Abhishek Pandey, Kolkata: The election season is on in West Bengal. Voting for three phases is over and there are five more to go. While the results will be announced on May 2, an internal survey by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has almost confirmed a Saffron tsunami in the state. As per the survey estimates, the party is likely to get 187-195 seats in the Assembly elections.
Commenting on the situation, a senior journalist, who is closely following the political developments in the state, said, “BJP is winning the elections in West Bengal. The party has spent money like water on the polls. It succeeded in the polarization of Hindus and Muslims. Even the social media campaign was handled effectively. BJP has projected Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) as corrupt. It is now reaping the benefit of that image in the Assembly election.”
Notably, the TMC had faced corruption charges earlier too. Before the 2016 elections, a few leaders of the party had been accused in the Saradha scam and the Narada sting operation. However, that did not affect the party and it had gone on to win the elections.
The journalist added, “In the 1972 Assembly election, the CPI(M) won 14 seats which increased to 178 in 1977. It stayed in power in Bengal for 34 straight years, but was reduced to just 40 seats in the 2011 Assembly elections. Similarly, Mamata’s Trinamool Congress has 30 seats in 2006, which increased to 184 in 2011, bringing the party to power. There was one TMC member of Parliament in 2004. The number rose to 19 in 2009. BJP is witnessing a similar rise. The party had won two Lok Sabha seats in 2014 in the state. But in 2019, 18 of its candidates won the LS polls. However, in all probability, TMC’s situation would not be as bad as that of the Left in 2011 Assembly polls,”
Polarization in the name of religion has been another factor at play this time. Biswajeet Bhattacharya, a senior editor and a political analyst, averred, “It is not the case that there was no communal tension in West Bengal or that riots have never taken place. But, it was confined to a few pockets in the state. The divide between Hindus and Muslims widened in 2019 general elections and in 2021, it is the biggest issue.”
Bhattacharya said he has witnessed polarization in Assembly constituencies such as Nandigram and Arambagh. He, however, said that it is difficult to predict who is going to win the Nandigram seat where the voting pattern is complicated. Notably, the BJP has fielded Suvendu Adhikari from Nandigram against TMC chief Mamata Banerjee.
He also asserted that BJP has high chances of winning the coastal areas in North and South 24 Parganas. These areas were the worst-affected due to ‘Amphan’ and there are strong allegations of corruption against the local TMC cadre.
As per BJP’s internal survey, three factors have played an important role in the party’s stupendous performance in West Bengal
- BJP has succeeded in fanning the anti-Muslim sentiment that had been brewing for the past several years
- Mamata’s trusted followers did not receive due recognition in the party. Also, those who could work were not valued
- Mamata’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee, because of whom BJP was successful in weaning away several party members
‘Ab ki baar 200 ke paar’
BJP winning 18 seats in 2019 had stunned not only political experts but also Mamata herself. The results of the hard work that BJP had put in for Mission 2021 are being seen on the ground level. The party is fighting the election with its ‘Ab ki baar 200 ke paar’ slogan.
BJP successful in polarization of votes in Bengal
The BJP and the Trinamool Congress resorted to polarization to win the Assembly elections in Bengal. The Saffron party openly played the Hindu-Muslim card, while the Trinamool Congress also began to portray itself as pro-Hindu.
At an election rally in Bishnupur in Bankura district on March 25, Mamata Banerjee said, “Goons from Uttar Pradesh, dressed in saffron robes and chewing pan, are being sent here. They are destroying our culture.” Trinamool Congress is using the ‘pan and gutkha’ metaphor for the ‘Bengali Vs outsiders’ polarization, while the BJP and its allies are making jihadi influence an issue in Bengal.
In his tweet on February 27, Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh had said that the Assembly election would be a fight to save the land. The population is increasing because of intrusions and uncontrolled birthrate. Jihadi activities are also increasing. The issues raised by Trinamool had an impact on Kolkata and its nearby urban areas, but what BJP has said affects several people in rural areas. Polarization based on religion could be seen in parts of North and South 24 Parganas and Birbhum where the Muslim population is more, he had said.
As per the 2011 Census, 27% population of Bengal is Muslim.
At her final campaign rally in Nandigram on March 30, Mamata Banerjee said, “When I went to pray at a temple, the priest asked me my ‘gotra’. I said, ‘Ma, Maati, Maanush’. At the Tripureshwari temple in Tripura, I had said the same thing. My gotra is Shandilya.”
On the other hand, Mamata’s one-time close aide Shubhendu Adhikari had also said at a rally in Nandigram, “Those people have transformed a few gram panchayats like Pakistan. They burst crackers, distribute sweets and party if Pakistan wins a cricket match. You want to hand over Nandigram to such people… just think about it.”
Lack of respect for Mamata’s followers in the party
Mamata’s followers did not get the respect they commanded in the party, the direct benefit of which was reaped by BJP. For Mamata, who is facing a do-or-die fight against BJP, the biggest problem came from BJP’s commanders who were once her most trusted lieutenants. At the top of the list is Mukul Roy, who is credited with strengthening Trinamool’s hold in rural Bengal. If North Bengal, hills and jungle areas slip into BJP’s hands, the credit for that, too, shall go to Roy. Shubhendu Adhikari and Dinesh Trivedi are other names that had worked on strengthening TMC, but are now trying to uproot it.
Rebellion in the party amid accusations of nepotism
The dissatisfaction at elevation of Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee in the party came out in the open when Shubhendu Adhikari left TMC. Gradually, a few more legislators and local leaders joined the list. Instead of addressing this dissatisfaction, Mamata had said that the doors were open for those who wished to leave. That further fuelled the accusations of nepotism and rebels began to leave the party.
Mamata Banerjee has been in power in West Bengal for the past 10 years. During this period, public anger against the government has been rising over the law-and-order situation, Bangladeshi intrusion, restrictions on Durga Puja and immersion of idols, inflation and other issues. BJP latched on to these issues and used them to attack Mamata in the run-up to the elections. The way the winds of change are blowing for BJP in the state, it seems it will be “Ab ki baar, Modi Sarkar”, “2 Mai (May), Didi gayi” in Bengal.
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