Krishanu Mitra traced the shrinking of space for dissent within his own party which prompted him to quit both BJP and RSS.
A few days before Krishanu Mitra, a BJP spokesperson and head of the media cell in West Bengal quit the party, he tweeted about the credibility of the party’s Bengal president Dilip Ghosh’s accomplices. 45-year-old Mitra had been a part of RSS for 29 years and had joined BJP in 2009. He contested the Assembly elections in 2016, but lost. He quit the party in 2017.
With Ghosh’ rise, Mitra voiced the concerns that a lot of BJP old-timers had about the ‘new’ path and ideologies, BJP had embraced in the state. “MLA Dilip Babu, How come Amartya Sen is evil but criminal conspiracy, fraud and cheating young job aspirants is not? Admitting rogue CPIM elements in the party is not? Child trafficking is not? Having fake degree is not? Using different identities for government jobs and party is not?” he asked in a tweet. Mitra was responding to Ghosh’s comment that Nobel Laureate Sen was ‘spineless’ and can be ‘bought or sold’.
Three years after he quit BJP, Mitra has joined the Trinamool Congress. He told HuffPost India that after his stint with the BJP, he has realised that Mamata Banerjee is a politician who is not overtly dependent on a Delhi centre removed from West Bengal to run her party or government. It allows her to be involved in the affairs of the state more deeply.
During the interview, he traced the decline for the space for dissent within his own party which prompted him to quit for BJP and RSS.
Why did you resign from BJP when it was peaking?
The line in which the party is progressing in Bengal, I did not feel it was right. I did not join politics because my family was involved in politics, I joined politics to bring about a socio-economic change. I was born in Ranchi, and moved to Kolkata during my plus two. Since then I felt like there was a need to oppose the sort of politics I saw in Ranchi and then in West Bengal.
However, increasingly, BJP started moving towards a similar regimentation. Being a cadre-based party, or a party with a strong organisation is one thing, but at least in West Bengal, we have suffered a lot from structural regimentation. At least, I don’t want a repeat of that.
The people who have been joining BJP in Bengal, they are not joining because they want a change in economic conditions or something, they just want political power. They are using BJP’s platform for that power. Only shrewd politicians who want to further their own political careers are joining. Now, they may want to do that, it’s fine ― but why should BJP allow that? I had brought this up several times within the party, I had brought this up in RSS too — since I was sent to join BJP from RSS.
Since 2014, and especially since 2016, after the Assembly elections in West Bengal, when it became clear that the Left-Congress cannot be revived in Bengal, some of those elements began joining BJP. BJP also opened its doors to them, and once it did, the induction of such people became across the BJP family — RSS, VHP, Seva Bharati, Shiksha Bharati and all other friendly organisations. And after 2014, these people started using BJP’s new political clout haphazardly.
There is a public perception about who is using the power bestowed upon BJP by a public mandate, right? What kind of people are using that power.
For example, there’s a special kind of pranaam that is performed before the saffron flag by members of the RSS. It is to show respect to the saffron flag and has nothing to do with the BJP. But now, in several BJP offices, people are performing that pranaam before entering the office ― to the BJP flag.
The basic bottomline has become, the people who would be know for torturing and abusing others in villages, and neighbourhoods in towns using the CPM platform, those people have been inducted into the BJP. Now the leadership may not have wanted these elements, but the leaders of the lower rung allowed the lumpen people from other parties to take hold of the BJP and unleash similar terror tactics again.
And not just BJP the party, these thugs have taken over all other brother organisations like the RSS.
If you go to villages and localities in smaller towns, you will notice that the most hated, abusive person in that village or the locality is now a BJP leader. We never wanted this.
Who are ‘we’?
People like us who have left the BJP. We are democratic people. We have not joined politis to protect a familial political legacy. We wanted to protect the democratic space in Bengal. Increasingly, the BJP is destroying the democratic space, even within itself.
How would you describe this ‘democratic space’ that existed in the party in the past, according to you?
For example, when I was in the RSS, we were a part of a sort of ‘intellectual cell’. We created a lot of think tanks, study groups — I was a member of several of these groups and think tanks. We used to talk about literature, the government’s policies, the politics of the Opposition. We used to have Yahoo chat groups, we created Orkut groups. Even in the small platform we had back then in Bengal especially — be it BJP, or RSS, or VHP, Seva Bharati, Vidya Bharati — there was an atmosphere of openness. We could discuss anything under the sun, being it political, be it culture, be it our own work. There was no need to hold back. If something was going wrong with the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, or in the state governments where we are in power, we used to discuss everything. There would be support for criticism, there would be counter arguments ― but there was space for dissent.
