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Three reasons why Mamata Banerjee is losing the plot in West Bengal

BJP claims it is the new change Bengal wants. Didi may prove the party right in 2021 unless she takes time off politics to govern.

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The Bharatiya Janata Party has every reason to celebrate in West Bengal. Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee is losing the plot. The latest indicator came last Thursday when her administration looked the other way while Union minister Babul Supriyo was being manhandled and stopped from leaving the Jadavpur University campus.

The state seemed to be on autopilot: the chief minister was in Delhi; ministers and bureaucrats wouldn’t intervene without her signal; and the university vice-chancellor said he would rather quit than call the police, according to Supriyo.

Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, the chancellor of universities, had to visit the campus to “rescue” the minister. What do you make out of these responses? A state unravelling at its seams. West Bengal is not new to political violence but it has grown much worse, with daily reports of injuries and deaths in clashes between political rivals.

In an interview with ThePrint last week, the governor flagged several issues – the “flight” of industries from the state, the need for promised investments to be seen on the ground, below par academic standards, and the “judgemental” police administration. Didi has other priorities though – appeasing Muslims and Hindus in turns, defending tainted party colleagues and police officials, unleashing state power and Trinamool Congress musclemen on political rivals, and playing sub-nationalism to counter the BJP’s nationalism plank. After all these occupations and distractions, if she has some time left, it goes in keeping her house in order. The parent party is faction-ridden. If you were to ask for the address of the Trinamool Congress office at a district headquarters, people would ask you back, ‘whose party office?’ Factional leaders run their own offices. Violent confrontations between Trinamool factions are a familiar story. The Trinamool Chhatra Parishad, the ruling party’s student wing, is so divided that Mamata Banerjee hasn’t shown any interest in holding student union elections, which have been due since January.

Also read: After JNU, Jadavpur University is the new ‘Left’ bastion everyone wants to storm

RSS-BJP’s unfulfilled dream

No wonder then, BJP leaders are upbeat. So are the activists of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat was in Kolkata for two days last week – his third visit in the past seven weeks. The first agenda in his itinerary: a meeting with the city’s intellectuals at the residence of Indian classical musician Ustad Rashid Khan. It was followed by brainstorming sessions with 37 RSS affiliated and associated organisations, including the BJP.

Over breakfast (muri or puffed rice and kala chana) at Keshav Bhawan, the regional headquarters of the RSS in Kolkata, an RSS functionary who is a faculty member of the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, explained to this writer the long history of the Sangh in West Bengal and why the state is so important to it. It’s not just because the Sangh’s principal ideological adversaries, the Left, ruled the state for 34 years. The term ‘Hindutva’ was coined here – by Chandranath Basu, a college principal, in 1892. V.D. Savarkar, who popularised the term, spent some time in Alipore jail. RSS founder K.B. Hedgewar spent five years in Bengal. Bharatiya Jana Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee was born in Kolkata.

How is it that the BJS/BJP remained on the political margins in West Bengal? The RSS functionary at Keshav Bhawan explained that when Mookerjee died in Kashmir (in 1953, in detention), there “could have been” a mass agitation, giving a fillip to Hindutva politics. But, within a week after his death, the Communists “collaborated” with the Congress to start a violent agitation programme against a hike in second class tram fares “to divert the attention”.

Also read: How Mamata is wooing Hindus — vigil on Eid, appeals to Muslims not to kill animals in open

Getting help from Didi’s TMC

Sixty-six years later, the Sangh and the BJP see huge opportunities in West Bengal, which will go to polls in 2021. There are three reasons for their confidence.

First, the TMC’s core vote bank – those who hated the Left reign – is no longer enamoured of Mamata Banerjee, thanks to her image of having become a replica of the Left – governance reduced to being an extension of politics, lack of vision for the state or the people, anti-industry mindset, politics of terror and intimidation, authoritarianism, intolerance to democratic dissent, and everything else that voters associated with her predecessors. Worse, the integrity of the Left leaders, which many liked about the front, is not something that the TMC regime could lay a claim on, notwithstanding Didi’s ostentatious display of austerity in her personal life. Unlike the Left, the Trinamool Congress is not burdened with any ideology. This also means that the ruling party doesn’t have any committed followers or cadres of its own. And Didi has nothing to show to the people, except anti-Leftism, which has become outdated.

