Bengal voters divided over BJP

BJP bandwagon in Bengal to tackle Mamata’s mass appeal

Politics

December 29, 2020

/ By / Kolkata

Bengal voters divided over BJP

BJP says Hello Bengal (Photo: PTI)

With the Congress and Communists joining hands for the upcoming assembly elections in West Bengal, chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s task of retaining the state has become more challenging and voters seem to be divided on whether it is enough for the Bharatiya Janata Party to get a shoo-in.

Even though the assembly elections in West Bengal are still at least four months away, the dress rehearsals have already begun and the major protagonists have started to play act their respective roles, though with a significant difference this time around.

In the 2016 assembly elections, the Communists, notably the CPM, featured as the key opposition, this year that role has already been snatched away by an aggressive Bharatiya Janata Party for whom winning Bengal is clearly the most important unfinished project at hand on a national level.

It was evident even in the last year’s Lok Sabha elections when the BJP put all its might, money and muscle into the campaign and surprised the ruling Trinamool Congress by bagging 18 of the 42 seats, an increase of 16 over its previous tally of barely two seats.

That the BJP wants to bag Bengal has been evident and declared publicly by the party bosses enough number of times and their machinations towards that goal have been in play for several weeks, leading to a now-familiar trek by ruling party members and even its ministers to head to the saffron party, forsaking their decades of relationship with TMC chief and chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

Union home minister Amit Shah, who continues to play the role of the party president, at least behind the scenes, has declared that the BJP will win 200 of the 242 seats up for play in the elections. That target indicates the scale of battle that Banerjee has in her hands in the run up to the elections.

In this context, the alliance that the Congress has entered into with the CPM is bound to hurt the TMC and benefit the BJP, though it is still early to gauge the exact extent of the impact of this alliance on the battle between the two heavyweights.

Spoilsport or kingmaker

Even the most hardcore communist supporters admit that the alliance with the Congress may help the CPM only in keeping a decent tally in the final count, but that the two parties, singly or together, do not stand any real chance of emerging victorious in the fray. They say their best hopes are that the alliance would garner enough seats to play the kingmaker.

“The CPI(M) and Congress alliance was the need of the hour. It will significantly help the Left as they will focus on the seats they are strong in and won’t have to unnecessarily put their mind to those seats where they stand no chance,” says a 26-year-old professional from Kolkata, whose family has been CPM supporter for generations and who himself is an activist of the party. “Realistically the alliance does not stand a chance to form the government in near future but they have a very good chance of becoming the deciding factor,” he adds.

But on the ground, the situation looks far different and most voters and analysts expect the alliance to only play spoilsport for the TMC by eating up some of its votes. Though it is early to call, some analysts say that the dent may just remain that and not hurt Mamata Banerjee in anyway more serious than that. “In a way, I don’t think that it will make much of a difference as far as the vote bank of the TMC or the BJP is concerned. In fact, if at all, it may make a dent into the TMC vote bank. By all indications, the BJP has garnered a lot of support both in the rural and the urban areas and there is a not-so-covert anti-Trinamool wave in the state as there is a general perception that the Trinamool is pro-Muslim and then there are also law and order issues and there seems to be a general desire for a change in the state, that they are calling poribortonare poriborton or a change in the change since 10 years back the TMC had come in on a call for poriborton,” says Shyamal Baran Roy, a seasoned journalist from Kolkata.

Is Bengal ready to embrace BJP?

Indeed, there appears to be more than a handful of support for the BJP and many voters in the state do say they would not mind giving an opportunity to the BJP, after having seen the communists rule for 30 years and TMC for 10 years. “I am not quite in favour of the BJP and its policies, but there isn’t much option left. They need to consolidate themselves. They should be given a chance so that they can work for the upliftment of Bengal and there should be a change. Mamata Banerjee needs to be ousted from power since they have made it a family affair. We have seen how the CPM has been the reason for the ruin of Bengal ruling for 30 years,” says Rita Karan, a 60-year-old teacher in Kolkata.

