Why BJP is BJP's biggest enemy in Bengal

The main enemy for the saffron party in West Bengal will not be Mamata Banerjee, but the BJP itself.

 |  4-minute read |   02-09-2020
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In the next few months, India will witness some significant state assembly elections that will be unique in their own ways. While the Bihar elections will be a litmus test for Gatbandhan (alliance) politics, elections in West Bengal will determine the future of the present Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo — Mamata Banerjee, who has been the most vocal critic of PM Narendra Modi and the BJP.

Unlike Bihar, there seems to be no major pre-poll alliance between the non-BJP parties in West Bengal, except a chance that the CPI (M) and the Congress might come together ahead of the polls. The BJP, which has become the number two political party in West Bengal, will surely try their best to come to power in the state. However, the main enemy for the saffron party in West Bengal will not be Mamata Banerjee, but the BJP itself.

The situation in West Bengal is very critical, as political violence is increasing every day and does not seem to be ending any time soon. However, political violence in the state has a long history. Be it the Left or Trinamool, and now the BJP, political violence has been a part of West Bengal.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP has done well in the state in terms of significantly increasing its vote share. Various reports have also shown that the BJP has done well in those seats where the Communist party's vote share has come down.

main_bjp-mamata-beng_090220030844.jpgWho is the BJP's biggest enemy in Bengal? (Photo: Reuters)

For the TMC and Mamata Banerjee, it is an amalgamation of problems brewing in the state. Bengal has a huge anti-incumbency factor. Add to that the fact that there has been a humongous ideological shift within the supporters of the Left front, and an increasing Hindutva craze. However, Mamata’s biggest strength lies in her image and her able administration. Post Singur and Nandigram, Mamata has created an image of development for herself. Further, the development schemes she launched — ranging from Kanyashree or distribution of cycles to the girls of underprivileged families, distribution of rice at a low price, development of roads, etc — have added to the trust that the people have placed in her and her administration.

The biggest problem of the BJP in West Bengal is the same as in Delhi. The party lacks a credible face in the state when pitted against the image of firebrand streetfighter and able administrator Mamata Banerjee. Along with this crisis, the inner fight within the BJP's local leadership is not unknown to the citizens. Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh has continuously been at loggerheads with the state General Secretary Mukul Roy. The latter joined BJP after leaving the Trinamool camp with the promise and goal of breaking TMC. However, the result so far has been less than desirable, and not too many prominent leaders have joined the BJP from the Trinamool camp since then.

The state BJP unit understands that they cannot win the elections in a state like West Bengal only on the agenda of Hindutva and anti-incumbency. The party is also aware of the fact that Central leadership like PM Modi or Home Minister Amit Shah or a face like UP CM Yogi Adityanath will not be able to woo the voters of Bengal. The linguistic gap and the cultural differences between the voters and the BJP leadership are likely to become obstructions in gaining votes.

On the other hand, the Hindutva or polarisation politics, and also mud-slinging at Mamata’s Muslim appeasement will not win the BJP any brownie points. Being a stronghold of the Left for more than 35 years and with a history of secular ideology, Bengal voters might be more interested in bringing a secular government to power at the end of the day, as opposed to a polarised one with no parallel developmental idea.

Recently, former Tripura Governor Tathagata Roy showed interest in coming back to Bengal politics. While there is a fair chance that he might become BJP’s chief ministerial face in Bengal, sources have also said that Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta could be a likely choice for the post. Both the politicians have the credibility, intellectual capacity and the Bengali "Bhadralok" (gentleman) image. However, they might not go down well with the party cadres at the grassroot levels as they have not been with the cadres during their days of struggle.

For the Lok Sabha elections and in elections in other states, BJP generally follows the strategy of excluding the Muslim votes. However, excluding the Muslim votes in West Bengal would be a disaster as no political party can come to power without the Muslim votes. However, the Dalit votes can play the gamechanger this time — traditionally, Dalits have been the stronghold of the CPI (M) before switching sides and going over to the TMC. However, in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, they rooted for the BJP.

The BJP needs a strong developmental strategy with a different development model for Bengal if it is serious about coming to power. Hindutva sentiments and polarisation politics can only go so far in a state like West Bengal.

Also Read: Why BJP does not need Sourav Ganguly for Bengal 2021


Sayantan Ghosh Sayantan Ghosh @sayantan_gh

The author is an associate research fellow with the Delhi Assembly Research Center.

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