Why Mamata will return to power in West Bengal

Debdutta Bhattacharjee
Debdutta BhattacharjeeMar 14, 2016 | 15:51

Why Mamata will return to power in West Bengal

When Mamata Banerjee won a landslide majority in the West Bengal Assembly elections in 2011, throwing out the 34-year-old Left rule, the people of the state began to hope. Mamata had fought the elections on the plank of "Poriborton" (change). People hoped that there will be a change from the misrule by the Left which had left the state in tatters. The exchequer was near empty, jobs were scarce, investments hardly came, education stagnated and work culture was extremely poor.

The Left ideology was seen to be a big hurdle for expansive reform. West Bengal was fast turning into an island of underdevelopment, at odds with the changing times and cut off from the rest of India, which was forging ahead.

The voters reposed faith in Mamata to shake the state from this stupor. Her struggles against the Left over the last two decades had seen her even being physically assaulted. Her dogged fight during the Singur and Nandigram land movements, support by a large section of the civil society and the political harakiri by the Left ensured that Mamata was the most viable option for the people of the state.

But five years on, has the Mamata government been able to deliver its promises? Have the hopes of the people been fulfilled? Has Poriborton happened in the real sense?

Evidence from the ground points towards the contrary. The state is still struggling with a lack of resources, big ticket investments have hardly arrived, jobs are still scarce, education is still stagnating and the hold of the ruling party on education has become all the more pervasive, and the law and order situation in the state has steadily deteriorated. Mamata's dictatorial, often bordering on illogical, style of functioning has created much heartburn.

But still, with West Bengal set to go to the polls from the first week of April, one feels that Mamata is set for a second term. The reason is simple: there is still no strong alternative, though a large section of the electorate is fed up with Mamata's misgovernance.

The BJP, for sometime, especially in the wake of the strong Modi wave looked set to pose a serious challenge to the Trinamool Congress (TMC). It had won the Lok Sabha elections at a canter and put up strong performances in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jammu and Kashmir. Modi had invested considerable energy in holding rallies in West Bengal before the Lok Sabha polls. Furthermore, BJP president Amit Shah had formulated a "Mission 2016" for the party and the BJP had come up with the slogan, "Bhaag Mamata Bhaag".

In the Lok Sabha polls, the BJP, which had always been a non-performer in West Bengal, performed beyond expectation, winning two seats and about 17 per cent of the vote share, and finished second in three constituencies. The BJP's Tathagata Roy, in fact, led by 115 votes in the Bhowanipore Assembly constituency represented by none other than Mamata. The BJP also opened its account in the Assembly by winning the Basirhat Dakshin seat in a by-election in 2014.

The Mamata government was clearly getting unnerved by the BJP's rise. Top leaders of the TMC, including Derek O'Brien and Mamata herself engaged in a verbal slugfest with Modi before the general elections, often attacking the BJP's prime ministerial candidate at a personal level. Subsequently, when Amit Shah was to hold a rally in Kolkata, the TMC government tried hard to not give permission.

The BJP sought to derive mileage out of the alleged involvement of numerous top TMC leaders in the multi-crore Saradha chit fund scam, which rocked the state a few years back. TMC MPs Kunal Ghosh and Srinjoy Bose and West Bengal minister Madan Mitra were arrested and former Union railway minister Mukul Roy was also thought to be involved in the Saradha mess, and there were rumours that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was closing in on Mamata.

The West Bengal chief minister vehemently attacked the Modi government for unleashing the CBI against the TMC and organised street protests. Mamata's arrest at that time would have been disastrous for the TMC, especially considering that it is a party that runs largely on its supreme leader's charisma.

Major political clashes were now happening between the TMC and BJP, a clear sign that the BJP was fast emerging as the main opposition in the state. One still remembers the violence that rocked Birbhum's Makra village a couple of years ago, in which some BJP workers were killed by miscreants allegedly supported by the TMC. Moreover, BJP national vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and state leader Rahul Sinha were arrested when they tried to enter the violence-hit village. BJP MPs Kirti Azad and Udit Raj also had a spat with the police.

