In 2019, it seems that the BJP, representing right wing religious majoritarian philosophy, an anathema in West Bengal, has taken centrestage. The massive 18 seat count for the BJP, out of 42, on the face of it may be described as a decisive turn to the Right. However, explaining the shift is not that simple.
By Rajarshi Datta
It is Narendra Modi once more. I admit, I never anticipated the results of 2019, particularly that of West Bengal. There was little doubt that the NDA will form the next government, but the magnitude of the victory has been unparalleled. The country has decisively moved to the right.
West Bengal, once the impenetrable citadel of the left has also apparently turned to the right. Bengal politics operates in a somewhat different form from the rest of India. It is one of the most politically violent states, if not the most. Political violence, continuous brutal intimidation and social ostracization of opposition sympathizers, are a way of life in the political landscape of West Bengal.
This was mastered by the Left Front led by the CPI(M). Mamata Banerjee, inherited the same politically violent infrastructure. The lumpen cadres of the Left, bereft of power moved to the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC). The AITC successfully won 2016 assembly elections and the 2018 Panchayat elections riding on this massive political infrastructure.
In 2019, it seems that the BJP, representing right wing religious majoritarian philosophy, an anathema in West Bengal, has taken centrestage. The massive 18 seat count for the BJP, out of 42, on the face of it may be described as a decisive turn to the Right. However, explaining the shift is not that simple. People who do not live in West Bengal may not realise that the swing to the Right is not an ideological shift.
It is an effort to create a safe haven against political violence and intimidation and to ensure physical safety of a large section of voters from the systematic political violence unleashed by AITC. Giving it religious colour only, is grossly misunderstanding the state of politics of West Bengal.
Mamata arrived as a messiah saving West Bengal from the systematic destruction of the Left. Her intentions were probably noble. However, in the last 8 years, her cadres looted the exchequer (Sarada and Narada were just two examples), criminals had a free run (syndicates everywhere from real estate to education), her inexperience in governance showed and the rampant evident minority appeasement exposed her completely.
The 2017 Durga Puja immersion / Muharram fiasco by her may have been a turning point for a large part of caste hindus to turn against her. All of this added to the simmering existing discontent of a large section of the population. In the Panchayat election of 2018, the violence (reported in mainstream media) was such that even AITC sympathizers were not allowed to exercise their franchise. This was probably the last nail for many.
The Congress has for long been a spent force in Bengal and the Left was nowhere in contention. For a large section of West Bengal’s population, there were no saviour except the BJP. So, naturally, the persecuted turned to the BJP. The more than 40% vote share of the BJP in West Bengal cannot otherwise be explained. The Left, entirely, has turned to the Right. Mamata’s charm may have finally waned.
Caste Bengali hindus have not been overtly communal except during a short time just after independence. A plethora of literature, the subsequent mainstream communist movement and intellectual debate snuffed life out of the communal narrative soon thereafter.
Now, the landscape of West Bengal politics has changed decisively. When Amit Shah and the Prime Minister repeatedly declared their intention to win 23 / 42 seats in West Bengal, most of us laughed. The BJP is probably having the last laugh, for now, making a meteoric rise within 5 years. It has arrived as an alternate mainstream political force in West Bengal, checkmating the AITC.
The 2019 results are a combination of the disenchantment against the AITC and a significant polarization amongst the voters. Mamata and her AITC are squarely to blame for the polarization of the voters. The Left is dead. The Congress is dead. The AITC is exposed. Long Live the Right?
(Author is Lead – Asset Management at Acquisory Consulting LLP. Views are personal)