Second, Mamata Banerjee seems hell-bent on proving that she can succeed by repeating the mistakes of many fallen heroes from the opposition camp. She is trying to emulate former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah’s strategy of countering the BJP’s nationalism plank with sub-nationalism. That explains her demand to rename the state as Bangla. That’s also why she asserts: ‘if you are coming to Bengal, you have to speak in Bengali’. Like former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who discovered his Brahmin caste and gotra after Narendra Modi’s ascension to power in 2014, Mamata Banerjee is also getting drawn to Hinduism, seemingly. Her government will now give Rs 25,000 each to Durga Puja organisers – up from Rs 10,000. She offered prayers at the ISKCON temple and flagged off the ISKCON rath yatra in July. And she also wants to build a replica of Puri’s Jagannath temple in West Bengal.

Third, the Sangh Parivar is confident that West Bengal, with a bloody legacy of partition, will always remain a fertile ground for polarisation along religious lines. The RSS and the BJP weren’t able to make inroads into the state during the Left Front’s rule because the Left parties didn’t overplay ‘minority politics’ through an “appeasement policy”, a charge former state governor Keshari Nath Tripathi levelled against the Mamata Banerjee government. She went out of her way to woo Muslims, giving monthly grants to imams, TMC posters showing her offering namaz, and restraining police officials in Muslim-dominated areas, among others. She is now trying for an image makeover, but the BJP has got her in a trap on the National Register of Citizens (NRC) issue. The BJP has promised to first get the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill passed in Parliament to shield Hindu refugees and then go all out to drive Bangladeshi (read Muslims) infiltrators out of the state. This has forced Banerjee to oppose the NRC aggressively. It may help her to consolidate her Muslim vote bank but it could also feed into the BJP’s narrative and lead to polarisation.

Also read: Amartya Sen has a message for Mamata: Don’t define Bengalis narrowly like BJP does

Another ‘poriborton’?

The BJP has had a tremendous growth trajectory in West Bengal: 4 per cent of the total voteshare in 2011 and 10 per cent in the 2016 assembly election; and 17 per cent voteshare in the 2014 Lok Sabha election jumped to 40 per cent in 2019 (when the BJP secured 18 seats in the state as against the TMC’s 22). That the BJP’s growth has been at the expense of the Left is evident from the increase in its voteshare coinciding with the decrease in the Left’s voteshare. The CPI(M)’s voteshare came down from 23 per cent in 2014 Lok Sabha election to around 6 per cent in 2019 polls.

Mamata Banerjee may choose to take solace in the fact that the BJP has grown at the cost of her political rivals. The Trinamool Congress’ voteshare has been largely intact through the years – 39 per cent in 2011 and 45 per cent in the 2016 assembly election; and 40 per cent in 2014 and 43 per cent in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

But these numerical figures don’t reflect the prevalent sentiments on the ground – something one hears on the streets of Kolkata. ‘Poriborton’ or change is the buzzword there. “People were looking for a change and they see the BJP as a strong alternative after the Lok Sabha elections. You will see a Maharashtra-like exodus from the Trinamool Congress close to the elections. Trinamool leaders see the winds changing,” state BJP president Dilip Ghosh claimed to this writer. Didi may prove him right in 2021 unless she course-corrects immediately and takes time off politics to govern.

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  1. TMC will find it hard in the 2021 elections as a sizeable part of its top and middle leadership gets paralyzed in various scam related investigations. But the problem with BJP will be it’s utter lack of acceptance among Bengali intelligentsia, and the absence of any credible CM face among it’s Bengali leaders. We may have a bizarre situation where we have a BJP govt in Bengal with the entire media and civil society perpetually up in arms against it.