The rising support for the BJP seems to cut across age as well as professions. Ankita Chakraborty is a 30-year-old professional working with an MNC in Kolkata. Though not a hardcore supporter of the BJP or its right-wing politics, she says she is no longer averse to a change as the things could only improve from where they stand in terms of employment and development. She also believes that if the BJP did win, it would have to work hard to retain power and hence it may actually deliver. “If the BJP gets in, things are definitely going to change a lot. People are very hopeful about change in the employment scenario and healthcare sector that have been overlooked by the TMC party. So if it wins control, the BJP is going to work for sure to sustain its power for the coming years,” says Chakraborty.

But not everyone is gung-ho about the prospects of living under a BJP government. “I would any day want the CPM to be back in power, even though I know it’s difficult, but I don’t mind CPM and Congress alliance government, provided they win. However, I would never ever want a party like BJP’s to enter West Bengal. The reason being the party does not do anything apart from creating religious tensions. There will be no development in economy or education with BJP getting to power,” says Sonali Dutta Roy, who works in a magazine in Kolkata tells Media India Group.

Many voters say that going by its track record at the national level as well as in several states, they have serious apprehensions about life under a BJP government. “The BJP is a party that is known to communally divide people which they have done over the years and there has been zero development during their rule. And people have recognised it. In Delhi elections, for instance, even though all the big leaders of the BJP from all over the country came to campaign, it made no difference to the voters of Delhi who chose AAP for its developmental work, like refurbishment of government schools and free travel for women. So voters of Delhi chose development over religious politics,” Zoheb Fazal Ahmed, an officer in Merchant Navy who lives in Kolkata tells Media India Group.

“I would be first in queue of people to vote for Modi if indeed he had carried out some developmental work. But nothing of this sort has happened so far. Even in their speeches in Bengal, the top leaders of BJP like JP Nadda only denigrate Mamata Banerjee. Secondly, BJP has inducted several people from TMC including those who had been accused of corruption and whose videos were circulated by BJP itself. So today if BJP endorses such people how are they different from any other corrupt party? They are buying politicians,” adds Ahmed.

For at least some of the voters, the performance of the BJP at the centre and its famous mis-steps such the demonetisation in November 2016 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi shocked the country with a sudden demonetisation, crippling the nation and the economy for months. “I would like to point that the disastrous decision like demonetisation that was taken to curb black money, they could do nothing for that. After this decision I have lost all hope on BJP. I don’t think they can do anything in Bengal. They only talk about changes and some more changes, but nothing happens for real. And the second thing that I object is this slogan of Jai Shri Ram (Hail Lord Ram). This they are particularly doing to please one religion. For me, India is a secular country and we are known for secularism and it has been like that for so long. And here if you bring a slogan just to please the majority vote bank, I would never support that. Because for me all religions are equal here,” says Sonali Dutta Roy.

Using Bihar model to stop BJP bandwagon in Bengal

One way to stop the BJP bandwagon in Bengal would be for all the anti-BJP parties to come together, notably the Trinamool, the communists and the Congress. The formula is already a tried and tested one. Just a few months earlier, the entire opposition in the neighbouring state of Bihar had come together to fight the ruling JDU-BJP combine led by chief minister Nitish Kumar. In those elections, the Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) had put up a very decent show, with the Rashtriya Janata Dal emerging as the single largest party, with the BJP getting the second spot and JDU ended a humiliating third.

A similar strategy would have worked wonders in Bengal. However, the communists and the TMC have always seen each other with great suspicion and that precludes any chance of a broader anti BJP alliance.

“In Bengal, it is historically difficult to have a united anti-BJP alliance. It took years for the left supporters to forget their issues with the Congress, such as the atrocities on communists during Naxal period and the emergency era. It is only recently that they have been able to form an alliance with INC. That’s why it is difficult for them to join hands easily with the TMC, since the fight is very recent and how many deaths the left party had to face is a well-known fact. Somehow this alliance is going to hamper the prospects of TMC a little bit but the Left Front should gain significant voter strength,” says the CPM activist.

But Karan thinks otherwise and says that the alliance is highly unlikely to make an impact during the elections. “Both are sinking parties and the alliance isn’t going to help in any way. About the Congress, the less said the better,” she says.

The elections in Bengal are still at least four months away and that is an eternity as far as politics go. However, expect many more fireworks in the months ahead as the BJP bandwagon tries to smash into Banerjee’s Fortress Bengal.

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