West Bengal CM Mamata Benerjee during poll campaign in Visakhapatnam | PTI
West Bengal CM Mamata Benerjee during poll campaign | PTI
Text Size:

Perhaps, there is no state capital whose elite is so disconnected from the districts as Kolkata. Travelling in West Bengal during the 2016 assembly election, the contrast was stark. The Kolkata bhadralok elite thought the CPM-Congress alliance could work, and Mamata Banerjee may well be on her way out. After all, people are fed up of the Trinamool Congress cadres, their violence and thuggery.

Violence and thuggery are as innate to politics in West Bengal as Tagore to its cultural life. Outside Kolkata, people confirmed they hated the TMC as a party but had faith in Mamata Banerjee. Didi herself promotes this dichotomy, playing good cop-bad cop. Such was the terror of the TMC cadres that people were even afraid to talk politics with a visiting non-Bengali journalist. There is no state in India, not even Kerala, where elections are this unfree and unfair.

No wonder there were some, especially young men, who yearned for real opposition. The Left and the Congress didn’t look like they could challenge the TMC, not even together. They didn’t have a leader in whom the people could repose their faith. Bengal has always looked up to strong leaders, from Subhash Chandra Bose to Jyoti Basu to Mamata Banerjee.


Also read: Mamata Banerjee’s only Bangla in Bengal won’t get her votes. Left did same & failed


Young men in the villages who weren’t fond of the TMC said they already knew the leader they wanted for their state — Narendra Modi — but the BJP as a party didn’t really exist on the ground. Why, I asked these Modi fans, was the BJP weak in the Bengal assembly election? “They don’t have the dadalog,” was a common reply, “the day they get dadalog, they will win.”

Hollow out the opponents

That is exactly what happened in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The BJP learned to play real politics, West Bengal-style, participating in political violence, tooth for tooth and jaw for jaw.

The TMC was far from destroyed in the Lok Sabha elections. It shed 12 seats but still won a respectable 22 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats. The BJP won a shocking 18, up from just 2 seats in 2014. Yet, this was a national election fought on ‘Who else but Modi?’ narrative. Surely, the same logic should benefit Mamata Banerjee in 2021 since the BJP does not have a credible chief ministerial face.

But the BJP may not need a CM candidate. Such is the faith in Modi, as we have seen in many states, that people are okay with whoever Modi appoints as the CM. The BJP’s strategy in West Bengal is similar to what it did in Tripura. It has already hollowed out the Left, poaching its cadres, turning Communists into Hindutva supporters overnight. The focus now is on hollowing out the Trinamool Congress as a party and ex-Trinamool stalwart Mukul Roy is just the right man. He is to Bengal what Himanta Biswa Sarma is to the northeast.


Also read: 2019 results bring Mamata’s fear to life: how to save Bengal assembly from BJP in 2021


What Mamata Banerjee has on her side is time, or does she? Two years is a long time for a CM to change her image, take on a newbie opponent and save the day. As far as advance notices go, Mamata Banerjee has been given a very generous one.

Trouble is, she may already have reached a point of no return, sliding down a slippery slope. It isn’t the Lok Sabha results but the events after that make Mamata Banerjee look like she is losing control. Hers comes across as a ‘lame-duck’ government much like the UPA-2 in 2011, and they had three years to make things worse.

Poverty of imagination

Mamata Banerjee’s decline began with the panchayat elections last summer. The elections were so undemocratic and violent that on one-third seats, the winners won unopposed. Nobody dared to contest against them. A pressure cooker without a safety valve is bound to explode if heated too much.

Mamata Banerjee’s greatest failure has not been arrogance, or that she couldn’t control the TMC cadres, or that she under-estimated the BJP, or that she went overboard with Muslim identity politics. All of that is true, but her greatest failure has been the inability to re-imagine a new way of doing politics in West Bengal. Winning a thumping majority for a second consecutive term in 2016, Mamata Banerjee did not feel the need to unlearn the CPM’s way of running the state.


Also read: A sign of hope — Bengali Muslims are finally protesting Mamata’s appeasement politics


She used the means and methods of the Left Front to defeat it after 34 years of uninterrupted rule. She poached their cadres, had them participate in political violence, politicised governance, crippled the opposition space, lashed out against dissent, and rigged elections. This is how the Left ruled West Bengal for 34 years and this is how the Trinamool Congress has been ruling it for the last eight years and this is how the BJP wants to grab power in the state.

