Kolkata’s non-Bengalis say: ‘Want development, but also want peace’https://indianexpress.com/elections/west-bengal-lok-sabha-elections-kolkata-polarisation-mamata-banerjee-narendra-modi-tmc-bjp-hindi-voters-5734037/

Kolkata’s non-Bengalis say: ‘Want development, but also want peace’

West Bengal has witnessed continuous mudslinging between the two rivals, each accusing one another of resorting to polarisation to create a divide.

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Lok Sabha elections in Kolkata will be held on May 19.

The ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the main opposition BJP are locked in a fierce tug of war to woo Kolkata’s non-Bengali votebank, which, according to the 2011 census, constitute 51.2 per cent of the city’s population. While both parties are accusing each other of polarisation, the non-Bengalis in Kolkata, for their part, seem to think that Prime Minister Narendra Modi might be more suited for developing the state but are sceptical of the saffron party’s brand of politics.

Suresh Pandey, a resident of Uttar Pradesh and who has been practicing law in the city for over a decade, condemned the idea of using religion as a political weapon. “Here, no one thinks like that. People here review a political party and their performance and not caste before voting. Using religion will only weaken India’s democracy through rifts and tension,” he said.

Santosh, who hails from Ghaziabad and works as an Uber driver here, said: “No doubt the state government has not done much for development. There are no jobs here. But it is also important to maintain peace without any tension or conflict.”

West Bengal has witnessed continuous mudslinging between the two rivals, each accusing one another of resorting to polarisation to create a divide. According to data provided by the Union home ministry to the Rajya Sabha last year, 27 cases of communal violence were reported in 2015, 32 in 2016 and 58 in 2017.

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Taking on Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the BJP, while campaigning, continuously bombarded the TMC with claims that Durga Puja, the largest festival in Bengal, was no longer celebrated with the same fervour in an attempt to appease the minority community.

Refuting the claims, Ravi Singh from Uttar Pradesh, who sells tea outside at College Street, said, “This is not true. All Hindu festivals are celebrated with the same fervour as across the country. Durga Puja is not only for the Bengalis, but it is also for the people of Bengal and Bengal is a secular state. The BJP’s claims are not true.”

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West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee greets supporters during an election rally in Kolkata on the last day of campaigning ahead of the seventh and final phase of Lok Sabha polls on Thursday. (PTI)

Kolkata’s cosmopolitan heritage also consists of the Marwaris from Rajasthan. They, along with the Biharis, represent large minorities and also form large part of the business community here.

The All India Marwari Federation in the city is of the view that the BJP may lose out on the votes for seeking another term using the Ayodhya card. “The BJP’s idea of Hinduism does not resonate with everyone in Bengal, including the Hindus. Besides a few fringe elements, it doesn’t work here. The scenario is entirely different and not favourable to hardcore Hindutva,” Avilash Dubey, member of the federation, said.

“There can be no violence here. Kolkata is a peace-loving city. Yes, it is still yet to be developed but people want peace here,” Sudesh Jalan, who hails from Rajasthan, said.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses an election rally for the last phase of Lok Sabha polls, in Kolkata, on Thursday. (PTI)

Speaking on similar lines, photographer Kapil Jain from Madhya Pradesh, said, “PM Modi is obsessed with the Hindus and the Muslims. He chants Jai Shri Ram once in five years. How come he never thought of Lord Ram in the last five years? They are spreading poison in the name of religion. Bengal is a mini Hindustan. There is no place for riots here.”

Mani Prasad Singh, president of the Bihari Rashtriya Samaj, explained how he disagreed with the BJP’s claims that the TMC favoured a particular community. “While offering namaz, she (Mamata) covers her head. She also participates in our Chatt Puja. She participates in Sikh processions. The Muslims are a poor lot, precisely why they are given a lot of aid,” he said.

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President of the Bihari Rashtriya Samaj Mani Prasad Singh. (Express photo/Liu Chuen Chen)

A section of the Bengalis from the upper class feels that it is the Chief Minister who has initiated the process of polarisation and that the BJP was making the most out of it. “It is Mamata who started appeasing a particular community. She favoured that particular community to such an extent that the others began feeling secluded. She is definitely going to lose out the support of the Hindus here,” an employee with an IT firm in south Kolkata said, on the condition of anonymity.

