There is palpable anger, rather animosity, against Mamata Banerjee in Kolkotta. But then, it will be a mistake if one refuses to see the class of people who are angry with Mamata and hence want her party voted out this election; they are the upwardly mobile classes to whom Mamata is a hate figure because she remains a street fighter and her party has attracted small time extortionists at parking bays and taxi stands.
The point is Mamata is certainly aware that the middle classes who like politics to be practiced just like proscenium as in theatre (where the stage is separated from the audience) do not like her kind of politics which is akin to street theatre. Well. She also knows that the theatre scene in West Bengal has space for both the forms and yet there are a larger number of takers for the latter; the brand of politics on the streets is still looked up to in a State where most parts are yet to arrive into the post-modern.
While the BJP, if the urbane middle classes aspiring for a space in the moon are taken seriously, is poised to send a much larger number to the Lok Sabha than the couple of MPs it sent in 2014 this time. But then, it is also likely that the party loses Darjeeling from where it won in 2014 and just about make it from Asansol, where sitting BJP MP Babul Supriyo is fighting against Moonmmon Sen this time. The playback singer who managed a decent win last time will have to sweat it out more this time.
The BJP looks at least two Lok Sabha constituencies beyond Silliguri (the Chicken Neck) on way to Assam from where it could win; Alipurduars and Cooch Behar. For this, the party has to win over at least a couple of lakh votes that the Left Front allies – the RSP and the Forward Bloc – had polled in 2014 apart from retaining the votes it had secured in these two constituencies. For, there is very little possibility of the Trinamool Congress, that won from these constituencies ceding its own votes to the BJP this time. The region, indeed, remains what it was – not much urbanization – and hence a small and negligible number of people who see their own future in the BJP’s promise of glitter as it has managed to do in Kolkotta.
Well. The crisis in the tea gardens, endemic indeed and caused due to the old age of the bushes and a crash in the world market for tea dust, has been haunting the people here; the issue, however, remained in the margins and being talked about in seminars and conferences by academics. The industry is in a state of terminal illness and this has provided the BJP some space; outfits aligned with the BJP have sought to turn this to their advantage by Hinduising the adivasis and raising the spectre of ‘infiltration’ from Bangladesh.
While the substantial number of those who follow Islam as their religion in most parts of West Bengal provides the fodder for the BJP’s campaign – the Hindu faith in danger – across most of West Bengal and the campaign has won followers including from among the poor and not so poor, it has not added up to a number that can ensure election of its candidates this election. The Left, with its long legacy of political mobilization had not managed to sustain itself into a natural choice of the majority of the people and its downslide has not ended since it began in 2009, the fact is the CPI(M) is not a lost cause as yet. The party can hope to retain a chunk of the votes it polled in 2014 (it came second position in a majority of the constituencies polling about 25 per cent of the votes) even while ceding some part of it to the BJP.
All these could mean that the BJP ends up with more votes across West Bengal than its 2014 tally and yet it will not see its tally, in terms of the number of seats, in comparison with its 2014 performance. The Darjeeling seat it won in 2014, courtesy Bimal Gurung who commanded the GJMM, is unlikely to remain with the BJP unless Gurung, now in hiding, manages to command support as much as he did until a couple of years ago. The TMC had managed to set up a revolt against Bimal Gurung but it remains to see whether those who joined the TMC from the GJMM command any following at all. If the TMC wrests Darjeeling, it will show their support on the ground.
The BJP, meanwhile, has expanded its base in those parts of the state that are on the throes of demolishing the predominantly agrarian society and high rise buildings and malls are replacing the lush green paddy fields. Silliguri, in North Bengal is one such and similarly what were industrial hubs around Kolkotta and now turning into housing corridors. A strong anti-Muslim discourse is what makes these parts different from the years when anti-government slogans and movements dominated the discourse there.
All these are what could lead the polity in West Bengal different in the longer term from what it was until some years ago. And in the interim, particularly insofar as elections 2019 are concerned, the Trinamool Congress seems to lead all the way and all over West Bengal. The TMC secured 34 Lok Sabha seats out of the 42 from the State in 2014. Mamata Banerjee could even end up with more MPs under her command than what she had in 2014.
And with a hung Lok Sabha being the most likely scenario after May 23, the TMC chief along with such others as the TRS chief K.Chandrasekara Rao and the YSRCP chief, Jagan Reddy are likely to arrive in New Delhi and determine the course of government formation. All talk of the BJP making a surge in West Bengal to make up for possible losses in Uttar Pradesh are unfounded for now. The party’s voteshare, however, could increase in some small way this time and that will be at the cost of the Left and the Congress party, which had won two and four Lok Sabha seats from West Bengal in 2014.
V Krishna Ananth teaches History at Sikkim University, Gangtok.
This is the 11th article of a series on a state-by-state deep look at the approaching general elections. Click here to read more: