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HomeOpinion2021 election has ended the Bengal exceptionalism. It’s now seeing American-style management

2021 election has ended the Bengal exceptionalism. It’s now seeing American-style management

For long, Bengal’s party competition was unique. Campaigns were about political cadres speaking an ideological language. Not anymore.

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As the long-drawn-out eight-phase assembly polls come to a close, one thing is sure: Politics in West Bengal has changed forever, for the worse.

I am not making an election forecast here. Exit polls should be out very soon and we may get a sense of how this keenly fought contest has ended. In a close election like this one, I would wait for the actual count on 2 May.

In any case, I don’t need to anticipate the exact outcome to make my point. For my purpose, it is enough to assume some basics. I assume that this election was more or less a direct contest between the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The expectation that the Left Front may be able to stage a comeback in alliance with the Congress and Indian Secular Front did not happen. This third force is expected to end up as a distant third, with around 10 per cent of popular votes.

I also assume that it was a pretty close contest in terms of votes, though that may not reflect in the number of seats. The TMC and the BJP would share around 80 per cent votes between themselves. If it is 40:40, the election is on the razor’s edge and we could see a nail-biting finish. If it is 42:38 in Mamata Banerjee’s favour, the media would be singing paeans to her leadership and Prashant Kishor’s micromanagement. And if it is the other way around, TV studios would be raving about the great saffron surge created by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah in Bengal.

Also read: BJP or TMC, we don’t know who’ll win Bengal, but we know who the loser is

New political alignment

No matter which of these scenarios unfolds on 2 May, it is clear that a fundamental political realignment has taken place in West Bengal. The BJP’s extraordinary success in West Bengal in the Lok Sabha election of 2019 was clearly no flash in the pan. Despite a significant presence of Hindu political organisations immediately before and after Partition, first the Jana Sangh and then the BJP were never more than a marginal factor in the state. As late as 2011, the BJP drew a blank with just 4.1 per cent votes in the assembly polls. That improved to just 3 seats and 10.2 per cent votes in the 2016 polls. The BJP was firmly on the margins.

All that changed dramatically in 2019 when the BJP built upon Modi’s popularity to emerge as the main challenger to the TMC, winning 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats and securing 40.6 per cent votes. The question was whether the BJP would be able to hold on to this success in this assembly election or recede back to its marginal position. We don’t have the election result, but we have the answer to this question: Politics of Hindutva is here to stay in the state of West Bengal. For some time now, political competition in the state will be TMC vs BJP, an unthinkable proposition a few years ago.

Also read: In West Bengal, why Covid is likely to turn the poll turf in favour of Mamata

New social alignment

This has been accompanied by a social realignment. The BJP entered state politics by courting marginal regions and social groups. Its initial successes were in the backward regions of north Bengal and Jangalmahal in the west. It created a base by courting dalits, adivasis, Hindu migrants from Bangladesh and the Hindi speakers in urban pockets. Since 2019, the BJP has expanded its net much beyond these sections. This time it has gone into the heartland of rural south Bengal and has created a space for itself among the Bengali middle class, the bhadralok. Yet, by stoking caste politics in a state where it was suppressed for long, the BJP may have triggered a new kind of identity politics.

The fulcrum of this politics is, of course, Hindu mobilisation. Popular vote share of anywhere close to 40 per cent would mean that the BJP has succeeded in consolidating about two-thirds of the 70 per cent Hindu voters in the state. This electoral realignment would have long-term consequences. In a state with about 30 per cent Muslim voters, the BJP would need to keep Hindus in a state of heightened anxiety, if not panic, to keep them consolidated at this peak level. The rise of the Indian Secular Front, a Muslim political party, indicates the future possibility of counter-mobilisation among Muslims. Bengal thus faces the prospects of being pushed to its sordid communal past of the 1940s when it was the epicentre of Hindu-Muslim violence.

