West Bengal : Ek AAG ka Dariya hai…
With its return to power in Bihar in alliance with the Janata Dal (United), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) immediately set it eyes towards the next set of state elections. The elections for Assam, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Kerala, and most significantly, West Bengal has been announced and by the time this goes in the press, the first phase of elections would have been held. The BJP hopes to retain power in Assam where it will find the discourse around the Citizenship (Amendment) Act — local political sentiment sees it as the legitimising of “outsiders” — a challenge. The party will seek to expand its footprint in Kerala and Tamil Nadu (where it has a behind-the-scenes understanding with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam), but it is aware that winning is not on the cards — in both these states, the BJP has been historically weak, and identity politics is complicated. But its main focus will be Bengal. West Bengal Assembly Election 2021 is an ultimate showdown between TMC Supremo Mamata Banerjee and BJP! While, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah are leading an intensive, high-octane poll campaign for BJP, TMC’s outreach to voters has been championed single-handedly by Mamata Banerjee and carefully strategized by Prashant Kishor. Meanwhile, Congress, CPIM-led Left and newly formed Indian Secular Front (ISF) have forged an alliance to take both BJP and TMC in the high-voltage eight-phase state assembly election, scheduled to begin on March 27. Election Commission has already announced that along with West Bengal, Assembly elections will be held in Tamil Nadu, Assam, Kerala, and Puducherry and counting will take place on May 2. The stakes are very high for Mamata Banerjee as she looks to fortify her citadel against the BJP which made strong inroads in the state during the Lok Sabha 2019. If Mamata Banerjee manages to withstand the BJP onslaught and anti-incumbency factor, she will become the state Chief Minister for third time. However, if BJP goes on to wrest control of the state, it will be an unprecedented achievement for the saffron party.
Why Bengal so important?
West Bengal has traditionally been understood as a Left-leaning state. When BJP president Amit Shah chose Naxalbari, home of the Naxal movement, as the starting point of his nationwide tour in April 2017, Left leaders saw it as a statement by the BJP-RSS combine against Left and extreme-Left ideology. This was the narrative in Tripura too, where the BJP dislodged a 25-year-old Left government eventually. And in Bengal, after the Left Front’s ouster, it is Mamata’s Trinamool Congress that is now called the “new Left’’. Its Singur and Nandigram land movements had been styled on Left-styled movements and eventually brought Mamata to power in 2011. Even if one undermines the Left and Right narrative in Indian politics, the size of West Bengal and the strength of the Trinamool Congress, too, are important. The party is often described as a possible kingmaker in the Lok Sabha elections. West Bengal has 42 seats, behind only Uttar Pradesh (80) and Maharashtra (48), which could determine post-poll government formation. Even in the 2014 elections that were marked by a huge mandate for Narendra Modi, the Trinamool won 34 of these 42 seats, conceding only Darjeeling and Asansol to the BJP. This made the Trinamool the fourth largest party in Lok Sabha.
Bengal matters to the BJP because it is the one eastern Indian state where it has never — except in the last Lok Sabha elections — been able to make substantial inroads. The State was first a bastion of the Left — the key ideological adversary of the BJP — and now the Trinamool Congress, arguably the most important regional adversary of the BJP. Winning here will not just symbolically reinforce the BJP’s position as a national party across geographies, but also allow it to forcefully implement its ideological and political agenda, gain Rajya Sabha seats over time, make eastern India truly saffron, accumulate political capital for the rest of the term till 2024 and demoralise the Opposition. But it faces a formidable adversary in Trinamool and Mamata Banerjee.
Also, West Bengal is an important state for BJP for not only political reasons but also for cultural and historical reasons.
West Bengal is the land of modern age Hindu icons like Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and so on. Hinduism owes alot to these great personalities. It was Swami Vivekananda who introduced Hinduism in front of the world at World Parliament of Religions in Chicago.
West Bengal is also the land of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, the great novelist, who composed Vande Mataram and personified India as Goddess. It’s also the land of Dr. Shyamaprasad Mookherjee who is the reason why West Bengal exists today with India and the man who was the founder of erstwhile Jana Sangh which today is known as Bharatiya Janata Party.
However, Bengal has been ruled for more than 30 years by the Communists and the communists in every manner possibly have ruined Bengal. Communists not only ruined the economy of Bengal but the bigotry of the communists has also resulted in number of massacre, violence against Hindus. Moreover, after the Communists were thrown away by Mamata Banerjee and Trinamool Congress started ruling Bengal, people aspirations for a better life was crushed under its tyrannical rule.
