On March 27, 2021, West Bengal goes to elections for its 1/8th phase of polls, making it the longest ever poll in the state. In a country where elections have now become an everyday affair, why do we talk about West Bengal specifically when Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry also go to polls around the same time.
Barack Obama, the former U.S president on Aug 29, 2013, said in a tweet, “Change does not come from Washington, but to Washington.” The BJP in its attempt to establish its prominence in Indian politics has evidently prioritised Bengal over other states with the intention that if Bengal goes to BJP, their idea of Hindutva would automatically spread given that they defeat a strong leader in a state which is intellectually and culturally very strong. So instead of cultivating resources from Bengal, they have literally marched towards Bengal employing their entire artillery, ammunition and manpower in West Bengal, which has not been seen in any other state recently. This makes Bengal a curious case.
One might say that’s not the case only in Bengal, the BJP does that in every election, but they don’t face a formidable adversary like Mamata Banerjee every time. She is probably the only regional leader who has gone out in a no holds barred battle, not with just the BJP but the Prime Minister himself. Other regional leaders like Jaganmohan Reddy of Andhra and KCR of Telangana have ceased to be a cause of concern for the BJP anymore.
Shock and Awe
The BJP, which deserves credit for its electioneering, had started this battle with Intense Psychological warfare where we saw the departure of Mamata’s senior Generals to the enemy camp, the most decorated being Suvendu Adhikari, who had once played a major role in helping Mamata come to power in 2011.
Nevertheless, Mamata Banerjee also didn’t miss the opportunity, whether it was her injured leg that has certainly changed the election ecosystem of West Bengal or her poll strategist Prashant Kishor who makes big claims given his impeccable election track record, his acme being Modi’s 2014 election. Though it’s also true that this shock and awe generated by the people leaving TMC for sure reduces Mamata’s supporters and party workers’ morale, we can’t deny that the West Bengal election has now become more of a US Presidential election wherein ideology takes the back seat. It becomes a direct contest between two people, PM Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee. Now we may think that in such a case, this isn’t a battle of ideologies. It is true that the leaders may not completely fight on the basis of ideology or may switch sides, thus defying ethos, but the voters rarely lose their sense of ideologies and loyalties, which is proved by the fact that the congress still got 21.01% vote share when the BJP gave its best performance with 37.36% vote share in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. So, this fact also makes Bengal the most heated election of this year.
Facts vs Myth
Now to look at what might happen, we need to look at what has happened so far.
In the aftermath of the Modi wave, BJP got just three seats, i.e., 10.6% of the total vote share in the 2016 West Bengal assembly elections. Seeing this, one might say that the BJP is actually wasting its resources in Bengal.
But as Einstein remarked, “Time is relative; its only worth depends upon what we do as it is passing”. The BJP stands as a live testimony to this and has witnessed an incremental increase in its vote share from 4% in 2011 to 40.64% in the 2019 LS election. Interestingly, as expected, the congress’s vote had dwindled from 9% in 2011 to 5.6% in 2019. Similarly, the Left Front’s vote share had also reduced from 30% in 2011 to 6.3% in 2019. while the TMC’s vote has largely remained intact, it requires no higher mathematics to infer that it is the Congress and Left’s vote that BJP has gathered and still seeks to, so as to conquer Bengal.
PM Modi has been the trump card for BJP in almost all the states, the best example being Uttar Pradesh, where everything was done in his name. So why not in Bengal, whatever the critics might say, but the fact is Narendra Modi is the BJP’s tallest leader, and they can still win in his name. But here is the catch, using Modi’s face in the election comes with an added responsibility of damage control if things go wrong. For instance, in Delhi elections 2020, the BJP pitched the PM against Arvind Kejriwal and today, the Delhi CM holds some dignity in politics not for defeating the BJP but also the Prime Minister. A similar situation might as well happen in Bengal if “Mamata is chosen as the Beti of Bengal”. But having a candidate of its own in a state where it has no local leader of Mamata Banerjee’s stature also has risks, similar to ones the BJP faced in the Delhi 2015 elections when they put up Kiran Bedi against the AAP. So, while BJP’s entire army may be rushing in to capture Mamata’s fortress, not having a local Commander on the battleground poses a serious threat also.
