Jayanta Ghosal’s vivid understanding of India, its cultural diversity and knowledge of RSS ideology as a journalist can be seen in the way he differentiated between Bengal’s faith in the Hindu religion and the RSS idea of Hindutva.
I remember at the end of 2020, when I was in Delhi, the national media was only talking about mass defections to the Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee.
Several senior TMC leaders were abandoning Mamata Banerjee, then two-term chief minister of West Bengal, and joining the Bharatiya Janata party. The entire media was pointing to the BJP in a way to sweep Bengal in the 2021 elections. A few months later when I started covering the elections in Bengal, I realized that the reality on the ground was completely different.
Senior journalist and author Jayanta Ghosal, in her book Mamata beyond 2021, captured the real core stories of the Bengal election. However, this book is simply not about the elections in Bengal, but it outlines Banerjee’s game plan to become the main face of opposition against the BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The 2021 election in Bengal was significant for several reasons, and the best part of Ghosal’s book is that he explained every aspect of this election. Many high profile journalists, analysts and even politicians got the Bengal predictions wrong because they failed to understand the realities of the state. Here is the importance of Ghosal’s book. This book explains Bengal, the politics of Bengal, the perception of Hindutva in Bengal and most importantly Mamata Banerjee.
Ghosal is a political journalist covering Bengal for four decades. He has worked for Bengali newspapers like Ananda Bazaar Patrika and bartaman, as well as several national information platforms. He has written several books in Bengali on the state of Bengal and more importantly he is also Banerjee’s biographer. This book is originally written in Bengali, and this is a translated edition. The translation is done by Arunava Sinha.
I have also gone through the Bengal book and the translation is accurate. On the one hand, Sinha has maintained the tone of the book, and on the other, he has gone the extra mile to make it suitable for a wider audience, who has less knowledge about the dynamics of Bengal.
From every page of this book, it is evident that Ghosal is a kind of journalist who not only understands Bengal but also has a deep understanding of the Mamata Banerjee person. In the first chapter of his book, Ghosal introduces Banerjee to readers. This presentation is not that of a leader who doesn’t speak Hindi so well or is always in an offensive mood.
Here the author introduces the leader Mamata Banerjee who understands the politics of Bengal, loves the state and is calm and confident about her politics and her future. In the age of misrepresentation, this accurate presentation will hook readers.
The book can be categorized into three different aspects: the Bengal Assembly election in 2021, why the BJP’s efforts to grow and its Hindutva did not work in Bengal, and Mamata’s national ambitions. The author tells very precisely all aspects of the election. As a journalist, throughout the book, Ghosal has done his best to hyphenate the report. Election reporting is nothing new, but what sets this book apart is its choice of state, its understanding of state dynamics, and its presentation from the ground up.
To understand the 2021 election in West Bengal, it is very important to get an idea of Bengal, the Bengalis and their culture. In the second chapter itself, Ghosal talks at length about Bengali culture and the state’s relationship with the BJP. The party and its parent organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have targeted Bengal for several reasons. And one of the main reasons behind their idea of venturing to capture Bengal was Syama Prasad Mukherjee, the founder of Jan Sangh. The author explains this idea through his conversation with top BJP leader and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The BJP has attempted to capture Bengal not only politically but also through several central agencies and the governor. In this book, Ghosal recounts in detail how the Central Bureau of Investigation targeted the TMC and Banerjee before the elections. Years before the elections, the president appointed a new governor in Bengal in Jagdeep Dhankar. From day one, he allegedly harassed the government in place and the leaders of the TMC. In the chapter entitled “The Role of the Governor”, the author presents the battle between Raj Bhavan and Nabanna [the state secretariat].
Ghosal’s vivid understanding of India, its cultural diversity and knowledge of RSS ideology as a journalist can be seen from how he differentiated between Bengal’s faith in Hindu religion and the RSS idea of Hindutva.
Ahead of the 2021 Bengal elections, during my interactions with Delhi reporters, I found that most reporters were looking at Hindutva and BJP Bengal from their understanding of the core Hindi. The culture and religiosity of Bengal is different which has resulted in the non-acceptance of the BJP in this election. Ghosal’s deep understanding of the very essence of Bengali culture as Bengali makes this book a real, not superficial commentary.
With many positive aspects of the book, the main drawback is the lack of content on Mamata beyond 2021. After seeing the name of the book, as a reader I expected a detailed analysis of the future of Mamata Banerjee’s politics at the national level. However, apart from the last chapter, he only dwells on this matter in the chapter which contains the story of Abhishek Banerjee, Mamata’s nephew and TMC’s number two. That said, apart from this aspect, which cannot be the sole responsibility of the author, this book is currently the only and most comprehensive report on the Bengal 2021 election in English.
Mamata Beyond 2021 is published by HarperCollins India.
Sayantan Ghosh is a Kolkata-based freelance journalist and former policy research fellow at the Delhi Assembly Research Center. He tweets as @sayantan_gh