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