By Barun Das Gupta
The result of the Lok Sabha poll in West Bengal is no different from the general trend seen in the country. Even so, the spectacular gains made by the BJP have taken everyone by surprise. It was expected that the BJP would get around seven to ten seats. But actually its tally has gone nine times up from two to eighteen. It has already started breathing down the neck of the TMC. With rumours of large-scale desertion from the party to the BJP in the air, people are wondering how long the TMC government will last.
The extent of the party’s alienation from the people can be gauged from the fact that some Trinamool desertees with dubious records who jumped ship at the eleventh hour and contested on BJP ticket have won. In contrast, a veteran politician like TMC candidate, Panchayat and Rural Development Minister Subrata Mukherjee, who has proved an able administrator both as mayor of the Kolkata Corporation and as a minister, lost to the BJP by a whopping margin of 1,74,333 votes.
Undoubtedly, there was a Modi wave in Bengal like in the rest of the country. But that alone does not explain away what has happened. There were other factors, too. To a great extent the vote for the BJP was actually a vote against Mamata Banerjee and her party. As a person, Mamata’s public image is that of an intolerant leader who does not listen to anybody, who is arrogant and ill-tempered and who wants to ride roughshod over others. Even senior party leaders are afraid of telling her what she does not like to hear.
As a party, the TMC has acquired all the vices the CPI-M leaders did during their 34 year rule. With very few exceptions, TMC leaders from top to bottom are making money merrily, running “syndicates” that supply building materials, and indulging in factional feuds for area domination, and capturing all elected bodies to enrich themselves with the loaves and fishes of office. They engage in nasty brawls in which fisticuffs and even firearms are used freely. Mamata failed to control her party men at the lower levels. The result was the people developed a deep aversion to the TMC and its leader as they did during the last years of the Left Front rule.
The language used by Mamata against Prime Minister Modi – like “I feel like give him a smart democratic slap on his cheek”, or “I like to make him do a thousand sit-ups” – was not liked by the people, even those sympathetic to her. They feel she should have been more restrained and respectful in her language about the Prime Minister. Also, the people perceived her, rightly or wrongly, as a minority-appeaser. This has also cost her party in terms of vote.
There was another factor – a big one. That was the en masse transfer of the Left votes to the BJP. The Left, which actually means the CPI-M because others have very little mass following or organizational strength, consciously chose to follow a suicidal path. The CPI-M line was that it was both against the BJP and the TMC but its battle at the Centre is against the BJP while its main target in the State was the TMC because it was the ruling party. The immediate task of the party in Bengal was to dislodge the TMC from power.
Since the CPI-M was in no position to defeat the TMC, the message that Left supporters got was that they should vote for the BJP which alone was capable of defeating the TMC. At many places, CPI-M supporters openly worked for the BJP and urged voters to vote for the saffron party. One reason for the CPI-M’s pathological hatred for the TMC is that the former is still smarting from the loss of power it suffered at the hands of Mamata. It is still licking the old wounds. At least in Bengal, Red found itself politically drawn close to Saffron.
At Ghatal constituency, Bharati Ghosh, ex-IPS and former SP of West Medinipur district and one-time confidante of Mamata, is contesting as a BJP candidate. TV channels live telecast scenes of her supporters(!) shouting slogans like “”Bharati Ghosh, Lal Salaam, Lal Salaam” Lal Salam or Red Salute is not the slogan of the BJP but of the Left. Old habits die hard. These CPI-M workers had joined the BJP but could not forget the slogans they had been taught, causing great embarrassment to their candidate.
A look at the voting percentage makes it abundantly clear. In the 2016 assembly elections in Bengal, the Left secured nearly 25 per cent vote. This time it has come down to about 7 per cent. The BJP polled about 10 per cent vote in 2016. This time it has gone up to nearly 38 per cent, a rise of about 28 per cent. The cause and effect relationship between the decline in the Left vote and the rise in the saffron vote immediately leaps to the eye. For the first time since independence, the Left has failed to send a single representative to the Lok Sabha from Bengal. This happened because the CPI-M chose to shoot itself in the foot. The party’s failure to strike an electoral alliance with the Congress also left it severely alone.
Coming to the BJP, there is no denying the fact that the politics of polarization that it has vigorously followed during the last five years have yielded result. In the districts bordering Bangladesh the minority voters voted for the TMC and the Congress. A big chunk of minority vote that used to go to the Left, this time deserted the Left. Among the Hindus also, the communal identity has become strong. The massacre of security personnel at Pulwama and the subsequent IAF strike at a terror base at Balakot deep inside Pakistan were skillfully exploited by Modi during the election campaign. He projected a “macho” image of himself, of taking on the nuclear-armed Pakistan, which no other prime minister did. It had its effect on Bengal as it had elsewhere in the country.
The coming weeks and months will see the unfolding of the BJP’s long term plans. How will Mamata face the vastly stronger BJP? Her fond dream of becoming the prime minister of India has been shattered. Her stature has also shrunk. One of the next targets of Modi and Shah will be to install a BJP government in Bengal. How can Didi defend her fort? Will she be able to prevent mass desertions of her MLAs to the BJP? We have to wait and watch.(IPA Service)