Connecting Regions of Asia.

For A Very Bengali Road Ahead for Mamata’s Trinamul


Mamata Banerjee’s landslide victory has helped her emerge as Bengal’s own Joan of Arc but one who survived rather than go down fighting, the Abhimanyu who the Kauravs failed to eliminate after encirclement. Now is the time for her to seriously introspect and settle on a road ahead for her Trinamul Congress and West Bengal.
Many have pointed to her failures in developing a strong ideology-driven party organization  , others have highlighted her inability to draw big ticket investments to re-industrialise Bengal . No doubt Banerjee needs to develop a more stream-lined party organization equipped with IT and Research Cells ( like Awami League’s CRI). 
She also needs to play down the Singur-Nandigram legacy to reach out to Big Capital, domestic and overseas, to boost both manufacturing ( like neighbouring Bangladesh) and the service sector ( like southern Indian states). 
Banerjee’s success in developing social sector schemes has paid her rich electoral dividends but she has to get big-ticket industrial and service sector investments to boost the state’s economy. Cutting down the public debt is a huge task and big time investments augmenting state’s revenues would help.
But the biggest task for Mamata Banerjee is to focus closely on developing an acceptable brand of Bengali regionalism that emphasizes “Banglar Trinamul” ( after the party choir song) rather than “ All India Trinamul Congress”. Banerjee’s national ambitions should be tempered by reality, her real future lies in turning Bengal into a model state. India will accept Banerjee only after it accepts Bengal as a model – like in Modi’s case.
Bengal may not accept a Shiv Sena brand of regionalism but Mamata Banerjee can build on the Bengali’s strong sense of exceptionalism , albeit an inclusive one which pops out of a billboard on Kolkata’s E.M Bypass “ welcome to the city of Tagore, or Ray, of Teresa”. Let the ‘Bahiragoto” (outsider) barb end with the defeat of Modi-Shah brigade in the ‘Battle for Bengal’ . The Pauls and Puris of Park Street are as much Bengal’s as the Roys of Peerless group .
Bengali regionalism has to be based on its distinct linguistic-cultural tradition and the social modernization emerging out of its 19th century Rennaisance and it has to include those who have made Bengal their home, to trump BJP’s divisive ideology of a double polarization that sought to pit Hindus against Muslims and Bengalis against others. That did pay the BJP some dividends in areas populated by Rajbongshis, Gorkhas, Hindi-speakers and other communities whose identification with the ‘Bengali mainstream’ is not as pronounced .
Bengali regionalism actually does not need a ‘mainstream’ to replicate the concept of ‘Indian mainstream’ promoted by the BJP-RSS brigade ( Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan) – it could strongly stand on its distinct culture and language, tradition of social modernization and liberal humanism propounded by Tagore’s “Maha Manaber Sagor Tirtha” . And this Bengali regional plank should allow enough space for smaller groups like Rajbongshis, Santhals and the ilk .
Bengal has to look at the failure of Assamese regionalism because it abandoned Bishnu Rabha’s ‘Bor Asom’ ( Greater Assam in social , not physical terms) and resorted to an exclusionary upper-caste top down identity epitomized by an AASU slogan during the 1979-85 anti- foreigner agitation (‘Jodi nohua Asomiya, Asom eri ghusi joa’ or “if not an Assamese, leave Assam and go”). Not surprisingly , the Assam agitation and 1985 Accord was followed by violent bouts of Bodo, Karbi and Dimasa separatism,even as the BJP hijacked the AASU-AGP’s ‘infiltration’ plank. 
Prafulla Mahanta was more popular in Assam than Mamata was in Bengal in the 1980-90s, but one knows where the two stand today. Mahanta paid the price of continuing AGP’s alliance with BJP, to be relegated to near irrelevance today.  
Bengal gave India its modern unifying nationalism that followed its cultural renaissance and its distinct brand revolutionary action ( focussed on triggering a revolt in British Indian Army) . It  could now provide independent India an alternative version to BJP-RSS’s hyper but narrow religion driven nationalism. Religion is hardly a good enough basis for providing an edifice to a modern nation-state – Bangladesh’s breakaway from Pakistan is a near-home lesson . 
Bengalis survived a horrible Famine and the disastrous Partition in the 1940s to bury the Mountbatten-Jinnah model of religious vivisection ( agreed to by the Congress leadership) in 1971. 
Now, West Bengal’s inclusive regionalism could provide a model for regional forces elsewhere in India and help work out a national platform for an alternative to BJP-RSS. This model should debunk localism ( like job quotas for locals in even some Congress  and BJP ruled states) and also seek an incentivized assimilation of groups like Rajbongshis or Santhals. Greater political autonomy for the Gorkhas is a must.
The Congress, which has been less than kind to great Bengali stalwarts like Chittaranjan Das and Subhas Bose and post-independent leaders like Pranab Mukherjee , can now shed its Gandhi-Nehru baggage forever and consider taking back Mamata Banerjee as its national president followed by a re-merger of Trinamul and other regional parties originating from Congress in a grand homecoming. Mamata is ‘ghorer meye’ for Congress, is she not !

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