Understanding politics of Bengal. (Image credit: Economic Times)

Bengal factor in Indian politics

If one wants to trace the reason behind the culture of politicisation of Bengal one needs to understand that the highest common factor in the Indian politics is that Bengalis were behind the establishment of almost all the major parties.

This is not to overlook the contributions of Bengal in the fields of art, culture, music, literature and film.

The first president of the Indian National Congress in 1885 was Womesh Chunder Bannerjee, the founder of Muslim League in 1906 was Nawab of Dhaka, Salimullah Khan, the earliest leading lights of the Communist movement was M N Roy and Muzaffar Ahmed. The founder of Forward Bloc was Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (the earlier version of the Bharatiya Janata Party) was Shyama Prasad Mukherjee.

The Naxalite uprising of late 1960s and early 1970s was led by Charu Mazumdar, Kanu Sanyal and Aziz-ul-Haq.

The irony is that when the Naxal movement was at its peak in the state the same Bengal and to some extent Tripura, which too has a sizeable Bengali population, played a key role in the creation of the new country, Bangladesh—earlier East Pakistan.

The most dreaded ultra-Left outfit, the Maoist Communist Centre, is set to be floated by Kanhaiya Chatterjee even before the Naxalbari uprising of Charu Mazumdar in 1967. It is this MCC which merged with the Peoples’ War Group of Andhra Pradesh a few years back to become CPI (Maoist) and has a palpable presence in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar and Bengal.

The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha owes its birth to Shibu Soren, Binod Bihari Mahto and A K Roy in early 1970s.  Roy was a Bengali of Dhanbad, which was till the Reorganization of States in mid-1950s, was a part of Bengal. In fact, Roy was born in East Bengal. He was three-time MP from Dhanabad and a famous trade union leader.

Here one needs to remember that the first education minister of India and the longest serving president of the Congress party before independence Maulana Abu Kalam Azad, though born in Makkah, returned to Kolkata where he had spent quite a few years of early life. His father was essentially a Bengali Muslim whose ancestors came from Afghanistan.

Ananda Marga, a spiritual and a social service outfit, was founded by P R Sarkar in 1955. Its headquarters is in Kolkata.

Bengal’s contributions to the reformation movement among Hindus cannot be ignored. From Raja Ram Mohan Roy to Ramakrishna Paramhans, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar to Swami Vivekanand all have made immense contributions to Hinduism. The composers of National Song and National Anthem Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya and Rabindranath Tagore respectively were from Bengal. How can one miss famous Bangla poet Qazi Nazrul Islam. Though he was born in Bardhaman in 1899 he died in Bangladesh in 1976.

If that was not enough two Bengalis Amartya Sen and Abhijit Banerjee got Nobel Prize in Economics in quick succession—not to forget the name of Tagore, another recipient of the award in Literature.

With the long list of prominent figures one cannot think of the Bengali society without politics. As Kolkata was the national capital till 1911 Bengal was the centre of all sorts of activism. The people of the province spread to all the nooks and corners of the country, especially after the introduction of train services in the late 19th century.

Though Bengal largely remained peaceful during the 1857 First War of Independence the restlessness in the Bengali society started growing in the 20th century. Some experts trace its origin in the Partition of Bengal in 1905 which led to widespread protest and discontentment forcing the government to annul its order in 1911. It was in 1906 that Muslim League was formed. The shifting of capital from Kolkata to Delhi in 1911, in a way, deprived the people of the province of an advantage.

The Partition of Bengal at the time of the creation of Pakistan had its fall out on both sides of the border. Less than a quarter century later Bangladesh came into existence.

However, it was in 1960s that political violence in West Bengal increased in a big way, especially after the rise of Naxal movement and its brutal suppression.

After coming to power of the 34-year long Left Front rule in 1977 political violence acquired another form. Political violence was not confined between Left and the Congress, but sometimes within the Left constituents too.

The Singur and Nandigram movements also witnessed violence. After the coming to power of Trinamool Congress in 2011, this culture of violence continued. Post 2016, it became Trinamool versus BJP.  

If Bengalis are remembered for producing several revolutionaries, during the freedom movement, West Bengal is also known for a typical type of violence which took place between supporters of two famous football clubs––East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. Sixteen people were killed in that incident during a match in Kolkata on August 16, 1980.

(Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna)

Leave a Reply

Physical Address

304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124