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'Mamata will come to power with vulnerable majority'

By SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF
April 23, 2021 10:24 IST
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'Mamata's numbers will reduce this time compared to 2016.'

IMAGE: Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee addresses an election meeting. Photograph: PTI Photo

Dr Afroz Alam, professor and head of the political science department at Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad, has studied the voting behaviour in the West Bengal assembly election till March 15, 2021.

In his study of the 294 assembly seats in West Bengal, he found that Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress will win the bitterly fought election, but with a very thin majority.

Dr Alam, also the director of the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Public Policy, spoke to Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf about why he feels Mamata Banerjee will win a third term as chief minister.

The first of a two-part interview:

 

What did your study find on the West Bengal election?

There is a deep anti-incumbency against Mamata Banerjee.

There is charismatic acceptance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi among voters.

We noted that there used to be an ideological battle in the Bengal election, but this time national politics was dominant.

People were willing for change, but this change was limited to certain pockets.

It was not spread across West Bengal.

We also saw that there were people who were strongly committed to Didi and she is equally popular as Modi.

She worked very hard for the last seven months and was able to neutralise anti-incumbency.

It is not extraordinary anti-incumbency against her.

We also found (in) women voters there is extraordinary liking for Mamata Banerjee.

Mamata Banerjee openly stated that the Bharatiya Janata Party will not win more than 70 seats in West Bengal. Do you think so?

You've got to see what is the gain for the BJP in West Bengal.

It is not an overnight gain for the BJP in West Bengal.

They are in Bengal for the last 30 years working on the ground and yet Bengal did not accept them.

It was only after 2014 and the emergence of Modi that they found a footing in West Bengal.

If you compare the 2016 assembly election figures and the 2019 parliamentary election figures, you will find that the BJP's performance was not good in the 2016 assembly elections.

But it was Modi's performance that was good and that changed things for the BJP in the 2019 parliamentary elections.

Moreover, the drawback that West Bengal always had was zero Opposition in politics.

If one party was ruling, there was zero Opposition.

This was the case during the Left Front and now under Mamata too.

The Opposition could never hold the government accountable and this was always the case for West Bengal.

But now the situation is changing as the BJP worked hard on the ground.

They have their resources and they reached out to the people.

They used their IT cell perfectly.

This has given them an advantage and they will cross 100 seats in my opinion.

The BJP will be a dominant Opposition in West Bengal.

So, you think the BJP will not form the government in West Bengal.

Yes.

Our data was collected till March 14 and from that I can say the BJP won't form the government in West Bengal.

Mamata Banerjee will come to power with a vulnerable majority.

The BJP will be a very dominant opposition.

Mamata's numbers will reduce this time compared to 2016.

But will she able to sustain her victory on a reduced margin?

Has communalisation and consolidation of Hindu votes worked for the BJP in West Bengal?

It is not a new phenomenon.

Every political party came to power in West Bengal tried to portray that they were for Muslims.

That has been manipulated well by the BJP.

They branded it as appeasement.

Muslim appeasement narrative by the BJP and mismanagement of governance during Amphan cyclone were also big factors.

People were not happy with the local musclemen of TMC too.

The cyclone affected the poorest people in society.

Right now, two narratives work in Bengal: Didi hatao ya Didi Bachao (Remove Mamata or save Mamata).

Is the 8-phase election in Bengal helping the BJP?

The BJP can only cross 100 seats with this kind of micro management.

They have least cadres on the ground and therefore they need this kind of time.

This is an advantage to the BJP and the deployment of central forces is equally advantageous to the BJP.

There are 15 percent of voters who work on fear factor and this 15 per cent vote is very important to the BJP.

If Mamata loses, does it mean it is the end of secular politics?

I do not put very high stakes on elections.

Elections have always been unpredictable.

You cannot judge the state of the country while counting one state election results.

Changes happen.

Lots of writing came up when Donald Trump came to power in the USA.

They said democracy was in danger and there was populism everywhere.

These are phases of politics.

The very nature of politics has changed.

People get fatigue.

What is most important now is that there is indifference growing among people and tech giants are having more stake in democracy.

Democracy has become just a methodology to elect people to power.

Election is one-time employment.

If you have resources, money and narrative, you can win the elections.

The way social media is being used and who controls the data they can indulge in manipulation of data by reaching millions of people in one second and thus narratives change overnight.

Will the Left Front-led alliance damage Mamata Banerjee's chances of winning?

There is nothing called as fixed or bloc vote.

In a democracy everybody has space and they want to make use of it.

Abbas Siddiqui (of the Indian Secular Front) or anyone like him in a democracy will like to gain some favour.

If they are not able to win then they can bargain.

I cannot say they will divide the secular votes as there is no communal vote or secular vote.

It is just that you have to get a good candidate and bring a narrative and influence the voting decision of the people in a democracy, then you are the master of democracy.

You can win 3-4 assembly election seats as voters are very educated when it comes to voting.

What went wrong with the Congress and the Left? Do they have a presence on the ground in West Bengal?

There is a disconnect.

Those who were dynamic in these parties were co-opted by new parties.

If you constantly win elections and then at a certain point you are completely decimated, it means then some fault lies with the leadership and some fault lies in what I call as laziness of being in power.

When you are in power you become so lazy that you get disconnected from the ground.

You were in a comfort zone as a leader and then you lose cadres on the ground.

You as a leader were not bothered because you were in a comfort zone.

The Left never felt the competition earlier in West Bengal when they ruled.

The Left was in power for 32 years and that is quite a time and people got fatigued with that kind of politics.

The people are just fed up.

People want change.

It does not mean those who vote for the BJP all are communal.

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SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF / Rediff.com in Mumbai
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