Which Way Will West Bengal Vote ?

The elections for the 294-member West Bengal assembly are nearly four months way. However, the battle lines have been drawn and Prime Minister’s BJP is making all out effort to unseat Trinmool Congress government of Mamata Banerjee. Though three more states – Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam — as well as the union territory of Pondicherry will also  go the polls  all eyes are set on the outcome of the elections in West Bengal. Social media is full of   opinion polls -based news stories as to who will win how many of 294 seats of W est Bengal Assembly. 

  West Bengal is clearly witnessing  the most crucial electoral battle .  For one it is the biggest State in terms of assembly size after U.P. and then in Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee  the BJP leadership sees biggest challenge to its authority and political clout in the country. Little wonder  the BJP big wigs are going to Kolkata so very often and enticing  dissatisfied Trinmool Congress leaders and workers to leave Mamata Banerjee and join BJP ranks. The big question is if the BJP will succeed in its endeavour. 

The BJP’s   good showing in the 2019 parliamentary elections   when it won 18 of the 42  seats has given rise to the speculation  that the assembly elections will see a close  contest between Mamata Banerjee’s Trianmool Congress and Prime Minister Modi’s BJP. Most of the assessments are based on this narrative. More than anybody else BJP leaders  themselves believe in this narrative and think that   West Bengal  is all set to welcome them  with open arms.

However, this may not come out to be  true  because of several reasons.  

In fact to   assess the electoral outcome in the forthcoming elections one must first try to understand the typical   Bengali mindset. An average   Bengali is   steeped in tradition and is extremely   proud of his culture, history  , language and literature. He is  non-conformist , is   irreverent   to authority and  by and large unimpressed by  the status of those  who have power or money. Their excessive sense of self   importance   often limits their all-India  vision and ,therefore, they are often accused of sub -nationalism .

We may like  Mamata Banerjee or not but there is no denying the fact that she is true   representative the Bengali mindset. She is proud and defiant and that makes her someone as a class apart. Perhaps no other Opposition leader   had  dared to  register a protest so tellingly before the Prime Minister of the country as she did  on  Netaji’s birth anniversary function at Victoria Memorial on January 23 . She is certainly Prime Minister Modi’s most formidable opponent in India politics at the moment.

The all-important question is if   Mamta Banerjee will be able to convince the voters of West Bengal that she is not only the best votary  of Bengali subnational identity but also its most strongest defender. She will also have to convince the voters that if the BJP comes to the power in West Bengal it will mean dilution of this identity into the cultural confluence  of the Hindi belt something which BJP champions and an average Bengali abhors.  

There are indications  that Mamata is winning this battle to capture Bengali mind. An NGO has already started a “ Anyone but BJP “ campaign and as time to go to the polling booth approaches such voices  may become louder.   

In fact the stance the Left Front and the Congress take will have a decisive impact on the West Bengal election results. It is no secret that the spectacular victory of BJP in 2019 parliamentary elections was made possible by support from CP-M cadres who were angry by Mamata Banerjee and wanted to teach her a lesson. But it may not be so this time . 

Both parties the Congress and the CP-M  are as strongly pitted against  the BJP as Mamata’s   Trinamool Congress  in the 2021  assembly elections. The big question, therefore, is if they   will go for   some understanding with Mamata to keep the BJP out. However,   it is a Catch 22 situation for both. They also   see a powerful Mamata as   a threat to their existence. 

Elections are quite some time away and a lot will depend on what happens in between. The road for BJP however is not as smooth as it has thought it to be   . For one the charges against Mamata are not cutting much ice and the BJP government’s image is also not improving.  Then may be  BJP is helping Mamata  Banerjee in her bid to be the leader-protector of Bengali identity. Indifferent to  the fact of cultural  diversity of  India and unfamiliar with the federal and democratic culture of  its  politics , BJP’s stress on slogan of Rashtravad strokes those emotions which islands of regional culture like West Bengal  do not  like. 

For all we know BJP’s strategy of communal polarization may not succeed because to its chagrin  Bengalitva  may prove  more powerful than Hindutva. That is the reason which may prompt strong opponents of Mamata like CPI-M and the Congress to be weary of the BJP and go soft on, if not back Mamata  .In that case  the BJP’s strongest weapon of Rashtravad ,an euphoria for majoritarianism, will prove to be its worst liability. 

Pradeep Mathur , Senior Journalist , Delhi

Prof Pradeep Mathur
Prof Pradeep Mathur

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