Battle of Bengal: BJP eyes power in essentially ‘pro-Communists’ state

To feel gloomy and to be left out in the cold never quite bothered Bengali voters; otherwise they would not have tolerated the Leftists. The West Bengal unit of BJP is getting into the ‘get set go’ mode keen to capture power in a state -which for long has been a communists’ forte.

Durga puja is around and despite Corona, the characteristics of Bengalis, the ‘adda’ and the spirit of it is very much visible both in tea stalls and in social media. Of course, politics is being discussed. Thus the enthusiasts among anti-Trinamool voters are hoping to uproot Mamata Banerjee, but the grapevine about infighting in the BJP too is the toast of the town.

How is politics emerging ? – if someone asks. On the other hand you are bound to get a response: “Dada, our Didi will face a tough time”. Something like this could also come: “Dada, ei baar Didir bipod acchey”. Others would however say – Ms Banerjee is still popular and continues to be ‘acceptable’ to the common people. There was a uniqueness in Bengal politics; and therein lay the strength of Mamata Banerjee’s crafty politics. She has never portrayed herself as an anti-Left — despite being the biggest political foe of the Marxists since the time of Jyoti Basu.

She was even hit hard on the head by Left cadres. In 2000, when she was Railway Minister under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, I traveled with her in the same compartment to Dehradun. Ms Banerjee had shared with us the agony of disturbed sleep due to “baam panthi (Leftists)” manhandling.

However, the fact that she remained rooted to communists-variety politics contributed to her success. She even quit NDA and went on to embarrass Vajpayee and even George Fernandes. She had linked her resignation to the Tehelka tapes and 

Fernandes later said he was greatly hurt by that. Ms Banerjee won over what was once a solid Left vote bank.

But Tripura voters gave BJP a major hope. Another Left citadel fell and BJP came to power in the 60-member assembly in the tiny northeastern state. In the 2018 assembly elections, the saffron party could win as many as 36 seats as against the tally of ‘zero’ it had in 2013. So it would be presumed that the Bengali voters have not only changed their mindset; they developed a kind of a new mind and ‘affinity’ towards the saffron party’s right wing ideas. Leftists-based politics was abandoned. 

The so-called ‘right wing’ or the pro-Hindutva politics has now created excitement among these Bhadralok (Bengali word for gentlemen) voters. Of course, Bengalis of Tripura and Bengalis of West Bengal have certain differences too. But the BJP also gained acceptability among women in West Bengal.

The saffron party’s ability to make inroads in 2019 Lok Sabha polls would not have been possible without the backing of women supporters. In the meantime, several ‘important women leaders’ are coming into the saffron family – of course jumping from the celebrity world of Tollywood (Bengali cinema world).

Roopa Ganguly of ‘Drapaudi’ role from ‘Mahabharat’ and actress Locket Chatterjee are already BJP lawmakers – Ms Ganguly being a member in the Upper House. There are other leaders too and specially from rural parts and in North Bengal. One of them, Debasree Chaudhuri, is in fact a Minister of State for Women and Child Development.

She represents Raiganj in North Bengal — where the BJP is pretty strong these days.

There is another union minister from the state, — the Asansol MP, Babul Supriyo. A Bollywood playback singer-turned neta, he won in 2014 and in 2019 he defeated a formidable challenger in actress Moon Moon Sen.

In short, things have changed and that is the moral of the story.

At one point, it was easy to argue that the Left Front could not be defeated in Bengal from a rightist platform, so Mamata Banerjee had plunged into a traditional communist game – identified herself with farmers, opposed industries famously in Nandigram and Singur. She also befriended minorities.

In fact, she overdid that ‘appeasement’ towards Muslims and this has partly boomeranged 
provoking the Hindu voters. Rest of the good work has been done by the BJP — by exploiting all the weakness and a blatant pro-Muslim tilt of the Mamata camp. A formidable 30 percent of voters in Bengal are Muslims and that made Mamata Banerjee’s regime often hurt Hindu sentiments.

The state government perhaps did not like Rainbow to be called ‘Ram Dhanu’ in Bangla !

But in the process, she forgot the 70 percent. 

In the words of Amit Shah, the incumbent Home Minister and a former BJP president, – “People had to go to the High Court to seek permission for immersion of the idol of Durga. The constitutional right of the people to celebrate festivals was not guaranteed in West Bengal due to vote bank politics”. Such statements would 
have made little sense 20 years back; but in today’s Bengal there is a powerful message.

And importantly, this missive has created panic in the Trinamool camp and in many places there is desertion of party cadres and leaders.

A nervous Trinamool leadership more than once has said that West Bengal should not be allowed to be ruled by “outsiders and Gujaratis” – a clear illustration of directing the tirade against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
In 2019 during the Lok Sabha poll campaign, even Ms Banerjee tried to pronounce Sanskrit Hindu mantras.

But as of now, things are too early. The BJP also has internal squabbles and mind you, a Bengali mind is good at that. They are also given the natural virtue or vice called crab-like syndrome.
“Amar hobey na, tomar o hobey na (If I fail, you will also go down)”. 

Now, that could turn out to be Mamata Banerjee’s strength. The basic ideological barriers and organisational weaknesses need not matter; and the BJP central leadership knows this.

About the Author:

Nirendra Dev is senior Journalist. He is a longtime northeast watcher and author of books including ‘The Talking Guns: North East India’ and ‘Modi to Moditva: An Uncensored Truth’.