By Ashis Biswas
In West Bengal, the first immediate impact of the recent Assembly polls in five states has been a noticeable change in the familiar rhetoric used by major parties. The eventual outcome of the polls has also affected the internal functioning of the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)and the CPI(M)-led Left Front (LF)in the short term.
The only exception to this is the Bengal unit of the Indian National Congress (INC). No major changes are expected in the state party’s depressingly lacklustre functioning.
Naturally the poll results have pleased the Bengal leadership of the BJP no end. For long months they have been facing very hard times. The BJP’s vote share has slumpedfrom40% to around 13/14% between 2019 and 2022. A further indignity has been the drop from number one to number two position for the saffron party within opposition ranks. The LF has regained its earlier runner up position to the TMC, thanks to its sustained political agitations, unlike the BJP or Congress.
Not surprisingly, state BJP bigwigs Mr. Suvendu Adhikary and Mr. Dilip Ghosh, the pair still left standing in the fight against the TMC as their lesser followers scuttle off to join the TMC, have called for a tougher battle against the TMC in the 2024 Lok Sabha (LS) polls. Mr Adhikary pursuing his relentless campaign to embarrass Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, is confident of winning at least 25 out of 42 LS seats in 2024.
Most analysts view such claims as nothing more than a slogan to boost sagging cadre morale. The major victory in Uttar Pradesh has spurred the Bengal BJP leadership to talk about resuming their ‘agitations’ but few are impressed.
During the past two years, the so-called BJP-sponsored ‘agitations ‘,were mostly token ‘demos’ carried out by Mr Ghosh and his followers on various issues. Their ‘programmes’ hardly lasted beyond 20/25 minutes before the bored policemen arrested the few demonstrators, only to let them go after 30 minutes or so. Central leaders like Mr Kailash Vijayvargiya and others often participated in these gatherings which the state administration never took seriously.
The only difference between BJP’s style of functioning under Mr Ghosh as the state leader and under the new state President Mr Sukanta Majumdar these days, is that the party has given up even its token oppositional programmes in Bengal altogether! Too busy to fight off the challenge posed by his detractors within the state unit, the new president has been reduced to meeting media people in the party office by way of maintaining a political relevance of sorts.
As leading inner party critics, who include MP Locket Chatterjee, ex state President Tathagata Ray and others have been saying repeatedly, unless the BJP puts together a proper organisational structure and works much harder, there is little hope of any revival in Bengal. It must follow the LF’s example and not avoid the hard work involved in carrying out sustained agitations.
Despite being badly drubbed at all levels of electioneering — from the Panchayat to the Civic elections to Assembly polls and beyond — students’ and youths belonging to the SFI , the DSO and other Left youth organisations have untiringly carried out prolonged agitations during the last few months on bread and butter issues. The younger batch of left supporters have not flinched from facing police lathi charges, and acute legal harassment over their arrest and detention on palpably flimsy charges.
Even the recent deaths of at least 4/5 youth leaders of all hues among them Barun Biswas, Anindya Gupta and Anis Khan have not demoralised the Left. .
Again, during the post Amphan cyclone period and the Covid pandemic induced lockdown, left cadres set up a rare high standard of behaviour in these present troubled times by setting up special relief camps to supply free /cheap food , medicine and other help for the needy people in different areas. Their efforts won widespread appreciation even from the TMC-dominated West Bengal mass media.
More important than securing favourable media publicity, the major achievement of these pro people programmes which unruly TMC elements backed by the police tried to disrupt in some areas , was ensuring a growing popularity for the new young left enthusiasts in the state.
These days to see leftwing youths including boys and girls protest more vigorously than before on issues such as growing unemployment corruption in filling up official vacancies in educational institutions etc ,braving the brutal treatment from the police and TMC activists. Usually, excesses committed by the police have led to more agitations by youth, which have drawn respectable public support, never mind the pro-Mamata Media narrative.
Left parties have had to pay a high price, in terms of broken /shattered limbs of cadres in police lathi charges and other action. Female students have not been spared. The recent refusal by state authorities to provide bail for youth leader Meenakshi Mukherjee for leading a routine demonstration following her arrest and the pressing of non- bailable charges is only one example of what most analysts regarded as a vindictive behaviour on part of the state machinery.
Such efforts helped the Left regain its position as the leading opposition formation, edging steadily ahead of the shrinking BJP. Post the latest Assembly elections, the LF accused the TMC of splitting the anti-BJP votes in Goa by its decision to contest 26 out of 40 seats, leaving the rest to the Maharashtra Gomantak Party (MGP) On its own steam, the TMC did not win a single seat. It could garner only 5% of the total votes. All three seats won by the TMC/MGP alliance were won by the latter. But the narrow slice of votes won by the so-called alliance was enough to scupper the pitch for the Congress in three seats !
Significantly, poll strategist Prashant Kishor to come out with anti- Modi tweet after the polls. He warned the Prime Minister that fighting 2024 LS polls would be a different ballgame from winning Assembly elections. Interestingly the same argument came from by TMC Mayor of Kolkata Firhad Hakim. He was confident that the BJP would not never the 2024 LS polls.
TMC Insiders said Mr. Kishor, whose comprehensive and expensive tactics carried out in Tripura and Goa miserably failed to bring home the bacon for the TMC in the polls, was facing stinging criticism from angry TMC leaders in Bengal. His anti-Modi rant was nothing more than a face-saver for a man caught on the wrong foot.
It also indicated that the poll outcome has left the followers of Mr Abhishek Banerjee, KIshor’s main backer in a significantly weaker position than before vis-avis their tussle against the old guard within the TMC..
As for the INC, nothing seems to have changed. Reduced to winning around 5/6% of the total votes in most Bengal elections, the enduring problems involving its apex level leadership and its failure to revive demoralized state units remain as unaddressed as ever. Congressman Mr Adhir Choudhury only said that the TMC was consistent Trojan horse for the BJP in India commenting on the poll results. (IPA Service)