An astonishingly momentous paradigm shift it might seem, but West Bengal’s Lok Sabha results are in a way a rerun of 2009. The BJP’s spectacular victory, 18 seats out of 42, has not only snatched 16 seats from the ruling Trinamool Congress, it also signalled the decimation of the liberal-secular politics represented by the Left and the Congress. State BJP president Dilip Ghosh’s bravado-filled slogan “2019 mein half, ’21 saal mein saaf” suddenly looks plausible. After nearly reaching his goal, Ghosh declares his immediate target is to dislodge Mamata Banerjee from power.
In 2009, after the violent anti-Left peasant movements in Singur-Nandigram, the TMC wrested 19 Lok Sabha seats, but had to wait till 2011 to wrest power in the state. The difference is that the BJP is in a hurry. They might not wait till 2021. Early warnings were issued by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah during their rallies. Will the BJP aim to impose president’s rule in Bengal? This very question was parried by Ghosh obliquely: ”We won’t have to do anything. Whatever is to be done, will be done by the people.” Also, he asserted that his party was ready to meet any violence against them with counter-violence. Jayprakash Majumdar, BJP state vice president, sees a marked difference between the Left and the TMC. Because of their ideological moorings, in 2009, Left leaders and workers didn’t desert their party enmasse. So, the TMC had to wait till 2011. “But TMC leaders have no ideology or principles, only fidelity to power.… So, when they see power is changing hands, they will flock to our party. If they want to desert and come over to us, we won’t discourage them. Rather, we would encourage any such development,” he asserts.
To do that, they have in their ranks ex-TMC heavyweight Mukul Roy, known for causing defections in the Left and Congress run panchayat and municipal boards towards the TMC. With some TMC leaders already with them, MLAs and MPs past and present and other party apparatchiks who are being probed for involvement in the Saradha and Narada scams, are easy prey.
Political scientist Sabyasachi Basu Roy Choudhury says he “will be keenly watching if there is any mass exodus from TMC to BJP” in the light of Modi’s claim that around 40 Trinamool MLAs were in touch with him. BJP, having scant respect for democratic conventions, will definitely try to engineer something.
The result came as a huge shock to Mamata and her party leaders, and the implication of this massive setback was not missed by them. The BJP’s 18 seats and 40 per cent voteshare in Bengal has taken the political initiative out of TMC’s hands. In the next two years, the TMC government will find it tough to implement policies. The hitherto unstinting support of police and bureaucrats will also wane steadily. Once the police moves away, the TMC’s possible resistance to the BJP could crumble.
Roy Chowdhury alludes to another possible scenario. With the month of Ramzan on and Eid to be held in early June, any instigation could spark communal tension, he says. Ghosh’s comment that “whatever is to be done, will be done by the people’’ should be understood in that light, he says.
BJP supporters celebrate in Calcutta
The introduction of NRC in West Bengal is another probable weapon the BJP might use against Muslims. But for that they have to wait till they win power.
Sabir Ahmed, a senior researcher with Amartya Sen’s Pratichi Institute, gives an insight into the grave anxiety stalking Bengal’s Muslims. The Assamese experience shows them that any government hostile to minorities could use NRC to deprive them of their nationality and livelihood. At the same time, Ahmed points out that the BJP is trying to co-opt a section of the educated Muslim middle class to change their anti-Muslim perception—it put up Mahafuza Khatun in Jangipur and Humayun Kabir in Murshidabad for the LS polls. In last year’s panchayat polls, the BJP put up at least 600 Muslim candidates. This, of course, is base tokenism.
Inasmuch as the BJP’s gain in voteshare is perfectly analogous to the Left’s loss, a clinical extirpation of the Left and Congress in Bengal is complete. Bengal, a bastion of Communism, would be bereft of Leftist voices to combat the BJP.
By Rajat Roy in Calcutta