The Bengali word ebar bangla means this time Bengal. While coining the word, BJP President Amit Shah must have visualised the uninterrupted series of victories in the country and a scope in Bengal is clearly visible to him with BJP’s penetration into the state, which is significantly noticed and people’s support base is growing increasingly.
After the sweeping victory in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP is high on spirit, which is reflected in the action immediately aftermath the declaration of results, when the people of West Bengal saw an unprecedented show of strength on the days of the Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti. Around 150 processions in different parts of the state indicate that a larger consolidation of Hindu votes is no longer a dream for BJP in the state.
The result of the recent by-poll for Kanthi Dakshin (Contai South) in West Bengal also shows BJP’s stronghold. Although Trinamool Congress retained the Assembly seat, BJP emerged second. TMC increased its vote share, but the BJP too witnessed a 22 per cent increase in its vote share since 2016 Assembly election. Therefore, the election result is significant as it confirms the growing popularity of the BJP in the state as the alternative to the party, which is ruling the state.
The three-day visit of Amit Shah to West Bengal is symbolic in terms of preparation for the 2019 general election. The 15-day organisational tour spans West Bengal, Odisha, Gujarat, Telengana and Lakshadweep in a bid to spread BJP’s national footprint in places, where it is weak and to consolidate its power in areas, where it is so far less in power. Shah chose Bengal its first step, which has its own significance. As the general election are due in 2019, Bengal with 42 seats, can give BJP a nice support in both the houses of Parliament.
For years, BJP remained a marginal player in the state with a nominal presence, with little support in north Bengal. But the notion changed in 2014. The Modi wave saw an unprecedented acceptance in the state with BJP cornering 17 per cent votes.
Let’s analyse, what went wrong with Mamata’s rule, who was once a popular choice of people of Bengal and who supported her single-handed struggle by voting in her favour, overthrowing the longest serving Left Front government from the state. It was then Mamata wave in Bengal, which is now being replaced by Modi wave.
Although Mamata Banerjee has been successful in overthrowing the Left Front government in 2011, gradually in order to seek the support of minority vote bank, which, according to 2011 census, is 27 per cent, Mamata took a decisive turn towards identity politics. Mamata started indulging deeper and deeper in politics of minority appeasement. She used state machinery to further her appeasement politics and in so doing, ignored the possibility of Hindu backlash–secure perhaps in the belief that Bengali Hindus will put their cultural identity ahead of their religious identity.
Her many acts of appeasement–monthly stipend to imams and muezzins, curbing puja rituals in favour of Muslim processions, turning a blind eye to acts of lawlessness and violence committed by one community– kept her in the wrong side. According to a 2016 report: “West Bengal has witnessed a spike in communal violence during Mamata Banerjee’s tenure. There have been the infamous Canning and Deganga riots and communal incidents increased to 106 in 2013. Dhulagarh is only the latest symptom of West Bengal’s descent into a communal cauldron instigated by violent TMC cadres, as BJP accuses.
Therefore, the visit of the most successful organiser of BJP, Amit Shah is noteworthy. As the party knows that right at this moment, it cannot compete with the TMC in terms of organisational strength, people-to-people connect or booth-level mobilisation, but it can project itself as an alternative to the people of Bengal, which hasnever been under the rule of BJP. During a media interaction in Kolkata, Amit Shah raised the issue of politics of appeasement, when he said: “BJP does not indulge in politics over religion. Forget what Mamata
is saying. Listen to what people of Bengal are saying.” Criticising the “appeasement politics” of the state government, he said, “I believe the administration in Bengal has been communally driven, that is why cases of clashes have increased.”
He also rejected Mamata Banerjee’s allegation that the Narada sting footage scandal was a ‘political conspiracy’, which Mamata often alleges. He said, “Trinamool leaders were seen in the video footage taking bribes. Not only Bengal, the entire country has seen it. The allegation is based on evidence; it is not a mere statement of the allegation.” Pouring some humour and recognising the growing popularity of BJP in the state, the BJP President said, “Mamata Di is now having BJP-phobia. She is seeing Bharatiya Janata Party everywhere.”
Mamata Banerjee didn’t take too long to counter Amit Shah. She said that she is not scared of BJP’s threat to capture Bengal, rather she’ll soon capture Delhi, when she said,“Why are you scared of Trinamool? That’s because you know Trinamool will capture Delhi in the coming days. I accept the challenge of those who challenge me. We’ll capture Delhi.”
She also added, “They come from Delhi and spread lies. They are in a hurry (to capture power in Bengal). They cannot handle Gujarat, but they are eyeing Bengal.”
The trend in Bengal is, no doubt, changing, as the shift of Congress and Left votes to BJP is evident. Apart from above-mentioned reasons, there are other factors too like the change of look east policy into act east policy after BJP’s success in Assam and its lead in Manipur, which has generated an excitement in Bengal, regarded as the gateway to the East and Northeast. Economically, it will benefit Bengal. But BJP too has to work out on its organisational structure, as the party needs to strengthen itself by curbing internal bickering and by projecting a leader from the Bengali base to represent the multidimensional Bengali people.
By Joydeep Dasgupta from Kolkata