West Bengal politics at present is rife with threats and counter threats between Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Trinamool Congress. Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee portrays herself as a proper Hindu, but accused BJP of creating religious divides. BJP leaders see a BJP-phobia within Mamata that is driving her to such accusations. Mamata has even accused BJP of instigating riots.
BJP’s unprecedented success in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, and its forming governments in four states, had invigorated the ruling party and it is preparing for the fray in a few more states. At a working committee meeting of the party in Odisha recently, BJP made it clear that it aimed at grabbing power in West Bengal in the days to come. BJP’s all-India president Amit Shah has travelled the expanse of West Bengal and other BJP leaders from Delhi are paying regular visits to the state too. BJP is quite enthused by the massive turnout at the religious rath yatra rally too.
It is the results of the recent by-elections that has excited BJP. They have got their hopes up high after the significant increase in votes noted at two Lok Sabha by-elections and one Vidhan Sabha by-election. Trinamool Congress also saw a significant increase in votes at these three by-polls, but are uneasy with BJP breathing so closely down their neck. Their traditional rivals CPIM and Congress are nowhere near. BJP is now Trinamool’s main opposition.
In Cooch Behar and Kanthi Lok Sabha by-elections, BJP doubled their votes to now stand in second place. In the election BJP had secured 6.4 percent of the votes, but in the by-election they secured 28.5 percent. The Left Front (Forward Bloc) continues in its decay and has slipped down to third place.
Last year BJP secured only 9 percent of the votes in the Kanthi Lok Sabha polls, but in the by-polls this year it upped this by three times to reach 30.97 percent. Trinamool Congress increased last year’s 54 percent to 56 percent of the votes this year, but its long-standing opposition left front (CPI) dropped its votes from 34 percent to a mere 10 percent. And Congress fared poorly in both centres. In the meantime, though BJP didn’t manage to increase its votes in the Manteswar Vidhan Sabha by-election, it managed to maintain its previous 8.09 percent.
After the remarkable votes in the by-elections, Prime Minister Modi tweeted his congratulations to the people of Bengal. He congratulated the BJP leaders of the state too. The left leaders admit that the people are lending their support to BJP in search of an alternative. The left front chairman Biman Basu himself says that the left supporters are turning to BJP. The left front has been analyzing their failure but are unable to find a way out.
Actually it was back in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls that BJP’s growing strength in West Bengal was noticeable. BJP secured 16.6 percent of the votes back then, making themselves seen and heard in West Bengal. BJP won in two Lok Sabha seats, Asansol and Darjeeling.
Prior to that, BJP first startled political circles during the rule of the left front government in West Bengal, by winning the Dumdum Lok Sabha seat, known to be a stronghold of the left. However, BJP wasn’t able to hold on to its strength against Trinamool Congress’ landslide victory in the Vidhan Sabha elections last year and had to be satisfied with a single seat. Political analysts put down this poor performance to BJP’s intraparty conflict, organizational weakness and lack of strong leaders in the state.
BJP all-India leader Amit Shah has drawn up a strategy for BJP to overcome these weaknesses and build up as a booth-based organisation. With this in mind, it will observe a 15-day “march to the booths’ program from 7 June, targeting the panchayet level election next year and the Lok Sabha elections the year after that. BJP state president Dilip Ghosh has said around 10 thousand leaders will spend the nights in the booths. They will formed 10 to 20-member booth committees and collect at least 50 new members every day at the ‘booth mach’ program.
Dilip Ghosh said, “This will lay a foundation for the panchayets as platforms to make it easier for us in the Lok Sabha polls.”
Meanwhile, BJP’s professed mentor, Rashtriya Swayanshevak Sangh (RSS) has silently been increasing its branches and members in West Bengal, particularly along the border-lying areas. An RSS leader has claimed, “There is not a single bloc in the state where we do not have a branch.” Trinamool Congress fears they will be the power of BJP in the days to come.
Despite the massive win in the last Vidhan Sabha elections and the by-elections, Trinamool Congress leaders are concerned about the steadily diminishing strength of the Left Front and Congress. Political analysts feel the traditional strategy of dividing the opposition is no longer effective. It seems that bi-polar politics is now the name of the game in West Bengal.
Trinamool Congress is determined not to relinquish even an inch of its territory to BJP. They are aiming to drive it out of their turf. Wherever BJP has a big program in West Bengal, Trinamool Congress declared a counter program in the same place. BJP leaders, however, see this as a moral victory. BJP’s state president Dilip Ghosh, at a state committee meeting in Bardhaman, said, “Trinamool Congress is holding a counter meeting whether we are holing a meeting. This is convenient for us! Trinamool is virtually pushing us ahead.”
BJP plays its Hindutva card to accuse Trinamool Congress of appeasing the Muslims, but at the same time it has also been accused of instigating riots over the past few years. BJP leaders accused Trinamool Congress of using the Bangladeshis along the border areas as additions to their vote bank. They say that about 15 million illegal Bangladeshi immigrants have been registered as voters and are living in West Bengal.
On the other hand, Mamata Banerjee is now striving to depict herself as a true Hindu. The party leaders are visibly taking part in Hindu religious festivals. Accusing BJP of instigating riots, Mamata tells public meetings that riots hamper development. She says the Delhi leaders are coming to create divisions among the people in West Bengal.
According to a political scientist of Kolkata University, there a competition between BJP and Trinamool as to who is the holier Hindu. That is exactly what BJP wants and is cashing in on its Hindutva stance. And the people of West Bengal find the only alternative to Trinamool in BJP. They are not happy with Trinamool’s policy of appeasing Muslims. But BJP leaders are also well aware that they must proceed with caution in West Bengal where the people’s mindset has long been shaped by leftist ideology.