• Is the Hindu Samhati Mamata Banerjee’s New Ally?

    Biswajit Roy

    February 26, 2018

    This is the first of a two part series on the Hindu Samhati in Bengal.


    Mamata Banerjee seems to have found a Pravin Togadia of her own to beat Narendra Modi and his men in Bengal. Tapan Ghosh, a former RSS pracharak who is now a self-styled saviour of Bengali Hindus and godfather of Hindu Samhati (a decade-old Hindutva outfit) appears to be a loose cannon that the Chief Minister is trying to use to out-thunder the Modi-fied Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and earn the votes of hardcore Hindutva sections in West Bengal in the upcoming “battle for Bengal” in 2019–2021. Alarmed over BJP’s fast emergence as the main opposition to the ruling All India Trinamool Congress (TMC), mainly at the expense of the Left and Congress, the Chief Minister is treating Ghosh and his tribe as her “B-team,” as the saffron party likes to call them.


    This also suggests an interesting twist in the political calculations of Bengal’s Chief Minister, who also wears the hat of TMC supremo. In the wake of the Sangh Parivar’s high-pitched campaign against Mamata Banerjee’s “Muslim appeasement” policies, she is now resorting to some balancing acts.


    She and her party leaders now underline their Hindu faith publicly, organise pompous Ganesh Chaturthi and Vajrangbali Pujas—which had, hitherto, been the signature festivals of the Sangh Parivar and were not a part of popular Bengali festivals—install statues of Hindu icons, like Vivekananda and his guru Ramakrishna, in Hindu-majority localities, all while flaunting her secular credentials as the protector of minorities, who represent more than 27% of the state population. 


    Meanwhile, her secular rivals are calling Samhati a buffer between Banerjee and her friends-turned-foes in Delhi.


    They’ve been reminding of her bouquet to Modi after the 2002 Gujarat polls, and her exchange of eulogies with the Sangh leadership thereafter. The Sangh hailed her oppositional avatar as, “Devi Durga incarnate destined to decimate communist demons.” In exchange, she lauded the Sanghis as “true patriots” while seeking their “blessings” for her terrestrial mission. Some other observers are alarmed, worried that she’s “playing with fire” and that it might lead to the Tapan Ghosh becoming for Bengal what Bhindranwale became for Indira Gandhi (which Punjab, and the country, paid dearly for), Gandhi, incidentally, also happens to be the Chief Minister’s role model.     

    The New Loose Canon

    Consider the words and deeds of Bengal’s new Hindutva icon, Tapan Ghosh, whose disciples deferentially place him next to Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, and Shyamaprasad Mukherjee (the founder of Jana Sangh, BJP’s predecessor). On 14 February, Kolkata heard his latest hate-speech at the annual Foundation Day rally of Samhati, held in the heart of the city. It was doubly odd by the standard of Bengal’s left-liberal mainstream, and its unconcern towards the purported threat of Valentine’s Day or its erotic desi version, Shiva Ratri. As giant screens displayed close-ups of Ghosh’s histrionics to a faithful assembly, the stocky, elderly man declared Islamophobic Donald Trump and Zionist Bibi Netanyahu as his sources of “inspiration” in Muslim-bashing. He criticised Prime Minister Modi for “lacking the courage” to follow the two leaders, despite having “hugged” them both at every opportunity he got, in having recognised Israel-occupied Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s “eternal capital” and ignoring the Palestinian claim to the historic city.


    Drawing a lesson from an audacious move that the European allies of the US have decried, the Samhati founder urged his core constituency, the Hindu refugees from Bangladesh, to take a vow, like the Jews, to get back their homeland someday.


    Ghosh’s loyalty to Trump and Israel has been a recurring theme in his Muslim-bashing for years; he had marched in support of the Jewish army’s genocidal military campaigns in Gaza strip which even the anti-Hamas West had found “disproportionate.”      

