By Tushar Singh
In light of the recent Uluberia and Noapar by polls, where Trinamool Congress (TMC) cemented its claim of being the undisputed leader by beating BJP and the rest of the opposition by a huge margin, the question that comes to our mind right before the West Bengal local body elections is that can BJP make its way into Bengal? BJP president Amit Shah claims that “the field is completely open in Bengal”. While Amit Shah’s words might be true, the fact that BJP could not strike a chord with the voters despite having a local leader like Mukul Roy (a co-founder of TMC) amongst its rank is worrying for the BJP.
BJP: The biggest threat to TMC
West Bengal recently concluded the Global Business Summit to attract private sector investment. The state has traditionally been deprived of investment primarily because of its Communist past and because the current CM had opposed the Tata Nano plant in Singur. At the Summit, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee declared “we love tolerance”, which was a jibe meant to heavily underscore the difference between her state and the Sangh Parivar aka Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states. This and Mamata Banerjee’s obsession to oppose almost every move by the BJP controlled Center seems to be a de facto acceptance by TMC that BJP is a bigger threat to it even at the State level than the Congress or CPI(M), two parties that have formerly been in control of the state.
The history of politics in West Bengal
Bengal has a peculiar political history in the sense that it has been dominated by ideology more than any other Indian state. After more than two decades of Congress rule and instability which included Presidential Rule since independence, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) took control of the political reins in West Bengal in 1977. The Communist leader, Jyoti Basu, was India’s longest-serving Chief Minister ever, ruling for 23 years till 2000. The left rule in West Bengal continued for another ten years under Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, before Mamata Banerjee created history when her Trinamool Congress (TMC) defeated CPI(M) once and for all in 2011. The 2011 defeat followed by another crushing defeat it received in the 2016 assembly polls have restricted the CPI(M) to the sidelines in Bengal politics. It means that today TMC stands tall and (almost) unchallenged in most parts of Bengal.
BJP and TMC: The battle of votes
TMC’s dominance today is almost reminiscent of that of CPI(M)’s three and a half decade long dominance in the state. Bengal has a tendency of sticking to one party for long periods of time (the INC, CPI (M) and now TMC respectively). This requires political parties to keep appeasing their vote banks to grind out their votes. Therefore, landless workers and religious minorities have historically received freebies and privileges from their political patrons to win their favor. Due to long periods of single-party dominance, the state also has a tendency of party workers intimidating voters and manipulating their votes.
The question is, by hook or crook, is Mamata Banerjee willing to do what it takes to keep the BJP out of Bengal? Going by the rhetoric of TMC leaders, yes. Ms. Banerjee might be interested in the upcoming Tripura state elections, where Communist CM Manik Sarkar has been in power since 1998. A parallel between West Bengal and Tripura might be brought to light. Both Banerjee and Manik Sarkar find themselves pitted against the BJP because in both places the opposition parties have been made ineffective through the systematic decimation of the organizations to achieve maximum dominance. If the BJP makes a breakthrough in Tripura, then West Bengal’s established political parties would be warned. A BJP breakthrough in Tripura, though highly unlikely, would mean that the right-wing party has cracked the formula of entering an alien state which was traditionally is being dominated by a single party.
Penetrating Bengal is not easy
Therefore, while the BJP may be on the verge of realizing its dream of a Congress-Mukt Bharat, the possibility of upstaging the other Congress (the Trinamool one) seems distant. Though it is too early to take a call, the Mukul Roy stunt might not be working. Ever since switching sides to the BJP, Mukul Roy had been dubbed as Bengal’s Chanakya who would topple the Trinamool government. After the by-poll loss, BJP must have realized that Bengal is not a small state with simple politics which can be won by one or two defections and popular rallies. It is a peculiar state with peculiar history and demography.
Forming a government in Bengal needs patience and a mass mobilization (like Mamata Banerjee’s Singur Dharna). It is a game of chess which needs many prudent moves to bring down the opposition’s king. However, no matter how difficult penetrating Bengal might be, the fruit, to say the least, is as sweet as the Bengali Rosogolla.
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