The Battle for Bengal

The Battle for Bengal

Frequently associated with roshogollas, Durga Pujo and fish, West Bengal has a number of delights that may interest a casual tourist. However, in current affairs, what matters is the sizeable chunk of 42 Lok Sabha seats Bengal has to offer, and in this state of several attractions, lies the gashes of years of political strife, a bloody history of cut-throat competition for this prized possession.

In the 1970s, the Left Front gained huge popularity in Bengal due to their pro-farmer agricultural schemes. Comprised of several communist parties, they formed the government in 1977. Bengal grew to be the “last bastion of true communism” as the Left Front ruled for 7 consecutive terms. As with most communist states, decadence feasted upon the government towards the end of its rule. The death knell was sounded by horrendous suppression of the masses. Brutal massacres occurred, and it paved the win for one woman, founder of a party whose sole purpose was to get rid of the Left menace. 

The woman came to be known as the Didi of Bengal, who ended the 34 years of the Left regime in 2011 and embarked on a mission to restore the state’s industrial prospects as well as cultural identity, both of which she claimed were destroyed by the Left. In the years that followed, the Left was reduced to a mere shadow of its former self, while Mamata’s party, the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) grew to be the fourth largest party in the Lok Sabha. 

Quicker than a kingfisher catching a fish, the TMC was alleged to be involved in several scams. Several top leaders faced corruption charges, and Bengal now transitioned from a state of red flags to a city of absolute power of the TMC. Hooliganism was rampant, but development was also seen. Indeed, the state was beautified and several essential government schemes were implemented to help the rural population. This made Bengal resist the saffron wave of 2014 which swept the country; the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could only bag two seats in Didi’s stronghold. 

With PM Narendra Modi turning his sharp gaze, polished by his chowkidaari, towards Bengal in the 2019 elections, a major surge in pro-BJP sentiments were seen. A man of creative insults, pseudo-scientific (cloudy) facts, and rhetoric, Modi faced his match while battling against Bengal’s Didi. Clashes between TMC and BJP workers were common, and violence levels rose. In a state that had never really seen saffron before, internal fights raged where the erstwhile peacefully-coexisting communities were polarized against one another. Mamata was also accused of destroying democracy in the state, owing to her merciless suppression of media and cinema that did not follow her norms. Another clash took place when the Kolkata Police, acting on her orders, arrested CBI officers and prevented them from looking into corruption charges of a former Kolkata Police Commissioner.

West Bengal’s rejection of the alien Hindutva culture was a prime factor in tilting the scales away from the BJP. The people were used to secularism, and the intelligentsia foresaw that BJP’s win would mean a clash of cultures that would result in the demolition of communal harmony and heritage of Bengal. 

Both parties went neck to neck in trying to outdo each other. Mamata amassed a huge gathering to invoke anti-BJP sentiments in the public. Amit Shah came down to the streets to conduct a massive roadshow where nationalism and religion were invoked; a feat that would have been scary in other states, but did not manage to dent the TMC pride. Days before the last phase of polling, a statue of Vidyasagar was vandalized allegedly by BJP workers, which led to the Election Commission to suspend campaigning prematurely. This incident is notable because it shook the residents to the core about the threat to their cultural history. 

Mamata addresses enormous rally in Kolkata

This great clash was probably the reason why the turnout of West Bengal was higher than any other state, with an impressive 83.8%. While the contest might seem like a binary one, the contributions of other parties cannot be ignored. The Congress served to be the choice of people who wanted to stay aloof from the fierce contest, and be loyal to the party. The Left, though losing seats drastically, was pivotal in creating the vote bank for BJP. It so happened that the anti-TMC sentiments among them were so high, that the previously-communist voters looked upon BJP as a means to end TMC rule. Polarizing played a huge role too. If exit polls are to be considered, it would appear that 65 percent of Muslim votes went to the TMC, while only 5 percent went to the BJP. In comparison, more than half non-Muslim votes went for the BJP. 

Furthermore, exit polls suggest that BJP would win around 11-17 seats on an average. While it is known that exit polls are often inaccurate, it still indicates a massive improvement for BJP from 2014. The major problem which arises is that BJP does not have a strong middle management, no prominent leaders in this state. While they got seats in the General Elections due to the charm of Modi, it would be a daunting task for them to score points in the Assembly elections. TMC, on the other hand, has found an undisputed leader in Mamata who rules with a strong grip; yet is a power that needs to be kept in check at times. With such intense rivalry and power plays, Bengal has emerged to form a crucial battlefield in the determination of the fate of the nation.

Whether Bengal is breached by the saffron tide or retains the TMC green will be revealed today, as people hold their breaths for the results being announced.

Aritra Guru

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