Whether it is Didi or Dada, West Bengal will be the loser in the high decibel assembly election that is presently on and drawing massive national attention. If Didi’s Trinamool wins, by a small margin that is projected, the new Mamata government will be under constant threat from the saffron party which will work overtime to get her out. This will mean that government work will cease in the first few months after the elections. If BJP wins, it will zestfully operate to usher in a new Bengali culture. “It’s the devil and deep blue sea choice for the electorate. Whoever wins will bring in changes that may not work for West Bengal,” says Ashok Bhattacharya who teaches in a Kolkata college.
Mamata following the Left Front that ruled Bengal from 1977 -2011, decided to assiduously cultivate the minority votes to create a vote bank for the Trinamool. It also began to create a ‘caste constituency’ of the Matuas, who are part of scheduled castes who crossed over from East Pakistan in the years that followed partition. Hitherto Matuas were quite unknown in West Bengal politics. Mamata’s policies that aimed at benefitting the minority community got the goat of the educated middle class voters. Many felt that Mamata’s moves were only designed to create a monopoly of Muslim votes and pamper them.
Whereas the Congress and the Left Front were quite ok about Trinamool’s thrust towards minorities, BJP was not quite amused at the state of affairs. Capitalizing on the ‘Hindu votes’ – which during the time of the Left Front had all but disappeared the BJP was able win a very sizeable number of 18 Lok Sabha seats of the total 42 seats in 2019 general elections. The Trinamool was able to win 22 Lok Sabha seats. This time around the BJP is keen to dislodge Mamata and win the ongoing month long assembly elections. Half the elections are over and with each passing day the intensity of the battle increases. “For the saffron party bosses Mamata is standing out like a sore thumb. They don’t like this at all and want to decimate her,” says a senior journalist based in Kolkata.
The electoral battle had begun this season with a large chunk of the middle classes arraigned against Mamata. This was for a variety of reasons – including her mercurial behavior and her perceived to be softness towards minorities. “But BJP’s projection is ‘non Bengali.’ Amit Shah, J P Nadda and Yogi Adityanath’s projection is that of the Hindi heartland. It would seem that the BJP wants to bring in ‘Hindi’ culture in West Bengal. That’s what the electorate is finding disturbing,” says Ajit Saha. “We don’t want Bengal to become UP,” he adds. “Yes, it is true that the middle class is disturbed by this Hindi culture import by BJP which talks of both Sonar Bangla and Jai Shri Ram in the same breath. But the BJP may find support among the lower middle class. Most of these folks expect the BJP to shower goodies from the central kitty after the elections,” says a senior political journalist in Kolkata who would like to be anonymous.
BJP is a late entrant into West Bengal: thus till lately the party did not exist in the state with any strength and organizational base. This implies there are no local leaders of any stature. Thus the charge of the party is led by Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and J P Nadda without any local leader worth the name to lend support. Analysts aver that so long as BJP cannot spawn creation of local leaders who are part of the mile-au it cannot be a Bengal party which would give it an edge in the elections. This is a pity because the party- then the Bharatiya Jana Sangh was founded by Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who hailed from Bengal. But in order to strengthen the party Mookerjee sought help from the RSS. The RSS provided him the organizational support but took it over as Mookerjee died less than two years after he founded the party. During the brief period of Syama Prasad Mookerjee at the helm, the Jana Sangh won some seats from West Bengal (including that of Syama Prasad himself). But after his death the party atrophied in West Bengal.
Now with a political vacuum and whimsicality displayed by Mamata, the BJP has a good chance of establishing itself in West Bengal. However the firing three days ago by the CRPF on voters in Cooch Behar (who turned out to be Muslims) that killed a few is now seen by the Trinamool as a springing board for them.