Mahua Moitra of TMC uses NRC, Hindi poet Dinkar, Maulana Azad, Rahat Indori to attack the BJP’s “early fascism”
Mahua Moitra said in her maiden speech in Parliament that people, under the NRC, were being asked for proof they are Indians, while ministers don’t have degrees to prove they are graduates.
In her maiden speech in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, All-India Trinamool Congress (TMC) member of Parliament Mahua Moitra evoked a poem by Hindi poet Ramdhari Singh ‘Dinkar’, who is fondly remembered as ‘Rashtrakavi’ (poet of the nation).
The extract, part of his epic poem Rashmirathi, discusses Krishna’s response to Duryodhana, when the latter spurns his peace offer as the emissary of the Pandavas and orders that Krishna be tied with a chain.
“Baandhne mujhe tu aaya hai, zanjeer badee kya laaya hai? (You have come to tie me down; how long is the chain you have brought),” Maitra said, in Hindi laced with a clear Bengali accent.
Dinkar’s lines in this part of the poem described a scene in the epic Mahabharat where Krishna shows his “Vishwroop” (divine form) to the Kaurava court, also showing them the past and the present, including the impending, deadly, battle that would consume the warring, extended families.
Significantly, the speech chose to evoke symbolism that wasn’t Bengal-specific but cross-regional or “national” in a wider way. Rather than a familiar falling back upon Bengali Bhadralok icons Rabindranath Tagore or Qazi Nazrul Islam, the speech, which went viral, evoked ‘Dinkar’, a conservative, nationalist, yet secular and anti-Hindutva poet from Bihar, who wrote in Sanskritised Hindi. The speech also recalled Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and the Urdu poet Rahat Indori.
At a time when many are saying that talking up a Bengali-“outsider” divide – something Mamata Banerjee explicitly harked upon when she said all those living in Bengal must learn Bengali – is the TMC’s strategy to counter the BJP, the speech made a cross-regional pitch, suggesting that the TMC may be looking for a carpet bombing of all kinds of strategies to contain the spectacular rise of the BJP in the state.
She ended with Rahat Indori’s much quoted Urdu line: “Kisi ke baap ka Hindustan thodi hai. (India isn’t anybody’s father’s property).”
During the speech – where she pointed to “dangers” that were visible all around and later said these were part of the seven early signs of “fascism” – Moitra said people who lived in this country for 50 years were being asked for a piece of paper to prove they were Indians, while ministers could not produce a degree to prove they are graduates. The first reference was to the National Register of Citizens, while the second was dig on PM Modi and Union minister Smriti Irani, who have faced controversy over their educational degrees in recent times.
Moitra said a “hyper-nationalism” was being employed in a lust to “divide” rather than a desire to “unite” the country.
The tone and tenor of Moitra’s speech, running against the grain of a recent evoking of a Bengali-vs.-non-Bengali divide by the TMC, was more cross-regional than regionally insular.
Observers believe that the Bengali-vs.-“outsider” pitch of Mamata Banerjee – when she insisted early in June on the use of Bengali in the state and also reacted to the doctors’ agitation after violence at the hands of patients’ relatives as a handiwork of “outsiders” – may have been a knee-jerk reaction to the BJP upping the ante.
“It may have been a knee-jerk reaction by her. For, she did end up handling the doctors’ agitation rather well in the end after initial belligerence. She has also evoked not just standard Bengali Bhadralok icons like Tagore and Qazi Nazrul Islam but also Gandhi, Nehru and Maulana Azad,” veteran journalist Manini Chatterjee told Asiaville. “Kolkata has more non-Bengalis than Bengalis. And it’s also true that the Bhadralok do like to see themselves as more ‘liberal’ than others. Mamata being a seasoned politician may already have reworked her strategy.”
The TMC’s reaction to the BJP’s Ram and Hanuman processions has vacillated between increased mention of goddesses Kali and Durga – more popular in Bengal than Ram – parallel Ram Navami and Hanuman processions, abrupt, adversarial reaction to the ‘Jai Shri Ram’ chants of the BJP, the evoking of a Bengali identity vis-a-vis “outsiders”. Moitra’s speech suggests a parallel TMC bid to evoke an inclusive, “national”, legacy of co-existence cutting across regions.
MPs from Bengal have competed with BJP MPs in taking oath in Parliament on sharply religious lines. It seems that the TMC is leaving no stone unturned to stem the BJP’s tide before the 2021 state assembly polls.
Whether it may be able to stop the BJP or not remains to be seen. But it’s clear from Moitra’s speech that the AITC is open to reworking its strategy, which isn’t yet cast in stone.