As the Trinamul Congress delegation heads for the killing fields of Kherbari, a nervous BJP West Bengal chief Dilip Ghose has shot off a letter to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh with a copy to Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal.
The content of the letter is predictable.
Both Centre and Assam government should do all in their power to protect Bengali Hindus, ensure their security and restore their self-confidence, and bring to book the killers of Kherbari and punish them in exemplary fashion.
The letter ends with an emphatic request: incidents like Kherbari should not be repeated.
High hopes and pious platitudes, one might say.
But the letter is interesting for an entirely different reason – it is written in Bengali.
The state BJP chief is clearly trying to respond to Trinamul ‘s shrill post-NRC rhetoric that BJP is an anti-Bengali party seeking to deny millions of them their legitimate right to Indian citizenship in Assam.
By doing so through a letter in Bengali, Ghosh is resorting to a symbolic gesture that his party is as Bengali in West Bengal as Mamata Banerjee‘s Trinamul Congress.
BJP leaders in West Bengal are clearly nervous that their anti-Mamata campaign focused on her alleged ‘Muslim appeasement’ is losing steam post-NRC in Assam.
And that is primarily because the numbers of those excluded from the draft NRC is almost even as far as Bengali Hindus and Muslims are concerned. And many Nepali and Hindi speaking Hindus have been excluded as well.
This takes the wind out of the BJP sails in Bengal where their leaders like Dilip Ghosh have supported Assam’s NRC exercise and called for it to be repeated in West Bengal.
If the bulk of NRC exclusions had been Muslims of East Bengali origin, the BJP would have been vindicated and continued their push for NRC in Bengal. Now that looks unlikely.
The BJP ‘s failure to push through the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 in Assam which exposes the Bengali Hindus to the same threat of losing citizenship as Bengali Muslims is going to cost them dear in West Bengal.
The Assamese backlash against the bill was very much expected and the BJP now clearly does not seem to be in a position to wish it away, despite all the tall promises made by their national leaders while addressing rallies in West Bengal.
The killings at Kherbari which brings to sharp focus the abject helplessness of the Bengali Hindus in Assam may boomerang on the BJP in Assam as well.
The hollowness of the shrill rhetoric of BJP Bengali Hindu leaders, some of whom even foolishly challenged the ULFA in a climate of increasing ethnic polarization, has been bitterly exposed.
The mobilization for supporting the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 that provoked the ethnic backlash evident in last month’s Assam bandh was BJP ‘s doing as a party .
It would be naive to believe that some small time Bengali leaders would garner so much courage to loudly raise such a furore on their own unless they had backing of the party’s top leadership – or at least some top leaders who want to fish in troubled waters and may even now seek to ask for a change at the top.
Some Bengali leaders in Assam cutting across political lines are now blaming Chief Minister Sonowal for failing to contain the explosive situation that led to the Kherbari massacre and even seeking his resignation.
This clearly benefits those who aspire to replace Sonowal and begs the question as to whether some of them were encouraging the shrill rhetoric of some of the small time Bengali leaders that provoked blatant threats from the likes of surrendered ULFA leaders like Mrinal Hazarika.
The fact that none of these small time leaders, despite being members of the state’s ruling party, can muster enough courage now to even visit the bereaved families at Kherbari stands in stark contrast to the Trinamul delegation’s visit to the killing fields of Upper Assam.
The killings may further impact on the BJP’s grip over Bengali Hindus in Assam which had started eroding after the NRC draft publication.
But more importantly it would impact on their prospects in the battle for Bengal where 42 seats (as against 14 in Assam) are up for grabs.
A letter in Bengali to Rajnath Singh or Sarbananda Sonowal will not help assuage feelings in the light of the obvious failure to push through the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and the fear of NRC exclusions that hangs like the proverbial sword of Damocles. The jumla does not wash for long regardless of the language it is delivered in.