Increasingly, if you go to these spaces now, the culture is very different. A BJP WhatsApp Group or a RSS WhatsApp group means now, every morning, everyone sends photos of Lord Ram, with some flowers and leaves around him, or messages about how ‘mahaan’ Modi ji is and what all he has done. Besides this, there is no fodder for any intellectual discussion.
And if by mistake you happen to say something critical about the policies of BJP or RSS — say you raise an issue, or say, ‘I read this in today’s paper, I don’t think they are doing right’. Forget yourself, your entire family and bloodline will be abused in these groups. A whole gang will go after you and abuse you relentlessly. This is a scary, dangerous tendency, right? If you don’t allow criticism and discussion within your own organisation, how will you ensure democracy in the greater society? And I am counting only till 2017.
You have been a part of RSS for 29 years. Since when did you start noticing this deterioration of democratic space?
Maybe we were very naive. I can only talk about myself — maybe I was very naive. I have never had the chance to see how much of BJP’s promises translated to reality, practically. In Bengal, when I joined, we were in an environment where BJP did not count and we were nowhere close to being a political authority in Bengal. When I joined BJP in 2009, it was a laughing stock here.
See, you can make a lot of tall promises. But I believe people will value your words only when I can deliver those promises.
Between 1998-2004, we were very young and I was only with the RSS. But we were allowed to call out BJP workers, people misusing resources and opportunities. I remember, at that time, Tapan Sikdar was the telecommunications minister.
There was a scheme, I don’t remember clearly — if you were members of an advisory committee of sorts, you would get a free phone. Back then, it wasn’t like now, phones were a luxury. Telephone booths were a source of income for people. This free phone scheme was misused by a lot of people. Where I lived, in north Kolkata, we remember there was a lot of questions around 3-4 party people who didn’t do much work, but got these free phones from the government. We wrote letters about it to people, and in a few months or at most a year, the scheme was withdrawn.
Again, the details are a little fuzzy, but there was an issue of allocation of petrol pumps around that time. A lawyer and BJP leader called Hemen Guha Roy was looking after that. The whole thing was turning into a scam with shady people getting these allocations. A lot of party workers complained about it, and later Vajpayee cancelled all the allotments. Now, the decision may not have been solely taken because of our protests, but the important thing is, we had the space to protest, openly.
It was a political system that would work, malfunction, fail and we had a voice in it, we could influence and criticise it as well. We could point out the mistakes of our government clearly.
Then things began changing from 2014.
What kind of changes started taking place?
There were lots of things that we wanted to change and do and we were told always that, those schemes that benefit our voter base will be possible only when we get a majority and form a government at the Centre. For us, 2014 elections were like a movement, a movement against a corrupt regime.
After the government was formed, we were told internally that the government has just been formed, so in 2014 don’t expect anything. It will take some time for us to find our bearings. We will begin correcting things in 2015 and in 2016 onwards you will start seeing some results.
I exempted 2014. Then nothing significant happened in 2015, nothing happened in 2016 as well. The issues that we beat our drums about, there was no follow-up to it. A few schemes I remember, we publicised a lot — Mudra Yojana, Atal Pension, Prime Minister Accidental Insurance Policy, Prime Minister’s Life Insurance Policy. We told voters, this would require very little premium, like say Rs 300 a year.
We told people about it, and enrolled some too. Then, this old lady approached us one day. Her husband had died in an accident. Her husband had deposited the premium the first year one of these policies were launched. When the party workers went with her appeal to get her money and then I came to know she was not getting any money. After asking banks and investigating, we found out that no fund had been allocated for the purpose.
The bank people told us that we have no formal intimation about who are the concerned authorities we should appeal to, who handles them at the state level, how will we give her the money? She did not get a single penny. That made me question, what kind of a system have you created?
There’s another issue as well.
What is the other issue?
I read your article on the misogyny surrounding the Sushant Singh Rajput case. I am not sure if you have seen the issue from this prism, but one thing you have not mentioned is the provincial nature of the harassment against the woman. The way she and Bengali women in general were targeted, for being Bengali.
