ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Politics of Cultural Misrecognitions and the Rise of Identity Consolidations in Post-left West Bengal

West Bengal has a substantive presence of minority population with 27% Muslims and 5.5% Scheduled Tribes. They often have a ghettoised presence and political parties take special care to secure electoral dividends from them. After the end to the left regime in 2011, the Trinamool Congress in its second term has percolated in most of the traditional left bastions, especially among the ethnic and religious minorities. This paper explores the mechanisms of TMC’s percolation among the ethnic and religious minorities through “cultural misrecognition.” Through an ethnographic work on the promotion of cultural expressions and recent ethnic conflicts, it is argued that, while the organisation-based political mechanism has been put in the backseat, West Bengal is observing a rapid rise of primordial identity-based political practices.

The author acknowledges all the research participants, his fellow enthusiasts at AAMRA, Sreejith K for his encouragement. The author is grateful to the anonymous reviewers for the valuable inputs in this paper.

West Bengal has seen a political change after the worlds longest democratically elected left regime was defeated in the assembly election 2011 by the alliance of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Indian National Congress (or the Congress). In 2016, the TMC secured an even greater mandate with definite percolation at places considered as left bastions (Ei Samay 2016). A question that arises is, what made these changes possible? One explanation is the impact of direct benefit giving schemes like the Kanyashree Prakalpa, which gives money for education to the girl child, Sabooj Sathi, which gives bicycles to every schoolgoing student, and distribution of subsidised foodgrains (Hafeez 2016). Additionally, there is a visible drive to improve the rural connectivity and to make cities cleaner. Such initiatives have earned international recognitions  (NDTV 2016; Business Line 2017). These explanations to the TMCs increasing political stronghold fail to understand its political strategy at the grassroots.

I have argued that in response to political society and party society (as conceptualised by Chatterjee 2004 and Bhattacharyya 2009, 2010, 2016) where party became the chief mediator during the Left Front, the TMC has promoted a distinctive, individual and dependent misrecognition-based politics. This is conceptualised as cultural misrecognition (Nath 2018). The TMC has promoted traditional cultural expressions through numerous means and has integrated traditional political systems within the party hierarchy. Such mechanisms of integration and promotion of traditions are quite distinctive. During the 34 years long Left Front rule, the issues of identity-based cultural expressions, including religion, were pushed back to the main concern of the party hierarchy. Even the opposition forces did not use religious ideologies or identity politics to expand their base. Nevertheless, the opposition leaders, especially from the TMC, had directly patronised Durgotsava (largest festival of the state) for several decades. The festive and carnivalesque nature of Durgotsava has always made its religious association secondary. This mode of popular politics was consciously avoided by the Left Front, with a few exceptions. However, the situation started to change post 2011.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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