But the BJP has now possibly realised that it is still no match for the TMC. The TMC sweeping the civic body elections in 2015 may have dampened the BJP's spirits.

A bane of BJP in West Bengal is the lack of local leaders possessing the charisma of a Mamata, or a Jyoti Basu. Also the BJP, still is considered a "non-Bengali" party, a party of the Hindi heartland, to which the average Bengali can hardly relate to. The muscle power the TMC employs at the grassroot level has stymied the BJP.

Also, Modi has perhaps also acknowledged that the BJP which doesn't have the numbers in the Rajya Sabha needs the TMC to push through important legislation. It will be advantageous for the BJP to limit the Congress' gains in upcoming polls. So Modi, the master strategist that he is, probably is happy to let Mamata win the West Bengal polls. This may explain the CBI taking its foot off the pedal in the Saradha investigations.

The BJP at best may be looking to fight for the second place, and preventing the Left-Congress combine from walking away with too many seats than its liking.

The Left-Congress alliance, on the other hand, may not have much of a significance on the final results, because both parties have long lost favour with the electorate.

The CPI(M) had a bit over 30 per cent vote share in the 2011 Assembly elections, while the TMC had nearly 40 per cent. In the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, the TMC's vote share was nearly 40 per cent, while the CPI(M)'s vote share was 23 per cent. If you add the vote shares of the other Left parties - CPI, Forward Bloc, RSP - and the Congress, it may seem the TMC will have a run for its money. But poll maths is not all that straightforward.

The communal violence that erupted in Malda last year, and the ensuing polarisation can lead to the BJP hogging the Hindu votes, which may hurt the Left-Congress, even if they gain a part of the Muslim vote, which may be split with the TMC in the end.

Moreover, these two parties have had numerous ideological differences and have, for long, been rivals, occasional alliances notwithstanding. So a person who has always voted for the Congress may not be enthused to vote for the Left and vice versa.

The alliance is beneficial for both the parties as going it alone may reduce them into complete irrelevance. The alliance, however, is already in trouble with the Left's second list of 84 candidates leaving the Congress unhappy.

Mamata's brazen Muslim appeasement, furthermore, is bound to give her some dividends. According to Census 2011, the Muslim population in the state has grown and the Hindu population has dipped more than the rest of India and in the three districts of Murshidabad, Malda and Uttar Dinajpur, Muslims outnumber Hindus. The Muslim population is considerable in North 24 Parganas (over 25 lakh) and Nadia (13 lakh) too. At around 30 per cent of the total population of the state, Muslims are a significant vote bank in West Bengal.

The Left-Congress is going to the polls with removing Mamata from power as their main agenda. But you need a strong catalyst for a political change of guard. Singur and Nandigram provided that for Mamata in the 2011 polls. You also need a viable alternative, for any kind of anti-incumbency to come into play. But that is lacking in the state.

The leaders of the Left, Congress or BJP, be it Surjyakanta Mishra, Adhir Chowdhury, Manas Bhuiyan, Ritesh Tiwari or Rahul Sinha, don't seem to appeal to the voters in a big way. 

A sting operation that was launched by Narada News before the Lok Sabha polls in 2014 has now revealed the corrupt face of the Mamata government, which apparently shows TMC leaders at various levels accepting or discussing ways to take bribe. This would have had a considerable impact, coming at the time it has, just before the elections. But then, whom can the electorate go to instead? The Congress' stint at the Centre showed the party can be equally corrupt, if not more, and there have been serious allegations against top state Congress leader Adhir Chowdhury. The Left has also been accused of unleashing terror on the Opposition.

So in spite of Mamata's many failings, she may not be dislodged yet; the lack of a proper alternative being the main reason.

For the moment, therefore, the road seems clear for the return of Mamata to power.

Last updated: March 14, 2016 | 20:22
Please log in
I agree with DailyO's privacy policy