There is a culture of political vendetta in West Bengal before the 2021 assembly elections. Recently, BJP President JP Nadda’s convoy was attacked in Bengal. After this, a debate started between the BJP and the Trinamool Congress (TMC). Soon after, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee blamed the BJP for the attack on her convoy. Now some people have come to the conclusion that Mamata can challenge BJP with her statements alone.
The basic idea of ’Sonar Bangla’, the rich culture of West Bengal, was expanded by Rabindranath Tagore, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Ram Mohan Roy and Satyajit Ray. But now BJP chief and party’s national general secretary, Kailash Vijayvargiya, is actively trying to change this heritage in a different way. In recent years, the expansion of RSS-affiliated Vidya Bharati and Sharda Vidya Mandir schools into the state Has happened. Apart from this, the Sangh branch is also spreading in almost every block. Recently new branches have been started in different blocks of Uttar Dinajpur such as Karandighi, Hemtabad and Raiganj. Apart from this, the second policy of BJP in the state is that it is trying to get closer to such people who are unhappy with TMC rule. Union Home Minister Amit Shah has promised jobs for voters by resuming appointments under the West Bengal School Service Commission (SSC). Under this, the state government notified the recruitment of about 3 lakh candidates under the commission by January 2021, which had been held up for three years.
A separate notification was also issued for Santali-medium government aided / sponsored schools. This can help BJP to maintain adequate base among the Scheduled Tribes. The stalled SSC recruitment among educated unemployed youth in the state has generated tremendous anger. BJP has said that its support in West Bengal is not increasing due to money or muscle power, but because of unemployment. Recently, Amit Shah’s speech also pointed to this.
Now people are asking the question, can any person who is non-Bengali change the politics and culture of Bengal. In such a situation, the question arises whether TMC can compete with BJP. Political ideology has changed in Bengal since 2011. Things have changed especially after the CPI (M) withdrew from power in the state. There is little incentive for voters to remain with a political party — moral, political or financial. There is a general scarcity of resources in West Bengal. BJP wants to change this.
A senior leader from Uttar Dinajpur said, ‘Whatever the political strategy the BJP adopts, only Mamata Banerjee will win in Bengal. Mamta has not become a leader overnight, she has struggled for years. Therefore there will be no difference in the coming elections.
In 2011, the AITC-Congress alliance won 227 seats out of 294 assembly seats. Shubham Sheel, a young man from Balurghat (a strong BJP constituency and a Member of Parliament from BJP), says his family lost their tractor-parts shop due to the Kovid-19 lockdown. They now want change in their area. He believes that the Modi regime can help the state run better. People of this region believe that TMC gives place to rich or well established old political allies here. On the contrary, another youth, Shubham Ghosh, from a good family and whose uncle is associated with TMC, says, ‘Mamta may be a woman but she can be a better PM than Modi.’
The current socio-political scenario in the state is a sign of a deep and growing divide between the privileged and the underprivileged. After the BJP’s victory in the Bihar Assembly elections, Tarkishore Prasad, who won four times from Katihar, was made Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar. Actually, Katihar shares a border with West Bengal. In such a situation, an attempt has been made to woo the Bihari Bengalis. Most of them live in Kolkata, Hooghly, Howrah and Asansol districts.
In Raiganj, forced by Das of Madhupur, Kumar Das wants his vote to go to BJP. While his father is with the Left. Forced are trying to get a government job. But they have not been successful so far. So they are against TMC. BJP’s recent victory in Bihar has also influenced him. Raiganj city of Uttar Dinajpur was once a Congress stronghold, from where Deepa Dasmunsi was a Member of Parliament. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, CPI-M’s Mohammad Salim defeated the Congress and BJP candidates from here. He lost to Debashree Chaudhary of the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Since then BJP’s penetration has been increasing here.
The BJP is also raising the issue of tea plantation workers in North Bengal. These workers have kept their demands in front of the state government, but till now their words have not been heard properly. Local BJP leaders are also campaigning in areas where members of Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes live. BJP has said here that NRC will be implemented in the state if their party comes to power. The land owned by Muslims can then come into their hands.
The Congress party’s condition is continuously deteriorating with the popularity of TMC and BJP. Uttar Dinajpur, Murshidabad and Malda were once considered strongholds of the Congress because it has been dominated by such legendary leaders as Dasmunsi, Gani Khan Chowdhury and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury. The Congress has been shaken from its roots by the deaths of Khan and Dasmunsi. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, she could win only four seats in the state. Now in North and South Dinajpur, and other parts of Central and North Bengal like Malda North, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, Cooch Behar, Balurghat, Alipurduar and East Bardhaman, BJP is winning seats where Dalit and tribal voters have significant presence.
In the panchayat elections held in 2018, there were reports of booth-capturing by TMC workers in several polling stations. CPI (M) and Congress leaders also received threats. In many seats, supporters of the Left Front were not allowed to cast their votes. In desperation, he voted for the BJP to counter the aggressive politics of TMC. Nevertheless, the Mamta government has a strong hold after 18,652 gram panchayats, 1,570 panchayat samiti and 19 zilla parishad seats in 2018 by TMC.
Mamta’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee has also emerged as a factor in the elections. He has a deep grip on the party, but TMC veteran leaders are not happy with him. Recently, Sunil Kumar Mandal said that the team of poll strategist Prashant Kishor is pressurizing senior leaders and ‘teaching them politics. To be fair, the assumption is that those who are leaving TMC for the BJP are allegedly involved in the chit fund scam, as seen with Suvendu Adhikari and Mukul Roy.
It is believed that if the TMC had given more space to the Left parties as political opposition, then the situation would have been quite different. The rise of BJP has mostly taken place in North Bengal. Incidentally, the Muslim population is concentrated in the northern regions, which can give a boost to BJP politics.
(Tarushikha Sarvesh, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Advanced Center for Women’s Studies, Aligarh Muslim University, and Sohail Akhtar Center for Health and Mental Health Sciences, TISS Mumbai and a social worker in Bengal and Bihar. These are personal views of both of them. )