Is the BJP making a case for President’s Rule in West Bengal!

Is the BJP making a case for President’s Rule in West Bengal!

Subir Bhaumik,

The poll time violence in West Bengal, relentlessly covered in television networks and debated over special programs that often degenerated into name calling and shouting matches, has served a purpose.

It has helped Prime Minister Narendra Modi draw an unfavourable comparison between violence-scarred West Bengal and insurgency-ravaged Kashmir.

In one of his many TV interviews, the Prime Minister said elections are more peaceful in Jammu and Kashmir than in West Bengal.

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“During the panchayat elections in Kashmir, violence was not reported from even one polling booth. But during the same time, several people were killed during panchayat polls in Bengal; houses of those who won were burnt down and their owners were forced to flee to Jharkhand and other states. Their only fault was that they won the elections.” Modi said.

A week later, another TV network came up with a ‘startling disclosure’ sourced to the soft-spoken West Bengal Governor K.N Tripathi — the state chief secretary was refusing to brief him on the violence that erupted during Amit Shah’s roadshow and the desecration of the revered Vidyasagar’s statue.

The anchor raised ‘serious governance concerns’ over West Bengal, blaming the West Bengal administration, controlled by chief minister Mamata Banerjee, for throwing all ‘norms’ to winds. After all, Mamata had refused to accept Modi as Prime Minister!

Immediately before the mayhem on College Street, a top business magnate and now a self-proclaimed BJP ‘chowkidar‘ circulated a fake news that Gujaratis have been threatened with expulsion by the Bengal administration. That prompted a rather hyper news anchor of the TV channel to ask me live: “You complain when Bengalis are threatened in Assam, but now you want to treat non-Bengalis similarly.” I reminded him this was fake, which indeed it was, but the show ended before I could make the point clearly.

Another national TV network ran a special program headlined “Is this the new East Pakistan!”

Within a few minutes of the College street mayhem, the BJP delegation arrived at the Election Commission led by Nirmala Sitharaman and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi to demand that Mamata Banerjee be ‘banned from campaigning because she has been highly provocative.”

The BJP is obviously rattled by Mamata’s furious verbal duel with Modi, in which she has matched him round for round, calling him “Expiry PM” when he called her “Speed breaker Didi.”

That seems to undermine his 56 inch chest, strong masculine persona, an electoral asset for BJP — what with this diminutive but extremely fit (she has walked 20 kms in padyatras on the last day of the campaign) and combative Bengali woman even calling him ‘Modi Goonda” and “Chowkidar Chor” and what have you!

As I flipped through the Hindi TV channels, I found UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath demanding President’s rule in West Bengal. The cat was finally out of the bag, as I had long suspected.

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The day after the College Street mayhem, the Election Commission finally succumbed to saffron pressure and asked for a stop to campaigning in West Bengal a good 24 hours before the scheduled end.

Mamata Banerjee, at her defiant, combative best, asked the EC to stop campaigning immediately if law and order concerns were so overriding. That was not the case because Modi Babu (as she described the PM) has ‘still two rallies left to address in West Bengal’.

West Bengal has surely seen some violence, but how can anybody compare it with Kashmir! The comparison was deliberate and part of a plan.

In Kashmir, separatists were determined to stop polls and turnouts were so low (not even double digit in many places) that there was no need for them to resort to violence so long as the boycott was comprehensively enforced. In West Bengal, polling was touching or crossing 80 percent because no side, neither Mamata nor the BJP, was willing to concede an inch.

There is no reason to applaud the violence, which unfortunately has become a defining feature of Bengal’s politics since the 1972 state polls was rigged by Congress (in which even Jyoti Basu lost his seat by 40000 votes). The greater the competition and challenge to the ruling party, more the violence.

But why has the EC ordered repolls in only six booths in West Bengal and repoll in 168 booths in BJP-ruled Tripura! Why has EC booked BJP candidates like Babul Supriyo and Locket Chatterjee for causing ‘obstruction’ to polling leading Amit Shah to allege that the EC was ‘soft ‘ on Mamata!

There has been a pattern in the last six rounds of poll time violence in West Bengal — select high-profile BJP candidates like singer Babul Supriyo, actress Locket Chatterjee, Trinamool ‘bahubali‘ renegade Arjun Singh, former cop Bharati Ghosh or BJP state president Dilip Ghosh have gone around, media in tow, to ‘challenge irregularities’ in booths leading to furious and violent reactions from the Trinamul grassroots cadres. The BJP poll managers, knowing the limitations of their party organisation, have very smartly and in a rather calculated way provided the TV channels with the ‘action footage’ good enough to potray West Bengal in a ‘worse than Kashmir’ light.

The Trinamul (grassroots), schooled in Bengal’s violent turf war politics in decades of struggle against the Left Front, has responded without restraint because Mamata is keen ‘not to yield an inch’ to the BJP.

Now if the BJP does better than expected and comes anywhere near Amit Shah’s tall boast of wresting more than half the seats, the narrative will swing round the ‘brave resistance of the people of Bengal to Didi’s goondagiri‘. But if the BJP’s tally fails to cross double digits, the blame will fall on West Bengal’s ‘poor law and order’ and a case for President’s Rule will be waiting to be made.

The desecration of Vidyasagar’s statue (which Modi promises to build again) may have provided Mamata Banerjee with an unexpected political bonanza, but her bitter personal feud with Modi will only bring “bure din” (bad days) for Bengal if the saffrons are back in power in Delhi.