Business Standard

Choices before Mamata (Column: Political Calculus)


The first childhood lesson in history is that when an empire emerges it climbs to the highest peak and then, inevitably it falls. This is the law of nature; which means the formula of nature. In West Bengal, that is the historical reality of Mamata Banerjee's kingdom!
During this time in West Bengal, I realised that there was an extra heat in the air. In South 24-Parganas, a middle-aged Bengali woman selling tea told me that just as when the CPI-M went out and the Trinamool Congress came and she was unable to see the change coming, today you cannot understand that the BJP is entering this state and the Trinamool Congress is going out. What a political transformation the woman spoke about.
In fact, many of us, sitting in air-conditioned homes, believe that we are proficient at political prognostication, but at times it appears that we have lost touch with ground reality -- and it is left to semi-literate women to tell us about the political situation while serving fish-and-rice at bus stands. Across the districts of West Bengal, Trinamool Congress cadres rent the air with slogans of Didi for Prime Minister. But, everyone is puzzled how Modi returned as Prime Minister.
The question is: Why did this happen to Mamata Banerjee? It is generally said that this was due to the Trinamool Congress party's policy of excessive Muslim minority appeasement. This could have been the cause of Hindutva polarisation of the BJP. But polarization also happened because of a very strong anti-Mamata Banerjee sentiment.
The socio-economic situation of West Bengal is very worrying. Unemployment is high. There are no big industries in the state. There are no factories, per capita income is low, the Bengali is returning to the national mainstream.
Bengali means leftist; Opposition to the Centre and Delhi. From Chittaranjan Das and Subhash Bose's ideological battle with Gandhiji. Jawaharlal Nehru's relationship with Bidhan Roy was not of master and servant, or Guru and disciple. Nehru had even proposed that Roy be made governor.
To be against Delhi is in the DNA of Bengalis. But the people of Bengal are tired of such negative politics - of always having to see leaders saying "aisa nahi chalega nahi chalega". They have seen how a small state like Tripura has become BJP-ruled. They have seen that Tripura is getting the kind of financial support that Uttar Pradesh is getting from the Centre.
The CPM came to power in 1977 after the Congress was ousted. Since then, the step-motherly treatment of the Centre towards the state has been highlighted. Many say about Mamata Banerjee's politics, that it is nothing but an improved version of a bad CPI-M. Her politics matured by observing the basic principles of the CPI-M.
So, Mamata Banerjee herself did not practice right-wing politics in West Bengal. After the national degradation of Congress, many political parties have been formed to promote regional self-interest or sub nationalism.
But those political parties were created in other states, not West Bengal. That is regional parties like Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh, or DMK and AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. But in West Bengal, no political party could come to power on the issue of Bengali nationalism.
Why not? That is because even though the CPI(M) claimed to be a branch of the international communist movement, it was known in West Bengal as a party for Bengalis. Then, Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress was in every sense a party from within West Bengal. And in these Lok Sabha elections, as it stood in opposition to the BJP on the issue of the demolition of Vidyasagar's statue, it only reinforced its identity as a Bengali party.
I also think that arresting a BJP worker for saying "Jai Shri Ram", arresting a woman for criticizing the arrest of a cartoonist on social media works against the ruling party. In these cases, it is a better strategy to be disdainful of such criticism. The way Uttar Pradesh votes on the basis of caste, there is no such vote in West Bengal. However, Mamata Banerjee created a vote bank of her own comprising the Namasudra Madhuya community, OBCs and many lower class people.
But, this time even that has not worked for the Trinamool Congress. The Matua candidate fought as a candidate of the BJP and defeated the candidate of Trinamool Congress. However, the most important factor was Modi because of whom matters of caste became irrelevant.
The manner in which the CPI-M and Congress vote in West Bengal went to the BJP is unimaginable. In Delhi, my cook from South 24 Parganas went back home to vote. She said that she had earlier voted for the CPI-M in her village. But now, faced with the highhandedness of Trinamool Congress, she had voted for the BJP because voting for the CPI-M would meaning wasting the vote.
That's exactly what I heard from the urban elite and middle class babus in Kolkata. Even students from Jadavpur University said that they would vote for the BJP. One must remember that the Trinamool Congress broke the back of the Left organisations in the universities. The Left parties were unable to oppose this. That is where the BJP came in.
One has to see how the future of West Bengal shapes up after this Trinamool Congress loss. Firstly, there is the possibility of a split in Trinamool Congress. Second, there is no President's rule but pressure will increase on the state government. The Centre will keep up its efforts to embarrass the state government at every step. However, Mamata Banerjee is politically wise. After being hurt in the elections, she will be ready for a whole new battle.
It should be remembered that the Lok Sabha vote was to answer the question whether Modi should return to power or not. But the Assembly elections will decide whether the people of West Bengal want Mamata Banerjee to stay or not.
An analysis of the Lok Sabha polls shows that about 12 ministers have lost in the Assembly constituencies. The question is whether she will give the party ticket to them. The BJP has been keen to have leaders like Subrata Mukherjee and Shubhendu Adhikari in its ranks. How will she handle these internal problems? But while reviewing the vote statistics, one can see that the Muslim community in the state voted for her. The reason for winning seats like Basirhat, Diamond Harbour and Krishnanagar was communal voting.
There is no doubt that West Bengal has now become an important state in the whole of India.
(Jayanta Ghosal is a senior journalist)

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First Published: May 31 2019 | 9:10 AM IST

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