Sure, the BJP will introduce some concepts that have so far been subdued in Bengal, such as religious strife and caste divisions, but the state’s politics will essentially remain violent and undemocratic. Mamata Banerjee had a free run in the state from 2011 to 2018. This was the time when she could and should have re-imagined the political culture of West Bengal. It is perhaps too late to start doing it now.

Views are personal.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism

13 Comments Share Your Views

13 COMMENTS

  1. “There is no state in India, not even Kerala, where elections are this unfree and unfair”

    Now thats the worst kind of analogy to be presented in this case, Prehaps you should research more about the elections conducted in OTHER indian states before comparing kerala to west bengal.

  2. Mamata is as good as her party. The sordid cut money episode has exposed her and TMC.
    Corruptions are ruling the state. Public wanted change, got that , and now are lamenting over their past mistakes. BJP is not the answer. Bengal people basically have left-oriented mindset. Ultimately , left will regain the control of the state.

  3. 1. It is clear that chief minister of West Bengal (WB) and Trinamool Congress’s boss Smt Mamata Banerjee is feeling threatened and she thinks that future of her party is uncertain. 2. She has forgotten that rising popularity of BJP in WB is not just due to BJP’s organizational efforts; it is also because Smt Banerjee has forgotten why the citizen-voters of West Bengal moved away from the Leftists to give power to her party. 3. Defeat of the Leftists in WB was certainly not because of any change in ideological preferences of voters. It was just because Smt Banerjee convinced voters that the Left parties have failed to ensure economic development of WB and hence they must be defeated. 4. But fact is that Smt Banerjee has miserably failed to bring new industrial investments to WB. New job opportunities have not been created. Instead, she started banking on minority voters, which has proved to be a suicidal step. 5. Few days ago there was a news report which said that Smt Mamata Banerjee has decided to hire services of poll strategist Prashant Kishor. Here question is can a political party do well in an election merely on basis of a good strategy? I think it is the organizational strength of a party together with a good strategy and professional advice of poll strategists which would together decide how the political party fares in any election. 6. In recently concluded Lok Sabha election BJP has demonstrated its power and Smt Banerjee as head TC should not respond to growth of BJP like a local politician, who is challenged and feels that her power would soon be eroded. It would obviously be necessary for Smt Banerjee to reorganize her political party and strengthen it in all constituencies (and not only where BJP has challenged her power). More importantly, she must abandon her policy of playing with fire (appeasing the minority Muslims in one such policy) for political gains. She has to find intelligent answers to the BJP challenge; emotional outbursts, or taking recourse to language politics like the one reported in this news story, won’t be of any not use to defeat BJP.

  4. It is fashionable for the all India media to equate the TMC rule with the Left. At least the Left Front had a good person as CM and about half a dozen of good persons in the party leadership and council of ministers. The Left rule also had it’s blemishes but they are nothing in comparison with the present mis rule. The preset day violence is comparable with the blood strained Congress rule between 1972 and 1977, when an entire generation of youth got crippled.

  5. Shiva does not have the foggiest idea of West Bengal, Kerala or for that matter any part of the country. Yet he has to comment pretending to be an expert.

  6. Shivam continues vilifying each and every credible Opposition face who is anti-Modi. Girst he started with Rahul, and once Congress got decimated in polls, he has turned focus on others. I hope, his next target will be Stalin. During 2014-18, he intentionally wore an anti-Modi mask to create his credibility among non-BJP voters and media. Once, that goal has been achieved, he has started discrediting Opposition leaders. His main target is to help sanghis.

  7. RSS is very active in West Bengal. RSS should now concentrate on Kerala and Tamil Nadu by hiring Communists and AIDMK members.

  8. “There is no state in India, not even Kerala, where elections are this unfree and unfair.”
    Of all the states in this country, you found Kerala as an example??

  9. “There is no state in India, not even Kerala, where elections are this unfree and unfair.”

    Oh my my…. I stopped reading further…

  10. It would have been good for the people of the state if the challenger was promising a Bengali Renaissance. What will really change if Mukul Roy becomes CM …

  11. OMG, Shivam still in Anti Modi mode. Not even a single word on Mamta Di’s undoing of”cut money” lash. Mamta must also be having her cut out of”cut money”. There’s no doubt about that’s why started to win the confidence by paying back. That may not be biggest issue for you dumb..

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here