This imposition of Hindi and Hindu supremacy is a sentiment promoted by the BJP. For example, Kailash Vijayvargiya, who is in charge of Bengal BJP. He has been coming to the state for at least 6 years now, regularly. He doesn’t speak a word of Bengali. I can’t believe that a Hindi speaking man has not picked up even a few words of Bengali, especially when you are working for Bengal.
Who is Bengal’s soil meant for?
We have seen MPs from other domiciles getting preferential treatment, but if we demand the same for Bengal, then we are accused of practicing regionalism. But in BJP, this politics is playing out very aggressively. The internal sentiment is ‘Bengalis are marginal players’, ‘Bengalis don’t call the shots’, ‘Bengalis have no bearing on deciding policies’. This is my realisation, having been in the party.
In this whole Rhea Chakraborty-SSR case, absolutely horrible abuses were directed against Bengali women. Men who have studied in premier institutes hurled horrible abuses at her and other Bengali women.
In most pages which are critical of the BJP, who are the people abusing, posting hate comments? You will notice a pattern in their provincial identity. A majority of them belong to a handful of states and hurl obnoxious, sexist abuses. Not that others don’t, but they lead the pack. And this kind of behaviour gets encouraged in BJP and their IT cells.
There has been an upsurge of Bengal for Bengalis, Bengalis are superior in Bengal sentiment in response to the BJP here. But it is in the same vein as BJP’s divisive politics of BJP which says India is for Hindus.
I have not used the word Bengali-speaking even once in the course of our conversation. I have used the term Bengali domicile. Bengali domicile means resident of Bengal. I have not said anything that is language-centred.
You must be aware of the Facebook controversy and that Facebook refused to take down BJP pages that were spreading hate. While you were in the BJP, what was your social media mandate like, what were you required to do and was there a discipline to follow?
Whenever I saw issues, I communicated it to the leaders and people higher up in the hierarchy. As far as Facebook is concerned, I don’t know much, but this ‘Bangladeshi’ narrative was widely endorsed. Calling anyone who is critical to BJP and RSS and speaks Bengali, immediately they’ll be called Bangladeshis. I have been called Bangladeshi too while I was in BJP. You will see comments like, ’You are a Bangladeshi”, “Bangladesh chale jao” when I have had literally no connection with Bangladesh whatsoever. Who are people saying all this?
That the BJP’s economic policies have failed is in common knowledge to its voters too. But they have always found issues, it was Balakote and Pulwama in 2019. For 2021 state elections, do you think the Ram Mandir issue will have a bearing at least in West Bengal?
See, as I have seen, TMC’s popularity hasn’t significantly declined in West Bengal. What has happened is, the opposition unity apex used to be largely fragmented, that has become mostly united and has moved to the BJP. Those who will never vote for the TMC, have identified a certain party as their prospective party to vote for ― that BJP has achieved and is the outcome of 2019.
See for example, Tathagata Roy has joined BJP in Bengal. And they keep talking about Hindu unity. But when he was the governor of Meghalaya, in the West Garo Hills, a Kali Mandir was vandalised. We did not see any proactive work from the office of the governor there, considering Roy was there. When he had authority he did not do anything. He did not even ask the state government to give the report.
In 2019, the BJP raised a lot of hue and cry about an alleged communal disturbance in Bagakhali. This was before the Lok Sabha elections. They had made various claims about how Hindus were allegedly mistreated there. After the elections, after they got 18 MPs from the state, how many times have they raised the issue or tried to address what happened there? They have power now, if they want to, they can, right? Forget a movement, they have not even raised that issue once. That means, I suspect, they know their claims were empty — they only wanted to rake up communal feelings and anger and benefit before the elections.
This is an easy way out for them. They see that without having to do any kind of productive, developmental work, if they can create communal fragmentation, they will get votes and that is all they care about.
In fact, I often question, who is actually behind these communal skirmishes? This is not an accusation, this is a question? Who instigates these incidents. Because they seem to benefit the BJP.
I think they have fooled even the Hindutva followers with this Ram Mandir foundation stone ceremony. VHP’s Ashok Singhal inaugurated the Ram Mandir anyway in 1989. How is Modi ji re-inaugurating it? It’s patently false. According to Vedic customs, the inauguration of a temple can happen only once.
You have one birthday. Say it’s your 40th birthday, you may throw 10 parties for it, but that doesn’t change the fact that you have just one birthday, right? How are they laying a foundation stone, again?