Hindi-speaking North Indian Migrants Are Fuelling BJP's Growth in Bengal & Its Hopes for 2021 Assembly Polls
Politically speaking, West Bengal contains multiple Bengals within itself. But the one Bengal within West Bengal about which I am going to write here is originally Hindi-speaking. This Hindi-speaking West Bengal emerged through the migrants from north India. The migration from north India to Bengal started long back.
During colonial times, a large population of labourers, merchants, etc, moved to Bengal. The flow of north Indians to Bengal remained swift till about 1960. As the decline of industries in Bengal started around the 60s, the rate of migration too started declining gradually. Still, West Bengal continues to attract a significant number of migrants mostly from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, etc. Many 'migrants' have been settled in Bengal since three or four generations. Most of them have been living in and around the industrial belt comprising Howrah, Hooghly, 24 Parganas, etc, and the coal belt of Asansol-Raniganj.
Some of the migrants also settled in the towns and kasbas of Bengal and opened shops selling tea, paan, groceries, etc. They are originally Hindi speakers but slowly evolved as multilingual communities who are also fluent in Bengali. It is interesting to observe that about half the migrants in West Bengal have moved from Bihar over the years.
These migrant communities usually have not been politically inclined except those who were mobilised as part of trade union movements by the leftist political parties. In recent years, it is being observed that a section of them who are influenced by the political culture of their home states have emerged as a vote base for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in West Bengal.
One may hear praises of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP from the mouths of these north Indian migrants in recent years. Small Ram and Hanuman temples have been constructed or are being constructed around their paras (neighbourhoods) and bastis. The Hindutva politics for protecting their north Indian version of Hindu culture works as a mobilising force in favour of the BJP in elections. The language and slogans of the BJP's politics evoke memories of their homeland culture. It is the foundation for their comfortable association with the BJP.
Eminent scholar of Bengali culture and politics Prof Partha Chatterjee recently pointed out in an interview that the migrants from Rajasthan, who are comparatively richer and mostly traders are investing a part of their income in constructing these temples in Bengal. So, the cultural environment for the rise and growth of BJP politics is being created by a section of the north Indian migrant communities. While interviewing these north Indian migrants and their families over the phone, one can easily observe that a large slice of these communities seems sympathetic towards BJP politics. However, the mostly marginalised labour sections of this population still have affinity towards the politics of the Trinamool Congress and Left. Some of them also take the middle path while commenting on politics and opine that the BJP may be better for the politics of Delhi(as the ruling party of the country) but Didi (Mamata Banerjee) is good for them in Bengal.
So it is true that these north Indian migrants may not emerge as a homogenous vote base for the BJP but most of them seem inclined towards its politics. The TMC seemingly has not been very successful in providing representation to these migrants in power and governance of the state. Since most of them are settled here for years, their political aspirations are also growing gradually. The BJP is trying hard to cater to these north Indian Hindi-speaking migrants to achieve success in the 2021 West Bengal assembly elections.
(The author is professor and director of GB Pant Social Science Institute, Prayagraj. Views are personal)