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Cornering Mamata Banerjee in 2021 assembly polls won’t be easy. BJP lacks a pan-Bengal face

If the question, “If not Modi, who?” worked for the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, then “If not Didi, who?” may come to haunt it in West Bengal in 2021.

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It is not too often that one writes an opinion in 2019 on a state assembly election scheduled for 2021. But with Parliament passing the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, all eyes are on West Bengal where a resurgent Modi-led BJP has vowed to dethrone a combative Mamata-led TMC.

Riding on the back of an impressive performance in the state in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the saffron camp led by the BJP is already drawing blood by enacting the amended citizenship law. Northeast states like Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura were engulfed in violent protests soon after the citizenship bill got parliamentary backing on 11 December. Parts of Delhi and West Bengal too erupted over the legislation. The party will also draw blood subsequently if it pushes its nationwide NRC project.

The BJP’s idea is to woo the sizeable number of Bengali Hindus in the state through the citizenship law and corner ‘Didi’, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, on charges of minority appeasement through pan-India NRC. But Mamata isn’t someone who would give up without putting up a ferocious fight. The street fighter in her was quick to introspect the TMC’s debacle in the Lok Sabha election and reclaim the ground her party lost by winning the bypolls for three assembly constituencies where the BJP had made significant inroads just six months back.

Also read: Why BJP is wary of pushing NRC in Bengal despite confidence on citizenship bill

Modi’s appeal not enough in Bengal

If the citizenship law-nationwide NRC combo is Modi-Shah’s trump card in the east, Mamata Banerjee, too, has the counter polarisation-Bengali pride twin factor to her advantage. While the BJP hopes to make electoral gains from religious polarisation, Mamata’s TMC would bank on the minorities — Muslims — who form over 30 per cent of the electorate and hold sway over at least 90 districts.

Moreover, over the past year or two, Mamata has effectively evoked Bengali pride — a leaf out of Modi’s Gujarat book — to her advantage. Be it the centre-state tussle over West Bengal cadre IPS officer Rajeev Kumar or the desecration of Vidyasagar’s bust, a jittered TMC has positioned itself as the guardian of Bengali ethos. This is the BJP’s Achilles heel because it lacks a pan-Bengal face and is largely seen as a party of the Hindi heartland. Thus, if the question, “If not Modi, who?” worked wonders for the BJP in the Lok Sabha election, then “If not Didi, who?” may come to haunt it in the 2021 assembly polls.

Moreover, voters are increasingly making a distinction between Lok Sabha elections and assembly elections. Hence, Modi’s appeal may not be just enough to send the TMC’s tally tumbling.

Then there is also the current economic slowdown and a grim unemployment situation with no quick remedy in sight. But as Maharashtra tells us, even a day is a long time in Indian politics, let alone a year. Further, given the BJP’s meteoric rise in Tripura from a vote share of 1.54 per cent in 2013 to 43 per cent in the 2018 assembly election, the challenge posed by the BJP is realistic and a mission not impossible. The unrest in Tripura over the citizenship law shows that the BJP will have to pull its socks up if it wants to retain its foothold in the region.

Also read: Long queues, old papers, WhatsApp NRC scares: Hindus & Muslims in Bengal brace for the worst

What could work in BJP’s favour

What, however, could go in the BJP’s favour is the declining vote share of the Left in West Bengal. And should comrades prop the BJP as they did in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the party may come dangerously close to breaching Mamata Banerjee’s fortress.

So, can the Modi-led BJP dislodge Mamata Banerjee in the 2021 assembly election? The next 365 days may give us an indication of which way the winds in Kolkata will blow. As the India Meteorological Department predicted, a warmer winter awaits us.

Abhishek Kumar is the winner of the opinion writing contest on the fifth edition of Democracy Wall, Season 2. This was in response to the question asked by ThePrint: Can the Modi-led BJP dislodge Mamata Banerjee in the 2021 assembly elections?

Also read: Mamata has a new opponent in Bengal — ‘extremist Muslim’ Owaisi

Democracy Wall is a monthly free speech campus initiative organised by ThePrint in collaboration with Facebook.

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  1. Not just a charismatic local face, not even an appealing agenda. The chaos that is unfolding in the north east spells out the challenger’s priorities. Is that what the average Bengali household, residing in a state that has not seen massive investment or economic resurgence for half a century, desires by way of Poriborton ? The Congress and the Left should help Didi win a third term.

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