During its nationwide surge in the 2014 general elections, the BJP captured 17 per cent of West Bengal’s vote, its best performance ever in the state. In the 2016 Assembly polls, the BJP share dropped to 10 per cent, but the party had kept up the pressure. The failure of a Left Front-Congress understanding provided the BJP with an opposition vacuum to occupy. In almost every bypoll since 2016, the BJP has been ahead of the Congress and the Left Front, claiming the role of main opposition. The BJP’s performance relative to the rest of the opposition has encouraged organisations such as the RSS, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, which had little presence in the state earlier, to become more assertive.
According to Hindustantimes the outcome of the election will hinge on five factors. One, as the BJP projects itself as a party of change, the extent of anti-incumbency against Ms Banerjee will be a key variable. Two, religious polarisation will affect voting patterns, with the BJP accusing Ms Banerjee of “minority appeasement” and pushing the CAA plank to win over Hindu voters. Three, whether the other forces — the Left, the Congress, and possibly Asaduddin Owaisi’s formation — split the anti-Trinamool vote (thus benefiting the incumbent) or anti-BJP vote (thus benefiting the challenger) will matter. Four, which way the voters tilt on leadership if the battle is framed as a Narendra Modi versus Mamata Banerjee contest will have a role. And finally, and unfortunately, the ground level political violence — often aided by the state government in power — will affect sentiment and voting.
Strategies at work
Bengal will be to Modi’s NDA II what Uttar Pradesh (UP) was to Modi’s NDA I, the BJP camp believes. In India’s most populous state, which has a 403-member assembly, the party rose from 47 seats in 2012 to 325 seats in 2017. Now, it sees a similar momentum in Bengal. The strategy for the eastern state seems borrowed heavily from UP as well as Tripura, where the BJP had a tough job in hand. But eventually, it ended the Left’s 20-year-old rule in Tripura in 2018, winning 36 of the state’s 60 seats. Significantly, it had drawn a blank five years ago. According to a News 18 report. “A pointer to the “sweep” the BJP expects in Bengal is the response that Modi has been getting in there since 2019, party insiders say, claiming similarities in UP between 2014 and 2016 with people thronging his rallies.
This is said to be the reason why Modi could address as many as two dozen rallies in all in Bengal, rivalling what he did in UP, which has 37% more seats, in 2017. In Bengal, Modi has chosen to attack alleged corruption and nepotism under Banerjee’s watch, factors the BJP feels reflect the ground narrative.
BJP leaders cite smaller pointers too. Like a section of people in Nandigram coming out to counter Bannerjee and the Trinamool’s version of events leading up to her injury. This kind of a reaction is unlikely towards a government that is returning to power, a senior minister and a star campaigner says. Another is “Jai Sri Ram” becoming a slogan “that has come from the people” and a sign of discontent against the Trinamool government, the minister adds. This, the BJP feels, has reflected in the CM’s recitals of Chandi Path to showcase her Hindu identity, and her manifesto dropping a specific section on Muslim welfare, which was there in 2016. Moreover, her increasing personal attacks on Modi only work in the BJP’s favour, as she does not seem to have picked a trick on this front from Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, according to party insiders.”
Furthermore,” The PM is focusing on promises that the BJP feels are silently ringing a bell among the electorate on the ground — Rs 18,000 pay-out to each farmer in one go under the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi plan, Rs 5-lakh medical insurance cover under Ayushman Bharat, the roll-out of ambitious drinking water scheme Har Ghar Jal, and bringing Hindu OBCs (Other Backward Classes) into the reservation net. Banerjee has had to counter this by promising monthly income support for state residents and reservation for some backward Hindu caste groups under the OBC umbrella.”
The BJP won’t cross 100 seats, the Trinamool’s strategist, Prashant Kishor, has said, a claim the BJP sees as a tacit admission of its impending rise. The ruling party is playing up protests inside the BJP over ticket distribution and has alleged low attendance at rallies by BJP leaders. As the battle heats up, some assume the BJP may run Trinamool close, but not win. They think that the BJP will have to be content with a “moral victory” like the Congress claimed to have in Gujarat in 2017. But home minister Amit Shah’s declaration that the BJP will win 200+ seats shows each seat matters. For Modi and Shah, in battle ground Bengal, beating Mamata paves the road to a third term at the Centre in 2024.
By Nilabh Krishna