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Is the BJP inching closer to Bengal?

By PAYAL MOHANKA
March 17, 2021 11:24 IST
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'With sufficient gaps between polling dates, the BJP will have time to convert the 'fence-sitter' votes,' observes Payal Mohanka.

IMAGE: Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee addresses an election rally from a wheelchair in Balrampur, March 15, 2021. Photograph: Utpal Sarkar/ANI Photo

It's going to be a gruelling summer as the battle for West Bengal turns aggressive.

While Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee claimed she had been attacked while campaigning in Nandigram, her constituency for the 2021 assembly election, the Election Commission has dismissed the charge and declared that it was an accident.

The Election Commission has suspended the police officer in charge of her security.

After a day in hospital, an undeterred wheelchair-bound Didi with her bandaged foot hit the campaign trail.

The electorate in Bengal soaks in the sight of their feisty leader addressing rallies, claiming 'a wounded tigress is more dangerous than a dead one'.

But there is a huge question mark on the impact this is likely to have on the outcome of the elections.

Will the voter in Bengal view Didi's claim as mere histrionics?

Or will there be a sympathy wave?

IMAGE: Narendra Damodardas Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party's lead campaigner, addresses a BJP rally at the Brigade parade grounds, his first in West Bengal after the announcement of the election schedule. Photograph: Swapan Mahapatra/PTI Photo

West Bengal had 34 years of Left rule until the Trinamool Congress gained control in 2011 and with its Ma, Mati, Manush slogan, the TMC went on to try and establish that it was more Left than the Left.

Today, the TMC's fortunes hang in the balance.

Will Didi's party, which is witnessing an exodus and its disillusioned members are being embraced by the BJP, return to power as a couple of recent surveys indicate?

Or will the BJP, which is working with single-minded zeal and has never come this close to wresting power in Bengal, win the last lap?

Dialectical Materialism is used to explain how the 19th century German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel viewed the change of power.

They accepted the lack of permanence, the evolution of the natural world and the emergence of a new order Using this approach a political analyst elaborates, "In 2011 Bengal saw a new synthesis. Now in 2021 the antithesis to it has emerged in the form of the BJP and this churning will bring a new synthesis. And then overtime that synthesis develops its own antithesis."

Is this state now heading for that 'new synthesis'?

Is Bengal within the BJP's grasp?

IMAGE: BJP campaigner Amit Anilchandra Shah addresses an election meeting in Ranibandh, West Bengal, March 15, 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo

Anti-incumbency, which is the layman's version of this very principle, helped the TMC to make inroads in the 2009 parliamentary election.

There was a 42-seat alliance between the Congress and the TMC against the Left Front.

The Congress contested 14 seats and the TMC 27 of which the TMC won 19 seats and the Congress 6.

As a result of this alliance in 2009 the TMC and the Congress got 44 per cent of the votes.

Like the parliamentary election of 2009 lit a spark within the TMC and catapulted the party into power in the assembly two years later, it was the 2019 parliamentary election which ignited the BJP's ambitions for Bengal.

And what was once dismissed as an impossibility and a distant dream by its critics, seemed not that unattainable.

In the parliamentary election in 2019 the BJP surprised the state and won 18 seats, securing 40 per cent of the votes in the process.

Could the 2021 assembly election in Bengal be a re-run of the 2011 assembly election and see the challenger emerge triumphant?

Are the scales tipping in favour of the BJP?

IMAGE: BJP candidate Suvendu Adhikari and party campaigner Smriti Irani at a road show in Haldia, West Bengal, March 12, 2021. Photograph: Bibhash Lodh/ANI Photo

The BJP is all set to gain maximum mileage through the eight-phases of electioneering.

An entire think-tank is devoted to this exercise.

With sufficient gaps between the polling dates, the BJP will have time to convert the 'fence-sitter' votes.

Even more intense campaigning is expected to be carried out over the next few weeks.

It is not an equal fight.

Didi has to be present everywhere while the BJP has divided the task between Narendra Damodardas Modi, Amit Anilchandra Shah, senior leaders like Smriti Irani and local leaders.

Didi is the TMC's only engine.

Pitted against the inexhaustible machinery of the BJP is the TMC's sole engine running out of steam?

IMAGE: Pirzada Abbas Siddique, the founder of the Furfura Sharif Ahale Sunnatul Jamat, launches the Indian Secular Front in Kolkata, January 22 2021. Photograph: Sudipta Banerjee/ANI Photo

This time there are three contestants.

The TMC, the BJP and the Left-Congress-Indian Secular Front combine.

The TMC, which usually receives the Muslim votes, might suffer an erosion as the votes from the minority community would get divided with the ISF, headed by Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui of the Furfura Sharif, attracting a substantial portion.

The BJP could well gain ground.

Out of 294 seats in the assembly there are about 125 seats which have a strong Muslim domination and more than 30% of the votes are from the community.

In the 2016 assembly election, the TMC won close to 75 of these seats which are spread over 9 districts: Howrah, Hooghly, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, Murshidabad, Malda, Dinajpur, Burdwan and Birbhum.

But now with the Muslim vote likely to be fragmented, the TMC is on unsteady ground.

IMAGE: BJP General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya and Dilip Ghosh, the party's West Bengal president, inspect the Brigade parade ground stage ahead of Modi's rally, March 6, 2021. Photograph: Saikat Paul/ANI Photo

With two major players, BJP state president Dilip Ghosh and Suvendu Adhikari hailing from Midnapore, the BJP seems to be poised comfortably in both East and West Midnapore, as well as the districts of Bankura and Purulia.

Nandigram in East Midnapore will witness the battle royale as Suvendu Adhikari takes on his former leader Mamata Banerjee.

From two seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the BJP soared to 18 seats in 2019 and a massive increase in its vote share from 16.8 per cent in 2014 to 40.25 per cent in 2019.

Today from 3 seats in the assembly, the BJP is now targeting 200 plus.

Politics is way beyond numbers.

The past may be no indication of the future.

But 2021 is witnessing the BJP blitzkrieg across the length and breadth of Bengal with the party's entire might and muscle focused on this eastern state.

Despite what the surveys reveal, is the saffron brigade inching closer to victory?

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com

 

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