Right foot forward
Saradha or Narada, nothing can sting Mamata in West Bengal polls
TMC has very little to worry about at the macro level.
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The legendary filmy don "Loin" Ajit wanted to name the third of the triplets of his moll "Mona Darling" Suzi Wong because he said every third child in the world has to be a Chinese. Similarly, they say every third Bengali is a poet.
Abject economic and living conditions in the state has taken romance out of the lives of Bengalis, so they now wait for election season to hone their poetry skills. So many verses are doing the rounds on WhatsApp with political parties attacking each other. However, the Narada sting videos of March 10 has opened the floodgates of nonsense rhymes lampooning the Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders caught on camera allegedly accepting cash.
Though tempted to reproduce some samples the nuances of poetry, especially the humorous and satirical ones, will be lost in translation. Therefore, moving from poetry to the politics of Narada - an apt name, since Narada is legendary for setting the cat among the pigeons, which these footages have certainly managed to do. Sting operators have been around for a while. Though available for business round the year, election time is the high season for them. But, for West Bengal, it is still a sunrise industry, hence, perhaps, so much of excitement.
There is an apocryphal story about a late lamented Left leader who used to always dress in white from head to toe but didn't quite have a lily-white reputation. He approached a fellow Bengali from Uttar Pradesh, popularly known as the biggest banker of politicians, to keep some of his stash. It seems this man from Lucknow rebuffed him saying, "I don't deal in small savings, first learn to earn and then come to me."
But, Saradha changed all that. Today, even the most "innocent" and idealistic Bengali knows Rs 5 lakh is chicken feed for politicians in this day and age. They also understand that fighting elections require large sums of money which can't be raised either by selling art or small change donations.
Gone are the days when even for the Left parties, cadres wrote posters on old newspapers and painted graffiti doing their bit for the ever illusive revolution. Therefore, while Parliament may have been rocked over it, in West Bengal, it was a matter of much amusement no matter how many vernacular channels tried to whip up storm in TV studios. So, chief minister Mamata Banerjee may be well advised in staying mum, hoping, like Prime Minister Narendra Modi that this too will blow over.
Now, with the BJP having thrown in the towel even before the match began the TMC has very little to worry about at the macro level. Between the Left and Congress, the former hasn't been able to still retrieve its reputation after 30 years of misrule for the people to trust them again so soon, while the latter (Congress) is in a state of tragi-comic limbo.
Therefore, barring some isolated pockets or parts of the state, which may be the traditional strongholds of either party, this bizarre alliance would be lucky to make a dent in TMC's newly-built electoral infrastructure. While there has been a tectonic shift in the Left's cadre base, the Congress has to depend mostly on hired goons.
TMC's real cause of concern is the electoral mathematics of where the anti-Muslim votes will move when the BJP is not a serious player at these polls. If despite being a non-starter the BJP still manages to retain a chunk of its votes, the TMC will come home clean and dry. But, if the Left and Congress are able to swing the fence-sitters, there can be tension in the Mamata camp.
Even then, after years of generous nurturing, the TMC can safely expect the Muslim voters to stay with them en masse. The residual elements can be mobilised through the science and art of "booth management" that the TMC had learnt from the CPI(M) and perfected over time.
The staunchest BJP supporter does not expect the party to be anywhere close to its 2014 Lok Sabha elections vote share of 16.8 per cent.
First, that was the Lok Sabha polls and propelled by the Modi tailwind. Since then, the BJP has rapidly yielded ground almost at the rate the Indian cricket team throws away wickets after a dressing room fight.
Despite that, with some consolidation of its core constituency, the BJP's vote share is unlikely to fall to the abysmal 2011 level of four per cent.
Then, the crucial variable is which way the balance will go. It is unlikely that this section will tilt towards the Left on a rebound. It is equally doubtful if they will settle for the Congress, which has been reduced to a pathetic rump by the TMC, as a compromise, especially since they moved towards the BJP, partly because of their dislike for the dynasty.
Thus, the TMC becomes the default choice, albeit with some smart manoeuvring on the ground. That, perhaps, also explains a return of Mukul Roy to the fold, following the proverbial "Arab's camel in the tent" principle.
Thus much of the debate and deliberation on whether Mamata will get a second term is academic and created primarily for TV TRPs.
Surely, she didn't deliver the promised "Poriborton" just as Modi delivering "acche din" remains a distant dream.
But, the electorate today is mature enough to understand what could be realistically achieved in five years after the systematic destruction of the state for over four decades by the Left Front.
So, if Modi compares turning around the Indian economy with a train making a U-turn - Mamata's task is nothing short of trying to make a junk Ambassador fly. Therefore, the TMC will return not for the lack of an alternative but because Mamata remains the best bet for West Bengal, no matter what her critics might say and opponents wish.