With the declaration of election schedule for ensuing Assembly elections in West Bengal along with four other states by the Election Commission, the battle lines are drawn and swords are unsheathed. Incidents of violence, and verbal attacks, at times stooping too low, have become most common during the electioneering. The BJP has concentrated on West Bengal from the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In 2016 assembly elections the BJP could win only three seats in the 294-member House. But a miracle happened in 2019 when the party could register victory on 18 out of 42 Lok Sabha seats in the eastern state.
Buoyed by this spectacular performance, the party leadership had then and there decided to fight the next assembly elections for winning the state of West Bengal and planned its strategy accordingly. Top leaders of the party started visiting the state, holding public meetings, meeting groups and monitoring the overall situation.
The state of West Bengal had been under the Communist rule for over three decades during which the left front totally damaged the economy of the state resulting in increase in unemployment, destroying the work culture affecting the industries and enterprises. This has ruined the economy of the state. The public anger was rising fast and riding over that wave, Mamta Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress (TMC) came snatched the power from the Communists. People felt relieved and hoped for better days. But they were badly disappointed.
The TMC won the 2016 assembly elections again with a thumping majority bagging 211 seats. But this unlimited power was soon converted into an instrument of harassing Hindus and placating the Muslims, mostly religious fundamentalists and crass communalists. The events post-2016 indicated the way Bengal was being treated as a personal fiefdom by Mamta Banerjee.
The increasing incidents of violence, attacks on BJP workers, on the party offices and damaging the property by the alleged TMC hooligans are indicators of the level of frustration within the TMC. The top leaders of the party joined the BJP pointing to the failure of the chief Minister Mamta Banerjee to keep her flock together.
The cantankerous attitude of Mamta Banerjee exposed her level of indignation about the BJP and its leadership including the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Hardly had she spoken any good about the Prime Minister – be it his virtual presence in Vishwa Bharati function or his physical presence at a public function at Victoria Memorial. The way she reacted certainly did not augure well for the high office she held. But she is basically a politician and every politician’s first priority is to win the next elections. So, Mamta is trying all tricks of the game to stop the BJP from making a big dent and spoiling her power dream.
Muslim appeasement is another reason that has played a crucial role in eroding the Hindu support base of TMC. West Bengal has 30 percent Muslim voters and they dominate nearly 50-60 seats in the state. Their support becomes the most crucial for any political party to secure power in the state. The entry of AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi into Bengal’s politics disturbed the applecart of the TMC. Owaisi has tried his luck in Bihar assembly elections and won five seats. He also registered his party’s presence in just concluded local body elections in Gujarat where the BJP posted a thumping victory.
Obviously, happy over the performance of his party outside Hyderabad, Owaisi is now planning to spread its wings to West Bengal with an eye on the 30 percent Muslim voters. His meetings with the powerful Pirjada Abbas of Furfure Sharif did not bring any fruitful results, but nevertheless, he has not given up hopes. Pirjada Abbas had allied with the Communists in the state with whom the Congress had entered into an electoral alliance. But the talks between Pirjada Abbas and the Congress over seat sharing did not materialize.
West Bengal is also facing the problem of infiltration from across the Bangladesh border for decades. The Left front government and the TMC government did not take necessary steps to put a check on this illegal entry of the people from the neighboring country just because they looked at this phenomenon as a vote gathering opportunity. The sufferers are the poor hapless Hindus living in the bordering districts who are left to fend for themselves. They did not have the police protection to save them from the attacks of these Muslims who roamed as TMC workers.
The decisions of the Mamta government to deny permission for Durga Puja, Saraswati Puja, the unfortunate incident of desecration of the statue of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, attacks on the road show of BJP National president J P Nadda and other leaders, the killing of over 125 BJP workers in pre-election violence, the Sarada scam and so many such incidents… the list is unending. All this culminated in the massive public unrest and anger against the TMC and its supremo Mamta Banerjee.
With top leaders of the TMC leaving their leader in the lurch and joining the BJP the TMC cadre is frustrated. Even Mamta Banerjee appears to be frustrated. The way she reacted to the Election Commission after the poll schedule for her state was announced is indicative of this frustration. She branded the EC’s decision to split the districts and conduct the elections in 8 phases as the decision of the BJP. She even urged the EC not to dance to the tune of the BJP and don’t look at Bengal from the eyes of the BJP.
Mamta’s irritation at ‘Jai Shriram’ slogan is another factor that is going to cost dearly to the TMC’s poll prospects. Repeated incidents show the high level of disrespect and irritation of the chief minister to this slogan of ‘Jai Shriram’ which is being equated with the legendary impact ‘Vande Mataram’ had during the freedom struggle. On the other hand, it is attracting voters to BJP helping it expand its base in the state. Thus, in the initial stage, the elections in West Bengal seem to be a straight fight between the confident BJP and the frustrated TMC led by cantankerous Mamta Banerjee. This is the beginning. Let’s wait for the future.