Also read: From nowhere to everywhere — how RSS grew in West Bengal to benefit BJP

New role of money and machine

Add to it, the role of muscle, money and election machine this time. It was widely feared that this may be one of the least free and fair elections in Bengal. Many of those fears have turned out to be true. Muscle power is not new in Bengal politics. Its roots go back to the 1960s, in the clashes between Congress and the Communists and then the intra-Communist feuds. It is no secret that the Left Front government routinely deployed violence against its political adversaries. The TMC continued and accentuated this legacy. The large-scale violence unleashed by the TMC strongmen during the panchayat elections of 2018 is one of the reasons for popular disaffection with the ruling party. Now the BJP has continued the same tradition as many of the erstwhile Left workers have reportedly shifted their loyalties to the BJP. What the BJP still lacked in its ability to take on the TMC musclemen was made up by the central security forces, as Mamata Banerjee accused. We have not heard the last word on the saga of political violence in West Bengal.

As for money, this was clearly the most expensive election in the history of the state. While there are no reports of large-scale voter bribing, money was pouring in multiple ways that the state has not seen before: pre-election defection of leaders, money to local middlemen, propping up of new TV channels and massive advertisements. Once this trend begins, there is no going back. It is also fair to say that the Election Commission was more partisan in this election than it has been in any other election. We have not heard complaints of large-scale rigging, but from deciding the polling schedule to making and implementing Covid guidelines, the EC has gone out of its way to enable the ruling party at the Centre.

Finally, the ‘professional’ management of elections marks a new turn in the history of Bengal, if not the country. Following the shocker in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Mamata Banerjee outsourced political strategy and management to Prashant Kishor’s team (IPAC or Team PK) who created a parallel structure to the party. They helped design new and popular policies, forged a new image, helped in selection of candidates and in the micromanagement of campaign and polling. We do not know if all that would suffice to give Mamata a third term. But we do know that it would be hard to go back to old-style election management by political leaders and cadres.

For long, Bengal was an exception to many trends and patterns of Indian politics. Its party competition was unique. Campaigns were about political cadres speaking an ideological language. Elections were contested without appeal to caste or community and without much money. Governance was pretty shoddy, no doubt, but politics reigned supreme. This election may have ended the exceptionalism of Bengal. It may have also led Bengal and the rest of the country into American-style politics as management.

Yogendra Yadav is the National President of Swaraj India. Views are personal.

Edited by Neera Majumdar

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  1. Mr.Yadav has narrated the events in a chronological order. He has not analysed how Bengalis who were supposed to be politically conscious started looking to Hinduism and why Top Leaders like Jyothi Basu could not change the face of Bengal despite ruling for more than 30 years .
    He also should have commented why ms.Mamta with her personal popularity and Govt machinery with her has to depend {rather hand over election process of the party} on Mr.Prashant Kishore.
    Let us see who will form the next Govt.

  2. Yogendra Yadav as usual is out of tack just as in his earlier piece on the need to have BC count. The state of Bengal was under the Left rule for over 3 decades. If their’s was an extrardionary socialistic rule there must have been no caste issues in that caste. So there is no way BJP could restoke caste issues with in 5 years. Some how the secularist in Yogendra Yadav skipped the fact of religious pampering by both Left and TMC which gave BJP handle to beat them. Hindus across the country are fed up with pesudo secularism of non BJP parties and are gravitating towards BJP.

  3. Trust YoYa to skirt the main issue on hand. He was flippant about Covid at the height of the farmer agitation. The opportunist in him was only propelling him to corner centre stage. The failed Kejriwal oustee is at best a sidekick show. Now again pontificating on a subject about which he is abject ignorant. Good English does not make for good content.

  4. Very good The Print. You are going the The Hindu way…. Just a matter of time you’ll not even be on the list of nationalists…. We are made to read article from this turncoat dirtbag of a man. Shame on you!

  5. This aandolanjeevi is again showing his frustration. He should take sanyas now. All irrelevant bakwas he did in this article.

  6. If one analyses the comments you can see how vaccous and out of depth the sanghi supporters are. They use crude words instead of dissecting the article and attack the writer. Needless they don’t have the intellect or the experience or knowledge of the ground reality to offer constructive criticism. All hallmarks of a arrogant bunch that is BJP.

  7. Yogender Yadav is a critical analyst. He knows the pulse of each Party. It is difficult to stay him wrong

  8. When you read the Print, you understand why the Muslims were in power in India for so long.

    Hindu dhimmis helped them at every turn!

