Flex campaign triggers political buzz in Bengal
‘Parota is better than Paratha", "Bengal is better than Bangal" (the way non-Bengalis pronounce Bengal) - anonymous white and maroon flexes and stickers appearing all over Kolkata and its suburbs have created a buzz, with speculations rife about those behind the exercise and the politics playing out in the background.
'Parota is better than Paratha", "Bengal is better than Bangal" (the way non-Bengalis pronounce Bengal) - anonymous white and maroon flexes and stickers appearing all over Kolkata and its suburbs have created a buzz, with speculations rife about those behind the exercise and the politics playing out in the background.
The flexes written in Bengali, with identical measurements and designs, started appearing from last week with the tagline "bhalo bhasha" (good language) and "nijer bhasha nijer thak" (let your language be yours).
One of the flexes apparently refer to former Indian cricket captain and Bengali icon Sourav Ganguly - "Saurav theke Sourav bhalo" (Sourav is better than Saurav).
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), however, sees the hand of the State's ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) behind the "flex campaign".
"They are trying to bring about a linguistic polarisation and foment unrest. It's a fruitless effort to stop our victory march by driving a wedge between Bengalis and non-Bengalis," Said state BJP general secretary Sayantan Basu.
To buttress their point, BJP leaders pointed to one of the flexes that read "Swachh Bharater theke poricchono Bharat bhalo, Bolteo, Shunteo" (Clean Bharat is better than Swachh Bharat, be it in saying, or hearing).
"The dig taken at the Central government's Swachh Bharat campaign gives out the game. The political motive is clear," said the leader.
The April-May Lok Sabha poll saw the BJP come up with its finest performance in the State by increasing its seat count to 18 from the only two constituencies it won in 2014.
Since then, the Trinamool, whose tally dropped from 34 to 22, has been harping on a Bangla, Bangali, Bangla Bhasha (Bengal, Bengali, Bengali language) line from its perception that the Hindi speaking Hindus in the state had voted en block for the BJP.
Political commentator Bimal Shankar Nanda found merit in Bose's arguments.
"Trinamool was formed to remove CPI-M led Left Front from power. The party has been suffering from some ideological crisis since taking over the reins in 2011. This crisis has been aggravated after BJP's Lok Sabha success.
"So Trinamool is now trying to bounce back by portraying the BJP as a party synonymous with Hindi imperialism. That's the reason we now find Trinamool supremo and other leaders constantly trying to appeal to Bengal sentiments by fanning Bengali sub-nationalism," Nanda said.
"It is a totally political, movement. This is adding a new political dimension to the state," he said.
However, a senior Trinamool leader pooh-poohed allegations that his party was associated, directly or indirectly, in putting up the flexes. "It is fast becoming the BJP's habit to blame us for everything. We have better things to do," said the leader, a heavyweight minister.
But Nanda had his own take.
"The stickers and flexes don't have the names of the people putting them up. Some fringe groups are involved in bringing up the issue of Hindi imperialism and the interests of Bengal and Bengalis, These groups are active on social media platforms. There is no established link between Trinamool and such groups. But at the same time the Trinamool administration hasn't been tough with them.
Had you or I put up such anonymous hoardings or flexes the Trinamool-run Kolkata Municipal Corporation would have pulled them down citing flouting of rules and alleging visual pollution. But in this case the civic body has done nothing of that sort," he said.
The group alleged to be the mastermind in the flex campaign is Bangla Pookkho, which has in recent years been holding meetings, rallies and demonstrations claiming Bengali language and Bengalis "are facing an existential crisis' in the State.
But its leader Garga Chattopadhyay, a lecturer at the Indian Statistical Institute, said he would "neither confirm nor deny" his group's involvement in the flex campaign.
But he strongly backed the endeavour, saying it was an attempt to "Save Bengal, and stop imposition of Hindi".
Chattopadhyay said while the flexes and stickers have been put up in Kolkata, in the districts one can see the stickers on all local trains and buses.
Chattopadhyay, a familiar face in debates in national television channels and known for his antipathy to the BJP, described his political identity as "Bengali nationalism", and railed against forms for jobs in banks, post offices and railways being available in Hindi and not in Bengali in the State.
"The flexes reflect a resistance by Bengalis against all such atrocities against them," he told this reporter.
He denied any involvement of the Trinamool in the campaign, saying his organisation came into being in 2017, when the Trinamool never spoke on those lines.
"We have opposed Trinamool for giving three-day leave during Chhaat festival. We also oppose Trinamool for establishing a Hindi university," he said.
Chattopadhyay lashed out against the National Register of Citizens exercise in Assam. "We are also fighting against the way Bengalis are being driven out in the name of NRC. Anybody trying to undertake the NRC exercise in Bengal will be driven out of the state," he said.
But noted Bengali linguist Pabitra Sarkar saw nothing wrong in the flex campaign.
"I don't think it's an effort to draw a wall between Bengalis and non-Bengalis. Since the flex, stickers, are in Bengali, the target obviously are the Bengali speaking people. This is a movement against Bengalis mispronouncing Bengali words. It's a good lesson for Bengalis on Bengali diction," Sarkar, a former Vice Chancellor of the Rabindra Bharati University, said.
He pointed out that in the 1990s legendary writer Sunil Gangopadhyay had spearheaded a movement for protecting Bengali identity.
"So the present movement is also fine. Till that time it gets violent, there is no need to oppose or condemn it. I don't see politics in this," he added.