Joining him, his colleague said, “Religion has taken the front seat, thanks to our government here. The upper-class Bengalis will definitely vote for the BJP here. TMC is not a party but a clubhouse.”

However, issuing a clarification in this regard, TMC candidate from North Kolkata constituency Sudip Bandopadhyay said, “No party in Bengal can ignore the Hindi population here. TMC is a secular party. They favour all communities. We are not like the BJP. I am confident of securing the Hindi-speaking votes here as well.”

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TMC candidate from North Kolkata constituency Sudip Bandopadhyay at an event in North Kolkata. (Express photo/Liu Chuen Chen)

Providing an account of the “deteriorating” law and order situation in Bihar, Mani Prasad lauded the Mamata government for the development of Biharis here and for promoting the Hindi language in the state.

“The Mamata government has worked immensely for the development of Biharis in the state. Biharis here live more comfortably than in Bihar. Earlier, students were forced to appear for exams in English. Now, with the help of the TMC government, students can also take the exam in Hindi. It is her government who has pushed for the development of Hindi here,” he said.

The BJP’s grand plan of demonetisation of Indian currency and the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), just when the citizens were limping back to normalcy, has been another bone of contention that has brought a tough fight for the party.

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BJP workers clash with police during party chief Amit Shah’s roadshow (left) in Kolkata on Tuesday. (Express photo by Shashi Ghosh)

Akash Loiwal from Uttar Pradesh, who owns a garment shop at Kolkata’s Jorasanko area, the hub of Marwari traders, said, “The worst decision was note ban. No one has benefitted from it. PM Modi and his party were only busy with caste and religious issues. They eventually turned a blind eye to the sufferings of the citizens.”

While some slammed the BJP over its poor economic decisions, it also criticised the Mamata government for failing to encourage industrialisation in the state. Most emphasised the need to be business-friendly in order to attract investment.

“There has been no development on the part of the Mamata government, unlike the BJP who has worked on the infrastructure. No jobs have been generated whatsoever,” Anil Kumar, a jeweller, said.

“Business in Bengal has gone down in the last few years. The TMC is not business-friendly. BJP is considered to be the most business-friendly,” Avilash Dubey said.

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BJP chief Amit Shah has set a target of 23 seats for the party here where the TMC has held power since 2011. (Express file photo)

On the law and order situation, Mahesh Adalakha from Uttar Pradesh, who works at a garment shop in Vardaan market, said, “People here must be free to talk. There should not be any form of hooliganism. The Bengal government has been favouring a particular community here. We don’t oppose any religion but let everyone practice their own faith.”

The saffron party holds only one assembly seat and two of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state. BJP chief Amit Shah has set a target of 23 seats for the party here where the TMC has held power since 2011.

Akash Loiwal from Uttar Pradesh, who owns a garment shop at Kolkata’s Jorasanko area, the hub of Marwari traders, said, “The worst decision was note ban. No one has benefited from it. PM Modi and his party were only busy with caste and religious issues. They eventually turned a blind eye to the sufferings of the citizens.”

While some slammed the BJP over its poor economic decisions, it also criticised the Mamata government for failing to encourage industrialisation in the state. Most emphasised the need to be business-friendly in order to attract investment.

“There has been no development on the part of the Mamata government, unlike the BJP who has worked on the infrastructure. No jobs have been generated whatsoever,” Anil Kumar, a jeweller, said.

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Police personnel patrol after clashes and incidents of arson over Ram Navami procession broke out at Raniganj in Burdwan district this year. (File photo)

“Business in Bengal has gone down in the last few years. The TMC is not business-friendly. BJP is considered to be the most business-friendly,” Avilash Dubey said.

On the law and order situation, Mahesh Adalakha from Uttar Pradesh, who works at a garment shop in Vardaan market, said, “People here must be free to talk. There should not be any form of hooliganism. The Bengal government has been favouring a particular community here. We don’t oppose any religion but let everyone practice their own faith.”

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The saffron party holds only one assembly seat and two of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state. BJP chief Amit Shah has set a target of 23 seats for the party in the state where the TMC has held power since 2011.