Recently, a few special friends have asked me, am I slowly returning to BJP?
These are longtime friends. They all know that I was deeply involved with RSS and BJP, was once the West Bengal province secretary of RSS’ student wing Vidyarthi Parishad, worked as an underground grassroots organizer during the anti-Indira Gandhi anti-emergency rule, earned reputation as an organizer, and finally came out of RSS and BJP because of ideological disillusionment.
These friends all know that I then wrote a book called In the Belly of the Beast: Hindu Supremacist RSS and BJP of India — An Insider’s Story, based on my many years of active involvement with them, and the book got some notoriety. Courtesy this book, I was invited by various organizations in USA, India and Great Britain to speak and write about the politics and philosophy of BJP-RSS.
Some of these friends have mildly admonished me. And then, some others gave up on me, unfriended me, and are spreading the news that it’s now just a matter of time before I returned to my “old home” RSS. This second group of friends are a little too far on the left. A few of them have found my recent, post-election commentaries on BJP and RSS as soft and indulging. According to them, the “progressive and Marxist” stance they found in the post-In the Belly of the Beast me has now all but disappeared. Since my father Jitendra Nath Banerjee is still alive, and keeping touch with old-time RSS and erstwhile Jan Sangh leaders, these friends believe that with his recommendations, these leaders who have known me since my childhood would eventually forgive me for my straying off the RSS path, and rehabilitate me.
In fact, if I wanted it, they actually could. My father happens to be well known to big personalities like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L. K. Advani; in fact, they were old RSS colleagues. Top RSS and Jan Sangh leaders would frequently visit our Calcutta home, and some of them have kept me in their minds. Every time I went to India for a visit, they would call. They don’t do it much these days.
Now, a couple of words about myself. One of the big similarities between me and father is that we’d never ask for anybody’s recommendation for personal benefits, no matter if we died out of starvation. Had I believed in the usual Indian way of insider recommendations, I would take advantage of it long ago after I worked as a professor in a remote, Sundarbans Delta college, to get a transfer to a Calcutta college, with help from ruling CPI(M) — Marxist Communist Party — leaders whom I came to know at that time. I did not go that route. Rather, I decided to chart the course of my life on my own, and in the absence of any other way, decided to quit my professor’s job, and leave a very familiar and cherished society and surrounding in India — as a prince (professor with a good salary) turned pauper — to come to USA as a penniless student. I’ve written about it in various places; there is no reason to repeat it here.
The thing I do want to talk about now is this. After having been in biology for twenty-five years, going through difficult hoops, I decided to quit science and go back to school at the age of forty: to fulfill my life’s mission to work in human rights and social justice. I can swear that 99% of new immigrants of my type with a humble background would never take such a risk. I did. Then, after graduating from Columbia University Journalism School, I started a new, money-less career with a huge loan on my head. I began working to protect the lives and dignity of Muslim, Sikh and other immigrants during the post-9/11 hate crime and persecution days. The lessons I learned during my fifteen years of RSS and Vidyarthi Parishad days all came in handy. Different ideology, but similar grassroots mobilization. With a similar, high enthusiasm and zeal to stand up against the wrong committed against the vulnerable.
I don’t want to brag too much about it, but my colleagues and friends who saw me working those days could attest to the amount of time and energy I spent. To work with the many, about-to-be-deported, innocent Muslim Bangladeshi and Pakistani immigrants with no papers. To visit poor immigrants in jails, including a number of visits to the notorious Elizabeth Detention Center in New Jersey. To visit family members of detained or deported Muslim immigrants. Visit family of a Belarusian immigrant killed in a hate crime. Visit Sikh immigrants after they’ve been beaten by racist men on the street. Work with poor but bright Latino and Bangladesh students on DREAM Act. Immigration reform work. Work with peace groups. There are so many names of immigrants and activists that come to my mind; you can ask my then-colleagues about some of these names. I’m blessed to have worked with them.
When New York Civil Liberties Union brought a high-profile lawsuit to challenge the unconstitutional NYPD subway bag search after 9/11, I was the only immigrant member out of the five-member plaintiff team. I took a lot of risk to expose myself to that potentially dangerous lawsuit and its aftermath, because I thought it was the right thing to do. I have always done it in my life: taking risks to put myself and my family in danger. I’ve done it in India, and I’ve done it all these years here in the U.S. I got this quality from my RSS-father. I gave up on his ideology, but did not give up on the justice and rights lessons he taught me.
Now I work as a labor educator. I teach global economics, media, diversity, writing and such subjects — all from an equality and justice points of view — to seasoned, American labor leaders and young apprentices alike who belong to various labor unions. I feel humble, but I also feel proud to sometimes wonder what point I’ve come to in one life, and that too, from where. People who see me after a long gap look at me with total disbelief.
I haven’t studied much, and my inspiration, therefore, are old-time poets and philosophers and social reformers: Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekananda, Raja Ram Mohan Ray, Vidyasagar. Maybe, a little of MLK and Nelson Mandela. I espouse bridge building across the moderate left and right working class people and families. I know this is where the strength of the 99% is. I know this is the right thing for us all to do.
I don’t need to justify to anyone what I am doing. Deep in my heart, I know the difference between the right and the wrong.
I am not truly a huge believer in God. My conscience is my god.