Unity is a double-headed doubloon. Flip to get a nation with a cookie-cutter identity that bakes together all differences between cultures, regions and politics. Flip again and get the individual regions bound by common national glue. The identikit of both is democracy. India’s current character is based on the latter while the BJP’s nationalist idea veers towards the first. The Battle for Bengal will determine which template will trump the odds and whether the India we know will change forever.
Change is neither good nor bad as long as the Centre holds. Narendra Modi unites India, either as the stickum that binds nationalism or as the common target of a liberal skeet shoot. In Hindutva, there is no difference between West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh as far as national identity goes. The BJP has won almost all North Indian states with a common language, culture and attitude and in Assam and Tripura where Muslim migration politics played havoc with the local milieu.
The Northeast minds its own business. The BJP is nowhere in Odisha. Red, not Saffron, rules Kerala. Karnataka is the exception that proves the rule. The BJP sees Bengal as the petri dish to grow its long-promised culture of unity. Amit Shah’s meticulous execution of strategy, Modi’s charisma and the BJP’s cadre coordination has Mamata Banerjee in jitters. She sees the BJP as a party of outsiders, an India that is not Bengal. Amartya Sen argues that ‘Jai Sri Ram’ is not a part of Bengal’s culture and it is ‘Maa Durga’ that blesses the Bengali gestalt.
However, Ram is the unifying mascot of Akhand Bharat, where a copyright concept of perfect Indian family values makes the perfect moral code—Sri Ram, the ideal man, son, father and king. Sita, his faithful wife who sacrifices her needs to follow her husband through the wild. Brothers Lakshman and Bharat, whose fidelity and obedience to Ram is exemplary. Even the enemy is a gentleman; Ravan never lays a hand on Sita and treats her as a queen.
This patriarchal idyll is in contrast and conflict with the idea of life in many other states. North Indians revere the cow while people of the Northeast, West Bengal, Odisha and Kerala consume beef. Tamilians love Hindi like a mongoose loves a cobra. Telugus, Kannadigas, Kashmiris et al do not subscribe to an India where their culture and language play second fiddle. It is Modi who boosts pride in Gujarat, the land of Somnath.
While foodie Bengalis fear rosogolla being replaced by Agra petha in the manner Lucknow’s Tundey kebab could get a paneer version, the prospect of TMC eating humble pie instead of Didi’s favourite dhokla may not be an unreasonable algorithm. Mamata Banerjee will have only herself to blame if she loses to Sri Ram. Her extreme Muslim vote pandering and refugee rabble rousing has changed the cultural password of the Bengali. The BJP is just providing Hindutva WiFi.
Just as the Congress demographic malware in the Assamese cultural mainframe allowed the BJP to triumphantly Bluetooth Hindu rage, Didi has been tampering with the CPU of Amar Bangla. The idea of Bengal being united by the legacies of Rabindranath Tagore and Syama Prasad Mukherjee could be the psephological software. In Amit Shah’s computer, there is no limit to the GB of Ram.