    Switching from the global to the local in the same breath, Ghosh announced his support of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, and cautioned her against the “beef-eating Communist” intellectuals who have joined her charmed circle following the Left debacle. In a tone meant to be well-meaning, he urged her not to allow these weathercocks to fill up her party’s “ideological vacuum” with their “hackneyed Marxism, already discarded by the world.” Exhorting his followers to organise “Hindu resistance” against “love Jihad” and “land Jihad” in Bengal villages, he further tasked them with the job of extending an “invitation” to their local Muslims to make a “ghar wapsi,” i.e., return to their ancestors’ faith, Hinduism. To drive his message home, Ghosh felicitated a Bengali Muslim family, for converting to Hinduism, at the rally. He asked Muslims to make their choice before the Islamic world meets its “Qayamat” in the “war of civilisations” which, according to him, the rest of the humanity had already begun to wage under Trump’s leadership (after having gone through the stage of “clash of civilisations,” as Samuel Huntington calls it).

    The rally’s atmosphere faithfully reflected Ghosh’s devotion to the “popular President of America” and the Zionist Prime Minister of Israel; there were colorful festoons depicting them, and festoons depicting the “civilisation of Hindus and Jews united” against their “common enemy, Islam” adorned the rally site. Among the thousands men and women who had been brought from rural areas in fleets of buses, many were dressed in saffron clothes with headbands embossed with the organisation’s war-cry. The crowd cheered Ghosh and others Hindutva speakers as they spewed venom against Muslims and Christians.


    The rhetoric underscored the essential unity of the Hindutva camp that overrides the rarified rift between the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) core leadership and fanatical fringe groups like Samhati. Ghosh’s guests included a former major general who is a familiar face in Arnab Goswami’s hyper-nationalist shows.


    They took the Sangh Parivar’s stereotypes about Muslim men’s lust for Hindu women further, saying that their breeding habits that would soon force the Hindus—who had already been facing a “silent invasion” from Bangladesh—out of Bengal. Above all, they harped on about the Indian Muslims’ role as the perpetual fifth column of Pakistan and the impossibility of Hindus and Muslims coexisting in peace, alleging that “cruelty and cunning” is a part of the Muslim pathology and Islam is an incorrigibly aggressive and authoritarian religion. 

    Mamata’s Mollycoddling

    This is not the first time that Ghosh and his followers have enjoyed police patronage in expounding their hate campaign in the heart of the city; their annual congregation has been receiving necessary permissions for almost a decade. Though Samhati has been holding the rally since its inception in 2008, around the time of the fag end of the Left front rule in 2009, its show of might has become a regular sight at Esplanade only since Mamata Banerjee assumed office in 2011. Meanwhile, mainstream oppositions of TMC, including BJP, were denied the requisite permissions for holding similar events at the privileged site.


    However, this time, Ghosh was arrested after his men roughed up some journalists who were trying to speak to the Muslim family, who had converted to Hinduism. They wanted to know whether it was a voluntary decision. Ghosh, along with three others, was booked under a non-bailable section but not for communal hate-speech and incitement of violence.


    The TMC government’s handling of Ghosh with kid gloves is not surprising considering that the administration and the ruling party has, so far, maintained silence about Samhati’s frequent mobilisations, and exhibitions of money and muscle power in districts.


    The Chief Minister continues to mollycoddle the controversial leader despite his followers’ increasingly catalytic role in communal violence—from Baduria-Basirhat in the south to Raiganj in the north—in recent years.


    The outfit’s mouthpiece boasts of its role behind the “Hindu resistance” during the widespread 2016 violence over Vijaya Dashami-Muharram concurrence. The Chief Minister herself had blamed the BJP and the Hindu Samhati after the Basirhat flare up last July, with media reports claiming that she had decided to ban the latter along with the Hyderabad-based All India Majlis e Ittehadul Muslimeen, which was also trying to spread its wings in Bengal. But no such executive order has been passed so far. This has only strengthened the perceptions about a tacit understanding between the ruling party and Samhati, which now boasts of its widened presence in 12 districts. 


    Biswajit Roy is a Calcutta-based retired journalist who had worked with The Telegraph, Times of India, The Statesman as well as Anandabazar Patrika. He served stints in the north-east and north India as well as in his home state, West Bengal.

    Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the writer's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Indian Writers' Forum.

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