By Amulya Ganguli
In all elections, every contestant wants to win. The desire is all the greater for the BJP in West Bengal because it has not only been an outsider in the state with a minimal social and political presence till now, but also politically untouchable, even disreputable, because of its cow belt background. The BJP is all the more determined, therefore, to outsmart its longstanding detractors in West Bengal.
The yearning to prove the party’s worth must have also been accentuated by the increase in its vote share and the number of seats in some of the recent elections. It is also clear from these results that the BJP has replaced the Left as the main opponent of the ruling Trinamool Congress. The party has come to believe, therefore, that a major push is all that is needed for it to cross over to the winning side.
In the process of doing so, however, the party appears to be indulging in something of an overkill. By fielding nearly all the big guns from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Union home minister Amit Shah to BJP president J.P. Nadda and organizing rallies and “poriborton yatras” or chariot rides for a regime change, the BJP has been going full tilt to make its presence felt in a state where it didn’t exist only a few years ago.
The BJP probably also believes that the extra effort is required to make up for the fact that as a north and west Indian party, it is palpably unfamiliar with Bengali culture, which is a matter of great pride for the locals. Hence, the BJP’s occasional efforts to (mis)appropriate some of the revered personalities of the state such as Rabindranath Tagore, Subhas Chandra Bose and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee.
Although the BJP tends to infuse considerable energy and enthusiasm into almost every election that it fights, the scale of its vim and vigour in West Bengal can be said to be setting a record of its kind. But there is another side to such exhibitionism. If the BJP can pull it off, the excesses of its campaign will be justified. But what if it can’t ?
For the BJP, success in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu is a cherished objective for it will enable the party to shed its image of a party of ultra-conservative Hindi-speakers in the east and south of the country. Besides, it is not only the linguistic angle which is of importance, there is also the question of dietary preferences, especially in West Bengal where the locals are primarily non-vegetarian.
Not surprisingly, it has been noted that when BJP leaders like Amit Shah and J.P. Nadda sit down to a meal in a peasant’s hut to show their affinity to the Bengali way of life, there is no fish on the plate, which is a must for all Bengalis. The BJP’s adaptability is well-known, of course, in this respect. The party allows the consumption of beef in states ruled by it such as Goa and in the north-east.
But West Bengal and Tamil Nadu are not only bigger in size, but also wield greater political influence than Goa or the north-eastern states at the national level. Any discernible distance, therefore, between the linguistic, culinary, sartorial or musical facets of life followed by the BJP and the people in the east and the south can only impede the BJP’s political drive.
Then, there is the communal angle. Not surprisingly, the BJP has observed complete silence in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu on an issue like “love jehad”, which is close to the heart of its governments in U.P., Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Haryana. Although the BJP has been accusing Mamata Banerjee for her policy of Muslim appeasement, it has been less vocal this time about the infiltration of Bangladeshis than before or the role of the Rohingya refugees, all of whom are suspects in the BJP’s eyes.
Instead, the party’s focus has been on the dynastic factor with the chief minister’s nephew. Abhishek Banerjee, in the party’s crosshairs, the phenomenon of “cut money” or the extraction of “commissions” by the Trinamool cadres from real estate transactions, the politicization of the police and the consequent lawlessness.
The soft-pedalling of the Muslims as “Internal Enemies”, as M.S. Golwalkar said, is not surprising in a supposedly Left-leaning, “progressive” state where the BJP is aware that it has to tread with extreme care. Nothing underlines the party’s desire for success in West Bengal more than this display of tactical restraint.
But by placing so much emphasis on victory with claims of winning 200-plus seats in the 294-member House, the BJP is painting itself into a corner where failure is absolutely unacceptable and can deal a devastating blow if it takes place. (IPA Service)