of the agenda of the Sangh Parivar, the constellation of organisations under the RSS, the BJP’s parent organisation. The trend, according to a senior RSS leader in south Bengal, started in 2017, when the Sangh expressed over rising “jihadi” influence.

“The aim has been to create a religious and devotional atmosphere in the state. In areas dominated by the backward classes it has been our attempt to unite all Hindu castes against the politics of appeasement,” said an RSS organiser in Birbhum, who didn’t want to be named because he wasn’t authorised to speak to the media.

“Popularising Hanuman is part of the plan to instill Ram bhakti among local people,” the leader explained.

Shibaji Prasad Mandal, the RSS chief in Birbhum, could not be contacted for comment despite repeated attempts.

“The BJP grew in our area as most of those opposed to the TMC’s rule, especially those aggrieved by local TMC leaders’ highhandedness, took up the BJP’s flag after the assembly election revealed the Left had no prospect of winning anymore. Religious issues started entering the discourse after 2017-18,” said Chandranath Bauri, a resident of Radhanagar village in Bishnupur block of Bankura district.

In Radhanagar, was the local BJP’s way of uniting the Hindus. Here, people from SC and ST communities make 46.35 and 4.55 percent of the population, respectively, according to the 2011 census.

In the Lok Sabha election, Radhanagar and Joykrishnapur voted in favour of the BJP, according to the residents.

Asked if they would have voted for Mamata if she had restrained local TMC leaders but continued with her so-called Muslim appeasement, Joykrishnapur’s residents were divided. Asked if they would have voted for her had there been no Muslim appesement but local TMC leaders operated the same way, the answer was a unanimous “no”.

One of the issues raised by Hindu supremacists that seems to have struck a chord with the people in these villages is the Bengal government’s decision to pay a monthly stipend to imams and muezzins. Even though the payment comes not from the government’s funds but from the Wakf board, Mamata had on several occasions in 2012-13 sought credit for herself.

Now, this seems to be working against her, even though she announced, a few months ago, – from the government exchequer no less.

“Why is she giving allowances to the Brahmins now, so many years after Muslims got it?” asked Jayanta Santra in Joykrishnapur village in Bishnupur where over 46 percent of the population is SC and 2.44 percent is ST, according to the census of 2011.

Most of these villages have negligible or no Muslim population.

However, the scene is a little different in parts of South 24 Parganas and North 24 Parganas districts, where Muslims and Dalits live next to each other and together make up 70-80 percent of the population.

In Canning West constituency in South 24-Parganas, for example, the Scheduled Castes make up about 47 percent of the population, and Muslims 37 percent. In Magrahat East in the same district, the SCs are 34.6 percent and Muslims over 50 percent of the population.

Here, the BJP has been growing since the panchayat election and has lately made inroads among the local SC population. According to local residents, the Hindus, mostly Dalits, were initially reluctant in responding to the BJP’s campaign because they believed getting involved in communal politics would not be the right thing given that they lived in close proximity to Muslims.

In the assembly election, the TMC defeated the CPIM by a margin of 9,500 votes. In the Lok Sabha election, the TMC defeated the BJP, bagging nearly 53 percent of the polled votes. In Canning West, the TMC won the assembly election by 18,726 votes against the Congress and the Lok Sabha election against the BJP, obtaining 51.27 percent of the votes.

Explaining the changing polling trend of Magrahat West, Shankarlal Mandal, a small trader in Patikhali area, said, “The increase in the TMC’s vote share reflects the transfer of traditional Muslim votes of Left parties to the TMC, while the BJP’s rise is explained by the shifting of Dalit votes from the Left and TMC to the BJP.”

Sanatan Sarkar, a resident of where Muslims comprise 57.66 percent of the population and Dalits make up 31.8 percent, had another anecdote to tell. Part of Magrahat West constituency, Usthi has a population of over 6,000, according to the census of 2011. According to Sarkar, propaganda started in 2018 about Muslim-dominated localities being better served by panchayats and state government schemes than Dalit-dominated areas.

“In rural areas, people often believe word of mouth more than getting them verified. Therefore, a perception has been built up that Hindus, mostly Dalits, have been deprived while Muslims got government projects on priority basis,” said Sarkar, a plumber.

In South 24 Parganas, Muslims comprise 35.57 percent of the population, and Dalits 30.2 percent. In North 24 Parganas, Muslims are 25.82 percent and Dalits 21.7 percent.

The equations are different in North 24 Parganas and Nadia, though. There, the majority of the SC population is made up of refugees from Bangladesh, especially those belonging to the Matua-Namasudra communities. Members of these communities have often expressed a sense of dislike for Muslims because many of them, or their ancestors, fled from the earstwhile East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, after facing atrocities from their Muslim neighbours.

The BJP’s campaign accusing Mamata of Muslim appeasement has struck a chord with a section of them, and the Citizenship Amendment Act has found support of a good number of them as well. In the Lok Sabha election, the Matua-Namasudras voted overwhelmingly in favour of the BJP, helping the party win Bongaon and Ranaghat seats.

***

This story is part of the NL Sena project which over 300 of our readers contributed to. It was made possible thanks to Vedant Kanade, Madhukar R, Shreyansh Jain, Navas, Ayan Dutta, Mathivanan, Padmani, Arjun Goutham, Sudarshana Mukhopadhyay, Ravi Pandey, Rajesh Shenoy, Sahit Koganti, Sarthak, Uma Rajagopalan, Somok Gupta Roy, Sam Sadguru, Tulasi Pemmasani, Praveen Surendra, Kamesh Goud, Ankur Mishra, Sharique Damda, Himanshu Singh, Akshaydeep Singh, Saurabh Bhatia, Chitrak Gupta, Mayukh Roy, Suhesh Lodh, Sumit Dhiman, Farzana Hasan, BK, Sandeep Sharma, Yuvraj Arora, Ranjith PS, Inderdeep Singh, Joseph M Raj, Gregory Cooper, Sayani Dasgupta, Soumit Ghosh, Daman, Raunak Dutta, Mhetre, Puneet Dravid, Md Rafat S Siddiqui, Shayan Sarkar, Aliasgar Khokhawala, Rinku Goel, Vijesh Chandera, Rohit Duggal, Qaim Alvi, Shubham Bangar, Sainath Naidu, Prabhat Lakra, Daksh, Bibhas Adhikari, Anima Dey, Sujith Nambudiri, Rahul Chauhan, Murali K, Aikya Chatterjee, Harshal Geet, Aditya Deuskar, Anindita Brahma, Abdeali Jivaji, Kamran Hambali, Pranav Prabhakaran, Ankur Mehrotra, Ston, Phani Sista, Kartik Rao, Sourav Banerjee, Ravinder Dasila, Rohit Jain, Gaurav Kumar, Anishkumar Madhavan, Abhijeet Kumar, Akash Chandra, Ridhima Walia, Priyanshu, Deepanker Mishra, Rishi R Mehta, Vaishali Miranda, Mithun Singh, Roger, Sandeep Roy, Bindhulakshmi, Jashan Ghuman, Subhadeep Banerjee, Suhas Gurav, Nahas, Apoorv, Reid Alexander Dsouza, Abhishek Chakraborty, Varun Arora, Oindrilla Mukherjee, Shageer, Arnab Chatterjee, Sahil Ali, Roushan Jha, Shamik Das, Srinivas Iyer, Simranjeet Singh Kahlon, Imran Shariff, Souvik Deb, Tamnjum, Rajeev Kumar, Nabil Shaikh, Sushmit Roy, and other NL Sena members.

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