In Bengal, talk of poriborton from flower small to large

Three years after the word first entered West Bengal’s political lexicon, poriborton has taken a new connotation. From the pro-Trinamool Congress surge of support it was, it has transformed into a trickle in favour of Narendra Modi, fed by the state government’s many schemes for Muslims, including stipends for muezzins and imams.

Hindu-Muslim polarisation is new to Bengal politics and it seems to be cropping up in the most unlikely seats, from cosmopolitan Kolkata North to Basirhat which has a 65-per-cent Muslim population to industrial town Asansol. There is even a new slogan, a spin-off from the Trinamool’s battle cry of “chupchap fule chhap (quietly choose the flower)”. The newly added second line is “shudhu chhotor jaigai boro ful (only, rather than the small flower, it is the big flower)” — a reference to Trinamool’s grass flower symbol vis-à-vis BJP’s lotus. The BJP voter, though, is largely silent.

As teaseller Tapan Mandal puts it in Basirhat, “Even Congress and Trinamool workers will quietly vote for the BJP.”  In a small bylane off Nooruddin Road in Asansol, where houses sport an apparently endless row of Trinamool flags, Putan Mishra talks about a BJP wave fuelled not by Modi but Mamata’s love for minorities. What of the flags? “The elephant has different teeth for eating and showing,” he quotes a proverb.

“I had never seen Hindu-Muslim polarisation in these parts. But these elections it is clearly happening. Hindus are unhappy because of the minority-specific schemes, some of the differential treatment is very overt. All girls go to school but it is only the Muslim girls who get cycles. There is a chance that a large block of Hindus, if not all, will vote for BJP because of this frustration,” says Ajoy Byne, a SUCI candidate from Basirhat.

On Sunday, before Narendra Modi landed for a rally in Asansol, BJP local leaders made snide references about how Mamata “bamboozled people with her minority rant and then sprang a Saradha on them”. Modi spoke only about how Muslims are better off in Gujarat than in West Bengal, but he timed the rally well. Asansol’s sizeable migrant population, still reeling from Mamata using the word “guests” for them at a rally last month, feels let down. A “making up” rally on May 1 does not seem to have helped.

Sitting in the Gujarati Primary School in Asansol, a Gujarati employee of the We­st Bengal government says: “First it was the minorities. Then she described us as gu­ests. Many of us including myself have ne­ver lived in our native states, we were bo­rn here. How can we be guests in our own home? But there is a fear of victimisat­i­on by Trinamool men. So we are keeping quiet.”

The BJP might not be placed well enough to win too many seats in south Bengal but it certainly looks set to improve its vote share to two digits after a measly 4 per cent in 2009. Its weak link is lack of ground-level workers.

Mrityunjay Sarkar is young, aspiring and Hindu. But that, he …continued »