Kolkata’s Refugee Colonies: Making and Unmaking a Political Community
Timeslot:07/28 | 09:40-10:00 UTC+2/CEST
The refugee colonies of South Kolkata were established by Hindus displaced from East Bengal in the 1950s through forcible occupation of land on the edge of the city. These refugees found political representation through their strategic alliance with communist and socialist parties, and in turn contributed to the electoral success of the Left Front coalition, which governed West Bengal from 1977 to 2011. The Left Front granted rights to the refugees over the occupied land and incorporated this “refugee city” into the municipality. The Left parties, particularly the Communist Party of India (Marxist), accrued a strong influence in this part of the city which has outlasted the political demands of the refugee movement. However, successful rehabilitation has undermined the sense of the refugees and their descendants as a unified political community.
Much scholarship has focused on the refugees’ role in sustaining the Left Front for an unbroken thirty-four years. However, this analysis of the relationship between the refugees and the communist parties has not been extended to explore the rapid decline in support for the parliamentary Left since their electoral defeat in 2011. This paper traces the decline of the CPI(M) in relation to the evolution of the colonies into middle-class suburbs, in which the refugee political identity has become largely irrelevant. In a broader sense, the paper reflects on the role of urban space in making and unmaking political communities.