  2. As per ” Hindu websites”, of especially, Bengal,Hindus are being RELIGIOUSLY harassed.This is to BJP’s immense advantage..

    • Bro Bjp has a formidable election winning machinery and bjp has chanakya Amit shah and Narendra Modi with them. Also they lost Maharashtra and Jharkhand due to their inability to form coalition and was backstabbed by shiv sena. Amit shah is much more intelligent,crafty and smarter than prasant Kishor

  3. Whoever confirms “No Divestment in Chittaranjan Locomotive Works, the Largest Govt Factory and the Largest Asian Loco factory Independent India’s Very First Manufacturing venture which was also an Export Unit.
    Designed with British Support showcased to foreign dignitaries Bulganin India’s first manufacturing Unit. It manufactured Electric Diesel Locos of latest design from scrap as integrated manufacturing unit . It had provided design support to BHEL in following years.As a stand alone Unit it is also largest Employment provider.
    The friendly mini India integrated township( model of Unity in Diversity) with schools technical schools hospitals in a hilly scenic landscape dotted with Large lakes and very planned architecture has produced achievers in all professional and sports of International repute .
    Today Bengal bleeds with perceived bias frustrated at the impending plans to sell off the crown jewels of India like Ichapore Ordinance Factory, Durgapur Alloy Steel set up with US collaboration, the only unit with manufacturing capabilities of Special Alloys for very special applications. Coupled with Drive to coporatise Local Trains system that is Kolkata Subarbun rail the life line to Satellite Townships around Kolkata the hinterland of Industry and Agriculture. The societal support (by subsidised fare) will evaporate with OnDemand trains charging premium during rush hour. It will deal a mortal blow to livelihood lifeline of millions of common Indians, many small farmers with their own grown products and the millions of Textile weavers like sarees from hubs like Shantipur Dhaniakhali, The lacs of mill workers in private and public factories offices IT parks, Gardenreach port .. Kolkata port … who commute to and from to Kolkata to their homes villages. Notable here
    per hectare output India’s best.
    NO to Corporatisation of Ichapore Ordinance Factory , Durgapur Alloy Steel .. No privatisation and coporatisation of Indian Rail Indian Ordinance Factories Steel Works … Because we don’t have put in place a meaningful Societal Support Mechanism comparable to France Germany .Japan Switzerland..that provides High valued Govt Healthcare accessible and equal for all citizens, Highly Employable Education ( both Fundamental and Application) churning out Human Resources that lift the country’s GDP and provide Revenue through Exports, while Govt also provides Minimum Subsistence ( societal support)to all.
    Point to be noted UNLIKE INDIA these countries are not Rich in Natural Resources and have to import Agricultural and Minerals for their Industry .

    We are yet to develop a Private Enterprise Mindset that cares for societal requirements and Strongly Invests In LONG TERM INHOUSE RESEARCH. This allows them to stay ahead, create brand value, sustain demand , allow contingency, hence sustainable employment .
    Mentionable France Germany Switzerland Japan S.Korea Israel ..) . ☺️
    We do have few Praiseworthy Exceptions
    that are present globally.
    However to me a common Indian comparing those enterprises from those countries feel here as somewhat Opulence driven “short term” pshyce that is what might be Privatisation ? 😢 Will it be unjustified if it clouds Common Indian’s vision ? Corporatisation? Disinvestment ? Should it turn out to become Dark Days ? Given the countless closed and shut down enterprises littered with leaky roofs, closed gates, empty sheds. … I feel Shed Short Term Vision Opt Long Term that is only possible with Reforms in Labor Laws Ushering in Accountable and Employable MERIT INCENTIVISED Employment practices but NO to DISINVESTMENT rather Reskilling if needed.
    How many have glanced through Akio Morita’s Book” Made In Japan” ? Which aptly described How Japanese Corporates Create and Nurture Research Development Talent by Contribution of Significant Profits . However spiritedly they choose to forego OPULENCE.. … Vandemataram

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