  9. Precise, incisive analysis about present Political scenario in Bengal by respected Mr. Yogendra Yadav. Hopefully, Geruagang will be defeated and Geruagang’s Fabio -Fascist technique shall not succeed in Bengal. Hope also, Soul of Bengal as nurtured by Lessons from Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Swami Vivekananda, Vidysagar, Raja Rammohan, Netajee Subhas Chandra Bose, Noble-laureate Rabindranath Tagore, Saratchandra, Kabi Nazrul Islam will not be lost by Geruagang’s all-out War against Bengalees everywhere!

  10. I have only one comment to make on this article. Yogendra Yadav blaming armed forces for the violence The fact is CAPF was solely responsible for maintaining the law & order, keeping the violence low, allowing voters to vote in a fearless mind, still getting blame. There cannot be a bigger bankruptcy of the mind. He is in the league of Mamata, who was asking for removal of the CAPF so that TMC hooligans may carry out violence against opposing voters to prevent them for voting.
    A lawyer can file a case against this guy.

  11. “It was widely feared that this may be one of the least free and fair elections in Bengal.” Hahahahahaha good one. Voters in Bengal have resoundingly endorsed that this is the first time in 4 decades that they have been able to vote under such excellently managed conditions. I have many relatives across Bengal and they are floored at how elections CAN be if parties are not allowed to hijack them. We take free and fair elections for granted; for Bengal voters, this has been an eye-opener. PS – how can BJP play divisive caste politics AND unify Hindu voters across castes? PPS – “Bengal’s sordid communal past of the 1940s” my dear, that was the PARTITION OF INDIA. It was not a ‘communal’ pit-pat, the entire country was eviscerated. Gosh, brain hurts. I think many cells died a bitter death after being subjected to this virus.

  12. Mr. Yadav is at it again.

    The article is full of weasel phrases appended to views he wants to propagate – to give a semblance of being unbiased and objective.

    This is intellectual dishonesty at its lowest.

    And what’s even worse (well, for him) is that he is attempting this in a journal like The PRINT where readers are not gullible, quite the opposite.

    Why more people don’t call him out is a bit of a mystery – maybe nobody pays any attention to him anymore… Quite sad when one thinks about it because he is quite a brilliant man.

  13. Salim is obfuscating the issue as he has successfully infiltrated the ultra left wing radicals as some left leaning ideologue to hide his support of religious radicals.

    THE reality in Assam and West BENGAL is demographic changes may turn this culturally diverse society into one religion dominated society not believing in INDIAN CONSTITUTION but everything dictated by religious text .

    This election might be the last elections where HINDUS might have numbers to protect their progressive culture from RIOTERS AND PROSELYTIZERS.

    • Hindus in India are sabotaged by refugees like Yogendra Yadav, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Harsh Mander, Ram Puniyani, Siddhath Bhatia, Indira Jaising. These are the top of iceberg,

      They should have fought for secularism in their native province, when Jinnah had declared his intention to create a secular Pakistan, where a person was Pakistani first Muslim, Hindu or Sikh later.

      I would say that i would have admired them if they had stayed in Pakistan and fought for secularism there. If they had died fighting for secularism there We would have commissioned TEESTA SETALVAD to being a grand memorial for them, like she did for Muslims in Gujarat.

  14. After reading the biased article I wondered who could be the BJP phobic author and my doubts are confirmed.

  15. I just wonder as an every topic expert, when will you speak on murderous political violence in West Bengal.

    I know it must rank pretty low in your priority list, but please sir..Apki itni intellect bikhri hui hai idhar udhar
    .Thodi idhar bhi lagayein.

  16. Yogendraji ,now is the time not to write blogs in news portals ,but to serve the Covid needy on ground zero. Socialism needs to be practiced and not just preached.

  17. Election Commission is NOT partisan. Just compare the 8 phases of Bengal Assembly election in 2016 with the 8 phases of 201 election and they are similar. Yogendra Yadav, stop perpetuating the the cliched lies paddled by Prashant Kishore, you two birds of same feather of Antumodi flock together, haah?

  18. For long, Bengal’s party competition was unique. Campaigns were about political cadres competing for share of the loot from extortion, cuts , commissions and every conceivable from of corrupt practice based on violence and that was the ideology.

  19. why is this guy NOT advising his farmers brothers to go home and follow covid protocol ? just politics for votes

  20. With so much money coming in as the author says, hopefully the economy of Waste Bengal should pick up. As for the prediction of this being the last free and fair election, guess the author is now turning astrologer.

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