Mamata-mukt Bengal? BJP set to occupy entire opposition space in state - NEWS SENTRY


Saturday, 20 August 2016

Mamata-mukt Bengal? BJP set to occupy entire opposition space in state

With less than two years to go for state assembly elections in West Bengal, the party to watch is clearly the BJP. The party's fortunes were on the up even before the Lok Sabha polls, thanks to a Left in decline, but after registering a 17.6 percent vote share and winning two seats – including Asansol - the message went deeper.

The BJP is now set to occupy the entire opposition space in Bengal.

Just in case people think it is all about the new attractiveness of the BJP under Narendra Modi, it is worth understanding why the party is set to rise in Bengal, forcing Mamata-di to look over her Right shoulder rather than her Left for competition. Recently, when the CPI(M) led a delegation to protest against the atrocities unleashed by her cadres against the party, instead of haughtily dismissing them, she actually commiserated with them and asked them to work with her to fight the BJP. Left and Lefter-than-thou are now finding common cause against a newly resurgent Right.

Some bitter truths about the real nature of street-level politics in Bengal are worth noting at this point. Contrary to their benign image in secular politics, the CPI(M) in West Bengal ran a thuggish regime. Local peace was maintained by strong-arm methods, including violence. The rule of law - like in many other Indian states such as Uttar Pradesh - was optional and party cadres ran the show.

With the fall of the Left in 2011 after 34 years of running a state-wide protection racket, the Trinamool took over the street-fighters who were willing to cross over and developed its own muscle-bound elements to rule the state. Thugs need the covert backing of state power to exert authority, and this is what Trinamool provided. At first the targets were the Left’s remaining workers, but now even the Left is willing to raise the white flag.

Apart from the emergence of a credible national leadership, the other reason for the BJP’s new attractiveness in West Bengal is that there is limited space under Trinamool’s protective umbrella. Contradictory forces cannot all congregate under the same protector. After the end of the UPA regime, the Congress in Bengal is about to wither away - with parts heading towards Trinamool and the rest wondering where to go. On the Left, with neither state nor centre to turn to for moral and muscle support, the non-core CPI(M) cadre was looking for a new umbrella to operate under. The Delhi power base of Narendra Modi is the obvious counter-weight to Mamata Banerjee.

The Hindustan Times, which has been running a four-part series on the BJP's rise in Bengal, notes today (20 August) that "hordes of CPI(M) workers, even district-level functionaries, are joining the Parivar."

The big question is this: why do Left cadres head for the extreme Right (ie, BJP) rather than Congress or Trinamool, who are at least mildly Left? It is not an easy question to answer but two reasons can be adduced: Unlike other parties, the BJP-RSS combine is closest to the Left in terms of organisational ability with the discipline of a combat force.

The second reason is that the Left was nothing more than an upper caste cabal, albeit with an atheist and Left-wing outlook at the top leadership level. The Left leadership was full of Chatterjis and Banerjees and Bhattacharyas – all of Brahmin pedigree – and it barely bothered about caste or community arithmetic. Despite its alleged secular image, minorities in West Bengal were little more than votebanks. The economic condition of Muslims in the state was among the worst in India, according to the Sachar committee report. It would not be wrong to say that the Left ran little more than a protection racket for Bengal’s minorities, especially for the illegal immigrants from across the border, who asked for little more than that.

The BJP has been gaining from the Left because it is now taking over the Hindu leadership and focusing on the target groups that Trinamool cannot.

First, it is positioning itself as anti-illegal immigrant – which is code for anti-Muslim immigrants – and pro-political refugees (code for Hindus coming over from Bangladesh due to persecution). Since the demographic status of many of the border districts of Bengal has already tilted heavily in favour of Muslims, the BJP is staking a claim to the non-Muslim vote in parts of north and south Bengal.

Second, it is making overtures to the SC/ST community. In a recent communal clash in South 24 Parganas, members of the SC/ST community clashed with Muslim supporters of Trinamool, says a Hindustan Times report. The BJP sent a team to Sandeshkhali, where the clash occurred, and announced that Trinamool’s protection for illegal immigrants was threatening the security of Indians.

Parts of the withering Left are also headed to the BJP. As another Hindustan Times report noted, “After the LS polls, workers of the CPI(M) and its allies - the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Forward Bloc - were seen hoisting BJP flags at their party offices in at least six districts. The exodus began soon after the results were out. In West Midnapore district, for instance, more than 12,000 leftists crossed over. Among them was Antara Bhattacharya, formersabhadhipati of the CPI(M)-controlled West Midnapore Zilla Parishad.”

By 2016, the BJP may well emerge as the main challenger to Mamata-di. After Congress-mukt Bharat, the BJP leadership has announced a plan for Trinamool-mukt Bengal.

The plans will crystallise when newly-installed BJP President Amit Shah makes his appearance in September in West Bengal for a strategic assessment of the party’s prospects in the state. Local party bosses will take their cue from that meeting. With both the Left and Mamata-di reducing Bengal to an industrial wasteland, the BJP hopes to bring in a new wave of hope in the state.

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