The last time Mamata Banerjee was so hysteric was probably during the phase when she was fighting a pitched battle to take control of West Bengal from the Communist Party of India (Marxist) a decade or so back. It has been strange to see the first woman Chief Minister of the state progressively descend into this hysteria over the last few days, with her speaking of the national government trying to tamper EVMs and even asking the incumbent Prime Minister of the country to leave the country.
Something is amiss!
Surely the state of West Bengal that loves her so much to have elected her for two consecutive terms, on her oft-repeated slogan of ‘Ma, Maati, Maanush‘, will not betray Didi. Well, that is the idea. Except that the winds of change may have slowly started sweeping across the state. As per the recent exit polls for the general elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may bag anything from 11 to 23 Lok Sabha seats, riding on the support of nearly 32% of voters, out of the 42 that the state has! In a state where communists, who have largely been apathetic to religion-based politics, held sway for three decades, we now see a party is led by someone Mamata believes is the biggest threat to the country.
Not wanting to comment on that particular comment, it is sad that the firebrand leader, who fought against the unruly politics of the Left front in the state, today employs exactly the same tactics. She has seemingly adopted a similar strategy of using intimidation and violence to maintain her clout. This is not a new thing since as far back as August 2009, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) released a pamphlet in which it accused the Trinamool Congress (TMC) of murdering 62 of its supporters between 2 March and 21 July 2009. More recently, the TMC has allegedly orchestrated the murder of people associated with the BJP, such as in the Patanu Mondol case, besides the violence in Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, and Raiganj. When she was asked about these incidents, she said
“Election Commission is conducting elections, not me. BJP has not done its homework. I am not doing any violence. There is no violence. There are so many blocks and booths, if BJP is going somewhere and doing it, then it’s them and no one else.”
The strangest outcome of this general election has been the continuing movement of former CPI(M) voters to the BJP fold. It seems like these voters have just pivoted around the maintained dislike of Mamata Banerjee to whichever party had the organizational strength to dislodge her. Voting for the CPI(M) now, even for some of their staunchest supporters, is just wasting a vote these days, when only 15-20 individuals attend their meetings. I am sure that when Didi stated, in a report in Anandabazaar Patrika in March 1998, that she will bring BJP into the front to fight, she hardly meant it the way it has become today, for she probably never thought that former CPI(M) supporters would go towards the BJP they have been. Today her former close aide Mukul Roy is with the BJP and the ground level cadre of the BJP is swelling each day. Some say money has played a role for former communist (and even some TMC) supporters to go to the diametrically opposite camp, ideologically-speaking, while others say it is the strong disdain for the politics of the TMC.
The reality is probably a mix of both, along with a strong organizational effort by the BJP on the ground, albeit without a very popular and recognizable state leader still. If CPI(M) today loses as much as 10% of votes in these elections, it is because of their lack of organization and a strong pitch against the BJP. For a party that always took ideology (seemingly) over party convenience, even to the extent of denying the prime-ministership for Jyoti Basu, it is suprising that this choice of fighting the BJP more strongly was such a conundrum for them, including for former Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, who spoke to little and too late against the BJP to make a difference.
There are a number of people who feel that Mamata’s appeasement politics may have played a major role in this. Given that 24% of upper caste voters and 21% of OBCs voted for the BJP in Bengal in the 2014 general elections, Didi’s lurch to appeasing certain groups may well be the primary, if not sole, cause for consolidation of the Hindu vote behind Modi and the BJP. Although Bengal has not seen this kind of politics for some decades now, it is slowly simmering again, much like it did in 1905 and 1947. There is a Hindu-Muslim divide and the TMC has cause this as much as the BJP may have. Today, it has reached the level of bickering over Muharram vs. Durga Puja in an absurd fight of the festivals! Let me elaborate: in 2016, the TMC government made it compulsory for people to immerse the idols of Ma Durga on the day of Vijay Dashami itself in what was widely opposed by the Hindus. Apparently Mamata did this to prevent any untoward incidents since this period coincides with Muharram.
Though her supporters may see her as a champion of secularism, many others do not, and even go so far as to say that they do not feel safe or represented adequately under the Trinamool Congress government. Amit Shah, the president of the BJP, has latched on to this and understandably so. Refering to Didi’s state budget, he said that while close to ₹4000 crore had been allocated for Madrasa education, she has not allocated that much even to the entire higher education department! While she announces allowances for Muslim clerics, she ignores Hindu priests or Christian pastors or men of faith from other religions. Lately though it seems that the TMC sees the threat that the BJP is and is trying to fight it on the Hindu battleground, with the organization of Ram Navami rallies and Didi chanting the `Chandi Path’, a ritual chant to Ma Durga. However, the Bengali voters have seen her politics for years to know that all this is a convenient, last-minute effort to capture the odd stray Hindu vote. It is tokenistic and it is frankly abhorrent to see that someone who speaks of standing against BJP’s ‘divisive politics’ does exactly that, albeit in subtle ways.
Bengal is going through a transformation.
It is seemingly going from the crimson to the saffron. It is going from the heydays of Jyoti Basu to the looming days of glory for Modi and the BJP in Bengal. What remains to be seen is when it shall go from the politics of satraps and clout established using violence to a politics truly arising from the tradition of Anandamath, Aurobindo and Bose: a politics that is inclusive and yet strong, that is revolutionary and yet responsible. A politics that cares for the rickshaw puller in Kolkata or the tea gardener in northern Bengal. A politics that cares for all Bengalis, irrespective of religion, region, class, gender or ideology.
A politics that will bring to the fore again `Aamar Shonar Bangla’!