By Nitya Chakraborty
As the state assembly elections polling begins on March 27, Bengal is getting all the focus both nationally and internationally as the BJP leadership led by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Home Minister Amit Shah, has taken this eight phase poll in the state bordering Bangladesh as the biggest challenge of their political career since the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. In no state elections, the PM and the HM have visited any state for campaigning so many times. The Home Minister is in fact campaigning in the districts and is using his clout to both directly and indirectly influencing the senior IAS and IPS officials. There are reports that district officials, especially the senior IPS officers are being transferred by the election commission at the instance of the local BJP leaders.
The situation is pretty tense. Regular incidents of clashes and police interventions are taking place. For BJP, it is a do or dies situation which is equally true for the Trinamool supremo chief minister Mamara Banerjee. She is in fact the sole crowd catching campaigner in TMC as against the high voltage speakers of the BJP including all central ministers and chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath. The Mahabharata war which the PM is fond of often mentioning, continued for 18 days but the 2021 Mahabharata battle in Bengal will continue for 34 days from March 27 to April 29. The outcome on May 2 will determine the shape of the country’s politics in the coming years culminating in the Lok Sabha poll in 2024.
For BJP, Bengal is a test case for implementing its programme of a new India meaning a Hindu nation state. From only 3 seats out of a total of 294 in the assembly after 2016 elections in Bengal, BJP catapulted itself to the second position in 2019 Lok Sabha elections in by getting 18 seats out of 42 seats – very near to TMC’s 22 and occupied position to emerge as the alternative for the 2021 assembly poll. The 2019 results emboldened the leadership to go the whole hog in capturing Bengal, the dream of every Sangh Parivar member since this was the state which gave the country the Hindu icon Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. Both Modi and Shah took complete charge of the Bengal operation with Shah acting as the main strategist.
As of now, all indications suggest that the BJP has vastly improved its position as against the 2016 assembly elections but far below its target of getting majority. It is hazardous to guess but the ground reality is, despite big hype by the BJP cadres and the massive mobilisation of financial resources, it will be difficult for BJP to cross the figure of 100 seats out of 294. Mamata is in a position to get around 165 seats if there is no major surge in favour of BJP in the next one month. The period of this eight phase poll is so long and the centre and the BJP have so many weapons that the BJP will try to do everything possible to get the final outcome in its favour, but still since the peoples verdict will finally matter, all these efforts may not get desired dividends at the end.
The victory of the Trinamool Congress and the defeat of the BJP is crucial for giving a new vigour to the opposition in challenging the BJP in the coming assembly elections in 2022 and 2023 ultimately leading to the Lok Sabha elections in 2024 when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be on test for the third time after his ten year rule. All the opposition leaders of the parties barring the Congress and the Left have come out in support of the Trinamool Congress. The NCP chief Sharad Pawar is coming to Bengal for campaigning for three days. The Shiv Sena Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, RJD leader Tejaswi Yadav, the Samajwadi leader Akhilesh Yadav, Jharkhand chief minister Hemanta Soren and the DMK supremo M K Stalin are solidly behind Mamata and they all think that Mamata is fighting the BJP on behalf of all anti-BJP forces and her victory will give a jolt to BJP juggernaut which is true.
For local compulsions in state politics, the Left and the Congress are jointly fighting the TMC and BJP, along with a small Muslim organisation ISF but that is not going to affect much in the present charged atmosphere of polarisation. The fight is between the BJP and the TMC. That is the ground reality irrespective of the myopic view of some left leaders who fail to admit that their support base has dwindled drastically in the last five years and the people including the youth and the farmers in rural areas, do not look at Left as alternative to TMC and BJP. Right now, the third alternative is toothless and has no chance to defeat BJP.
That is why even those in the left who are against the TMC but want the defeat of BJP are being involved in a big campaign in Bengal for a no vote to BJP and voting for the best candidate who can defeat BJP. The CPI(ML) general secretary Dipankar Bhattachrya who has a very objective understanding of the ground situation of Bengal politics, has said categorically that the BJP is the main enemy in Bengal and the voters have to decide accordingly. According to him, it will be politically wrong to equate BJP and TMC on the same pedestal. Mamata, despite some gross mistakes, has been consistently fighting the BJP and contributing to the anti-BJP offensive of the opposition. Only a naive leftist can ignore this difference.
Leading actors and singers in Bengal like Sabyasachi Chakraborty, Prambrata Chattopodhayay, Anupam Roy, Anirban Bhattacharya have released an album against the BJP. They are left supporters but taking into account the political reality, they are only appealing to the people not to vote for those who are divisive and charge all dissenters as anti nationals. There is a big upsurge in favour of no vote to BJP campaign and this is going to help Mamata in the coming phases of the campaign. These were not TMC voters before but this time, many of them may vote for TMC in the constituencies where the TMC is in a much better position to defeat the BJP.
May 2 outcome will teach lessons to all the three contenders in West Bengal. Beginning from 1952 elections till 1996, the Bengal poll centred on the Congress versus Left and then from 2001 assembly elections, the ruling Left had to contend with both Congress and Trinamool Congress. In 2011 assembly elections, the Trinamool Congress defeated the Left and came to power in Bengal but still, the contestants involved were Left, Trinamool and Congress in 2016 assembly elections with BJP a small player. The 2019 elections gave a new dimension by polarising the voters between the Trinamool and the BJP. The Left got no Lok Sabha seat while the BJP got 18.The process of polarisation is still continuing by marginalising the left and the Congress. The results on May 2 will finally show whether that trend has got intensified or faced a jolt. (IPA Service)