‘Outsiders’: Can ‘We’ Survive Without ‘Them’

India is a land of diversity where language, tradition, culture, clothing may differ but there is a unique bon

With West Bengal Assembly elections expected around April-May 2021 there are now issues on “outsiders” being raised which has recently been metamorphosed into “Bengali vs non-Bengali” (Who’s Outsider?)

All for the sake of the ballot. While leaders of the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) is accusing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of sending top leaders from “outside” to supervise poll preparations, the latter claims that TMC leaders are getting help from “Bangladeshis”.

Dilip Ghosh photograph by Ranjan Basu/𝗹𝗲𝗮𝗱𝗻𝗲𝘄𝘀𝘁𝗼𝗿𝘆.𝗰𝗼𝗺

“They are trying to turn West Bengal into West Bangladesh. They are getting leaders and actors from Bangladesh to campaign for them,” as alleged by BJP state president Dilip Ghosh.

His party has also pulled up the TMC for consulting a person whose roots lie in neighbouring Bihar. In fact, poll strategist Prashant Kishor’s prominence is being questioned within the TMC itself.

Whatever the analyses, parochialism has raised its head time and again in the state, albeit for political reasons. From ‘Aamra Bangali’ to ‘Bangla Pokkhho’, the so-called ‘Bengali pride’ has been in use.

“Indeed, there have been efforts to infuse ‘Bengali vs non-Bengali’ feelings earlier, but it was widely rejected then,” feels veteran journalist Suvashis Maitra.

“Parochialism or majoritarianism is now an international trend and West Bengal has also been affected by it,” he added.

Senior journalist Saumya Bandyopadhyay also agreed that the divide has been there but “being widened now”.

“State politics has always been led by Bengalis. Even during Congress heydays, state politics was led by Bidhan Chandra Roy, Atulya Ghosh, Siddhartha Shakar Ray, etc.,” he said.

“Later, Left politics was spearheaded by personalities from the state like Jyoti Basu. Again, when the Congress split, it was Mamata Banerjee who emerged as the alternative,” added Saumya Bandyopadhyay.

“Thus, in a tough poll battle being seen ahead, the BJP is being painted as ‘outsider’ and it is being projected that ‘Ramnavami’ will replace ‘Durga Puja’. It’s all about polls and politics.”

Migrant labourers return home photo Rana Patra/𝗹𝗲𝗮𝗱𝗻𝗲𝘄𝘀𝘁𝗼𝗿𝘆.𝗰𝗼𝗺

In the last census (2011), the number of ‘migrants’ was 33,448,472 (10,240,751 male, 23,207,721 female) out of the state’s total population of 91,347,736 (46,927,389 male, 44,420,347 female).

Those included in ‘migrants’ in the 2011 Census and having stayed in West Bengal for over 10 years numbered 19,172,090 (4,933,063 male and 14,239,027 female).

Men mostly migrate for work and business while most of the women shift for marriage.

Now, in Kolkata itself — according to the 2011 Census figures — out of the total population of 44.9 lakh, 3.9 lakh are from other states. Over 50% of the city’s migrants are from Bihar and 28% from Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Odisha.

In ‘out-migration’, according to the data, i.e. among states from where people migrate elsewhere for work and employment, West Bengal ranked fourth.

Between 2001 and 2011, nearly 5.8 lakh people migrated from Bengal looking for work (after Uttar Pradesh with 37.3 lakh, Bihar — 22.6 lakh and Rajasthan — 6.6 lakh).

In fact, during the lockdown period following Coronavirus pandemic, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee claimed in early June this year that over a million migrant workers have returned to the state.

Thus, the traffic will continue for economic and social causes and the state itself will also benefit. However, the concern is over infiltration.

However, according to Maitra: “Since some time, infiltration has dropped after Bangladesh improved its social and economic indices — whether GDP, Hunger Index, etc.”

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Jayanta Bhattacharya

Journalist|Educator|Content Creator|Cover politics & conflict| Footprints across East & South Asia, including Afghanistan…