For the BJP, a good show in the Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal will be the first big step towards coming to power in the state. In the last few years, it has already emerged as the principal challenger to Mamata Banerjee’s TMC. The BJP now holds out the promise of a better Bengal for its people.
BJP president Amit Shah’s winning spree in state after state has brought the BJP in direct confrontation with Mamata Banerjee in Bengal. Shah’s strategy to organise massive roadshows and overawe the undecided voters was a superb approach to pull votes.
The last phase of elections, in which nine seats in and around Kolkata vote, hold a huge potential for the BJP. The party’s pro-development and anti-corruption image at the Centre will help it win the trust of Bengal voters.
The BJP’s vote bank in Kolkata and across Bengal includes anyone who has lost out on job opportunities due to lack of industrial growth in the state. Or, whose business has failed to flourish because there are not enough incentives. Or, even the so-called ‘Bhadralok’ of Bengal who grumbles about the lack of development in the state.
Different govts, same problems
Bengal is not new to political violence and the vandalisation of social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s statue this week marks a new low. It shows all that’s wrong with Bengal, and why it is desperate for change.
Successive governments have failed the state on development and jobs, and pushed many towards violence.
The CPI(M)-led Left Front government under Jyoti Basu ruined the once-flourishing economy of Bengal. The Left’s 34-year-old rule in Bengal brought the state to stagnancy and saw an exodus of industries, especially under Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s regime. The unbridled control of the Communist party-backed trade unions totally crippled industrial growth.
The Communist government adopted a confrontationist attitude. It is known that in order to keep an iron grip over the state and perpetuate the Communist rule, the Left Front resorted to violence against political adversaries and employed undemocratic means to thwart opponents’ political entry.
Mamata Banerjee, totally disillusioned with the Congress, took up the cudgels to defend the honour, dignity and democratic rights of the people of Bengal. Her ‘Maa, Maati, Manush’ slogan caught the imagination of the people. She could match the Left hooliganism with equal might and claw her way to power.
Earlier, her tenure as a minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government catapulted her to the national stage.
But soon after coming to power in Bengal, either by choice or by compulsion, she too had to fall back upon the same violent elements that propped up the earlier Left government.
BJP looks East
The year 2014 marked a turning point for various national and regional parties, including Mamata Banerjee’s TMC. As the BJP stormed into the Lok Sabha with absolute majority, its political opponents were forced to recalibrate their strategies.
In Bengal, it is now an all-out turf war between the BJP and the TMC. West Bengal with its 42 Lok Sabha seats is a key state in the BJP’s ‘look East’ strategy for 2019 and onwards. And the TMC’s vote bank politics of appeasing the minority provided a fertile ground for the BJP to tap into the majority vote bank.
In 2014 Lok Sabha election, the TMC won 34 of the 42 seats and the BJP two. In the subsequent panchayat elections, the BJP has put up an impressive show. In 2018 panchayat polls, the BJP won 329 of the 806 gram panchayat seats in Jhargram district, a TMC stronghold.
The message was not lost on Mamata Banerjee, whose party had taken on the mighty Left in Jhargram, a hotbed of Maoist insurgency, and won the assembly seat in 2011 elections. The TMC ended the 34-year-old Left rule in 2011 and has since ruled the iconic Writers’ Building in Kolkata.
In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, TMC candidate Uma Soren won the constituency with a huge margin. The CPI(M) came a distant second. But this time, it’s a three-cornered contest in Jhargram, between the TMC, the BJP and the CPI(M).
The BJP’s inroads in Bengal have more than rattled Mamata Banerjee. The writing on the wall is clear and Bengal is ready for real change.
The author is former editor of ‘Organiser’. Views are personal.