Bengal is no more the citadel of Left progressive politics. Let’s accept this fact and be absolutely clear about the ground situation. Anyone who denies it is definitely living in a fool’s paradise. Welfare politics that gave dividends to not only the Left Front for 34 years but also Mamata Banerjee in the last decade has taken a sharp turn. The state has been completely polarised and people at different levels are seeking shelter in Narendra Modi’s BJP.
The most prominent cry for shelter comes from Bengali Hindus. The wounds of Partition along religious lines has entered deep into people’s minds in this bordering state. The sentiments of a communal divide nurtured by colonial rulers still exists in almost every Bengali household. If Left could douse it by dividing the state according to political affiliation, Mamata dug up the wounds with her appeasement politics. Aiding it were a few incidents of communal tension in certain parts of the state. The BJP made the best use of this situation.
Amit Shah and Narendra Modi continuously attacked Mamata Banerjee for not allowing Durga Puja and Saraswati Puja in Bengal (there were two such incidents at a local level and administrative issues were involved in it) while also evoking the fear of Muslim aggression in the state. With the promise of NRC, a new citizenship bill to drive out Bangladeshi infiltrators, the BJP leadership carried out a veiled attack against Muslims while assuring Bengali Hindus a safe haven.
Mamata’s reaction to “Jai Shri Ram” slogans made the situation worse during the elections. Despite her clarifications at each and every election rally, she could not put up a pro-Hindu image.
People are now looking at the BJP for “shelter” from minority aggression. The voting pattern proves it. While TMC retained its vote share in minority-dominated areas, the BJP fared well where communal sentiment was high.
People are also looking at the BJP for shelter from the local level TMC leadership’s atrocities, extortion and corruption. The way people shifted their allegiance from the Left to Mamata Banerjee 2008 onwards, the same way Bengal’s voters are shifting their base to the BJP without thinking of future consequences. They want to teach the TMC leadership a lesson.
The Left leaders are not yet ready to accept that their supporters are shifting allegiance to the BJP, but the vote share figures expose the truth. The BJP has gained out of the eroding Left vote bank. The BJP’s rise from 17 per cent in 2014 to 40 per cent in 2019 and the Left’s fall from 30 per cent in 2014 to 7.46 per cent in 2019 explain where the Left’s votes have shifted to. Even the TMC’s vote share has gone up from 39.79 per cent in 2014 to 43.28 per cent now.
Since 2011, Left workers and supporters were hounded out by TMC workers. The elected representatives of the Left were forced to change camp at all levels in the state. The houses of Left supporters were set ablaze. They were driven out of their homes. The state or politburo leadership of the Left could not stand by their supporters and workers in the time of crisis. Today, they want to have a voice and a shelter against the atrocities of the ruling party through the BJP.
Bengal’s marginalised Adivasi population is also looking at the BJP for shelter. TMC’s rout in North Bengal tea gardens and Junglemahal, which has Scheduled Caste- and Scheduled Tribe-dominated seats shows Mamata Banerjee could not stand up to expectations of identity-politics from a section of people.
The same applies to the demand for a separate Gorkhaland state. Mamata kept on pouring funds for infrastructure development of these backward areas and her partymen kept on eating up the “cut money”. Despite the BJP’s anti-Dalit image, these tribals reposed their faith in the BJP.
Alienated TMC workers
Sidelined TMC workers, too, are desperately cosying up to the BJP to find a political shelter. Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee floated a parallel organizational set up within the TMC under the full glare of his aunt and those who could not be part of this gang subtly worked for BJP in this election. Former TMC leader Mukul Roy, now in the BJP, made full use of these estranged workers at the local level.
It took 34 years for the people to change a government in Bengal. For Mamata, the shockwaves have been felt in just eight years. Now, IPS and IAS officers will also start shifting their allegiance to at the Centre, especially after the former Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar episode. And let’s not forget opportunists who have always tried to get close to the power centre. As they have tasted blood, they will swiftly take shelter in the saffron camp as well.