For the longest time, it was believed that Bengalis would never vote on religious lines. A huge number of West Bengal's residents had migrated during the Partition from the nation now known as Bangladesh and they peacefully coexisted with the Muslim population in the state.
So, it was not unexpected that in the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections, when the Modi wave swept over everything, West Bengal turned its face to the other side, giving BJP leaders SS Ahluwalia and Babul Supriyo only two of its 42 Lok Sabha seats.
What happened in-between 2014 and 2019 is surprising.
Because it has been only five years — and only eight years of the Trinamool government in Bengal.
The bitter battle of words between Mamata Banerjee and Narendra Modi-Amit Shah in the run-up to the 2019 election was a precursor to what has happened today.
But why didn’t we see it coming? The signs were certainly there!
Ask Moon Moon Sen. She will tell you how violence has always been a part of Bengal politics.
True. Call it dadagiri or ‘syndicate’ — muscle is the second M that rules Bengal. Now, the BJP apparently brought in the third ‘M’ — money. The BJP doesn’t have party offices in all districts of the state. Most importantly, it doesn’t have a face in Bengal. But it reportedly has money.
Both West Bengal and its politics were never very rich (not talking about intellect and ideals here).
So, yes, money talked.
Sakha and its prosakha (branches)
The RSS has been in West Bengal for a long time. Doctor KB Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS, studied medicine in Bengal. The other connection the BJP had with Bengal is Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, a minister in Jawaharlal Nehru’s first Cabinet after Independence, who drifted from the Congress and founded the Jan Sangh.
But apparently, this never mattered to the communist Bengali.
An Equal Match: It's not a David versus Goliath battle in West Bengal. Not any more. (Photo: DailyO)
However, it started to matter when the long rule of the atheist communists made way for Mamata, who, soon after coming to power, announced Imam and Muezzim allowances of Rs 2,500 and Rs 1,500 respectively. That was struck down by the Calcutta High Court. But other sops followed, 'minority appeasement' soon becoming one of Didi’s political hallmarks.
The BJP had to gain inroads in West Bengal — and it played on Hindu emotion, which could have never worked during Left rule. Muslims comprise 28% of West Bengal’s population. The BJP made it a point to capitalise on the issues of infiltration, Didi’s so-called 'Muslim appeasement', and reported atrocities against Hindus in border areas to target the rest of the population. And for this, they didn’t rely on any local persons — Narendra Modi and Amit Shah made it a point to visit Bengal and give it back to Didi in Didi’s limerick style. 'Sonar Bangla' became 'Kangal Bangla under Didi', just one caustic remark from Amit Shah.
Left becomes Right: ‘Bam’ becomes ‘Ram’
This is an open secret in West Bengal — the Left, which still has its structures in West Bengal, has been helping the BJP.
This is a trend not visible in the upper levels of the Left. But the base cadre has been shifting from red to saffron.
Former Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, in an interview to a CPM mouthpiece, reportedly said, “There is no use in leaping from a TMC frying pan into the BJP’s fireplace.” But it’s too late. The cadre thinks this is the only straw that can break the camel’s (Trinamool) back.
There are no jobs in Bengal — because the CPM was anti-industrialisation throughout. The CPM even opposed computers; it even did away with English till class 5.
A bridge caves in — the contract was given by the CPM.
Saradha scam? Chit funds boomed during the CPM rule.
It’s a legacy of 34 long years which can’t be undone in one year, four years or eight years, for that matter. Deeply polarised voters in Bengal now want a different narrative which may not instantly solve all of Bengal’s problems.
But they want change — and it looks like that isn't limited to poriborton.