East is turning green and orange with the BJP flags now, and that is making Mamata Banerjee’s TMC turn white with fear. After its huge gains in West Bengal, winning almost half of the 42 Lok Sabha seats, the BJP has a real shot at the seat of power in the state. At the ground level, it means that Mamata Banerjee and her party would have to fight hard to defend against the series of onslaughts that would be launched by the BJP with renewed vigour.
Jayprakash Majumdar, BJP state vice-president, says, “Now, the BJP’s task is to see how soon this misrule could be ended here.” When pointed out that the assembly election in West Bengal is due in 2021, Majumdar retorted, “It is up to the TMC (leadership) to keep their party intact till that time. If their MLAs and other leaders decide to quit TMC and join us, then we would put no obstacle in their way.” Campaigning in Sreerampur in April last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had claimed that around 40 MLAs of the ruling party were secretly “in touch with me”. The TMC had called it an attempt at ‘horse-trading’.
Majumdar, though, claims that the BJP won’t engineer any plan to break the TMC. “Look, this (TMC) is not a Left party based on some ideology and principles. This party is devoid of any ideology. (Hunger for) power is the only factor that kept them united so far. If they leave their party and come to us, then that would again be about having access to power,” he says. The BJP leader, however, admits that in case any fissure develops in the TMC, “we won’t mind giving a push to it.”
BJP president Amit Shah, too, had raised doubts over whether the TMC government in Bengal can survive its tenure, and said that it was “impossible” that Mamata Banerjee would remain in power after the Lok Sabha elections.
Whether TMC MLAs can resist the temptation to change their party colour overnight is something that would become clear in the coming days. For now though, the party’s leadership is worried.
On Thursday, after the results were declared, no TMC leader issued any statement on the party’s 22 winning Lok Sabha candidates, barring a brief message from their chief Mamata Banerjee, who merely congratulated the winners. Even the customary post-election press conference was not held by the TMC.
A member of Mamata’s inner circle (who does not want to be identified) said that since the TMC’s present strength in the state comprise 213 MLAs (in the 294-member assembly), it would be an uphill task for the BJP to engineer defection and wean away two-thirds of the members. But the person admitted that the TMC might witness a reverse in its fortunes after it came to power in 2011. To begin with, a number of TMC-run municipalities and panchayats might go over to the BJP. Gradually, this person said, in a move orchestrated by the BJP, some TMC MLAs might rebel against the party leadership and cause confusion among the rank and file. On the government front, the IAS officers could slowly begin to shift their allegiance from the TMC to the BJP and turn Mamata Banerjee’s regime into a lame duck government, the person added.
Ranabir Samaddar, a political scientist with Calcutta Research Group (CRG), does not completely rule out the possibility of the Mamata Banerjee’s regime coming to a sudden end under one excuse or another. But says, this is a “remote possibility”. Samaddar does not believe that just because the BJP has managed to win around half of the seats in the Lok Sabha election, it automatically implies that the TMC government has lost its legitimacy to rule in the state. If that was the case, then similar arguments could be made about the governments in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Karnataka — the states ruled by the Congress and its alliance partners.
At the same time, Samaddar says the Modi government might raise the issue of “law and order” if a suitable situation presents itself. However, that still runs the risk of facing a political and legal challenge from other opposition parties — as long as they present a united face. “(But) if it comes to that, then it would seriously damage the political stability in our country. Could the NDA government afford to invite that?” Samaddar asks.
While the political situation will remain fluid in the coming days, a grave social crisis is brewing. The state’s Muslim community, which has supported the TMC whole-heartedly to stave off the BJP, is now worried. Ahmed Hasan Imran, a TMC MP in Rajya Sabha and editor of a Bengali daily ‘Puber Kalom’, says, “A sword is hanging over our head… the sword of NRC (National Register of Citizens)”.
After successfully pushing the exercise to update the citizenship status of people in Assam in order to identify “illegal Bangladeshis”, BJP chief Amit Shah has repeatedly asserted that his party would now want to implement the NRC in West Bengal as well as elsewhere in the country. The issues of NRC, citizenship and illegal migrants found important place in the BJP’s rhetoric in Bengal during the Lok Sabha election campaign. And so, the sense that there could be a ‘BJP rule’ in Bengal in the near future scares the community.
Sabir Ahmed, a researcher with Amartya Sen’s Pratichi Institute, lives in Kidderpore, in the southern fringe of Kolkata, where a large number of Muslims reside. According to him, people in his locality have begun searching for and collecting their identity papers that might be needed to prove their citizenship if and when the NRC process arrives in the state. The harassment and uncertainty that accompanied the exercise in Assam looms large in their minds.
Meanwhile, the BJP’s massive victory is being celebrated among its largely Hindu supporters in Bengal.
The author is a journalist and political analyst. Views are personal.