Now there is a popular opinion that Mamata Banerjee’s former protégé, now a BJP leader, with the blessings of the Home Minister, might as well be the suited man for the job-both defeating Mamata and being the chief minister. One can go on making various speculations as we did about Sourav Ganguly, but until we see the bigger picture, it’s important to decipher if Suvendu’s move to BJP was beneficial or lethal.
The Nandigram seat of West Bengal would be the hot seat not just because of its historical importance in the state’s political history but also because Mamata Banerjee has given up her old seat in Bhowanipore and decided to go head-on in Nandigram with Suvendu, who won this seat in 2016.
Here we are not into finding who would win but how this affects the larger scheme of things in Bengal.
Firstly, for Suvendu, it will be a struggle to keep his political career alive since he was the one who defected from TMC, so he has extra performance anxiety.
Secondly, both Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi have once fought from two seats in different elections, but as Mamata decides to contest from just Nandigram, it reduces the input that TMC would have to put in since her former seat of Bhawanipore will still carry the wave she has left and help Sovandeb who now contests in her place. But on the other hand, the input required by BJP becomes 2x since they need to defend their new comrade Suvendu in Nandigram and also tackle Sovandeb Chattopadhyay, who contests in place of Mamata from Bhawanipore. So, 2nd may also tell us if Suvendu crossed the bridge safely or he got himself caught in the crossfire between Mamata and Modi.
Meanwhile, this state also becomes a model for political observers because it is where both sides have used every trick in the book to lure the voters, be it the TMC using the “outsider” tag or the BJP who is trying to associate with leaders like Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and Tagore to counter and gain their share of votes. So, while we look at BJP and TMC, it’s important to look at other players in the state not because they have votes but because they have chances.
This time the Congress and the Left have decided on an alliance in this poll despite knowing the fact that they are bound to lose. One might say it is an unbalanced equation. But if we relate the respective vote shares of each party, it is very clear that TMC would want this improper alliance of the Left-Congress to do better in this election so that their vote share doesn’t move to the BJP and Mamata Banerjee can manage to save her throne.
It is amusing how West Bengal politics is in no way less interesting than that of the Hindi Heartland and less violent since the only people we see getting physically injured are the Top commanders (BJP national President initially & now Mamata Banerjee), unlike the foot soldiers who suffer causalities everywhere. Yes, there is one thing for sure that the BJP will be a very formidable force, and there is also an anti-incumbency in this election, and irrespective of the result, it would shape the future politics of West Bengal and even send a strong political signal across India.
It’s amusing, not the way our leaders pick up new languages to please voters; rather, it is their Karma-Bhoomi, but it is amusing how the voters, i.e., the citizenry subscribes to such sort of politics. Having read so far, you would surely think, “anyway, 2nd May 2021 will condensate everything and give the true picture,” but will it be “ashol poriborton”?
Who left whom, what statement was made, who promised what, can be seen at prime times every night but we here raise a larger question-Is such warfare justified? Have elections in India become so larger than life that the politicians and the common people forget to check on the elected ones for the unfulfilled promises. Have we gone complacent, which though is an Indian trait but no longer unique to politicians! Elections are integral in a democracy, and nor do I propose “one nation, one election”, but the way we witnessed this election campaign, none of the sides give signs of a bright future for the people of Bengal. Their promises may mean so, but their actions don’t. Big rallies, slogans, poaching, befitting replies, hiring poll strategists and master plans won’t strengthen our democracy and values, but they would for sure lead the most formidable side to victory on 2nd May when we will witness the results but still not “ashol poriborton”.
To conclude, we wait for the battle to unravel and the armies on both sides to showcase their abilities. Conflicts are uncertain, and political ones are unpredictable. As the German field marshal, Moltke the Elder, famous for developing a series of options for battle, said, “No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main strength.” We will only see on March 27, 2021, as to whose plan survives the first contact.
By Arnav Nag
The featured image first appeared in The Hindu on 11 January 2020.