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West Bengal

Muslims constitute about thirty percent of the population of West Bengal. By 2020 the BJPs majoritarian politics had spread into the remotest parts of the state, increasing the number of communally sensitive locations and raising the volatility of the situation.

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPIM), which ruled the state for 37 years, believed it was the natural patron of the Muslims since it never allowed violence against them which was the lot of the Muslims in other parts of India. Despite their abject poverty, Muslims in the state are politically and socially active. They dont hesitate to express themselves politically. A government geared to ensuring mass electoral support overwhelmingly via a grassroots mobilisation network but, with a relative neglect of social movements, economic infrastructure and human development, was poised to suffer adverse consequences in the longer term.

The 2010 municipal elections were unlike any for decades: the Communists, who held West Bengal's main towns almost without a break since the 1970s, faced disaster. Kolkata, the capital of the state and the only major Indian metropolis held by the party, may be lost. This time defeat could signal the beginning of the end for the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPIM), which was among the biggest and oldest communist parties in the world. Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm said that the collapse of the Communists in West Bengal was one of the developments that had surprised him most in recent years.

Jangalmahal, comprised of three districts, Purulia, Bankura and West Medinipur, known as laal matir desh (land of red soil), because of the natural colour of its soil and also for its reputation as bastion of red flag. Jangalmahal, once a Maoist stronghold, became a stronghold of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) after the LF was ousted from power in 2011 and since then in all the successive elections the TMC could establish its unchallenging command.

Four factors explained the fate of the communists: corruption and incompetence embedded over their long unchallenged rule; a largely unreconstructed ideological language that put off wealthier and more aspirational younger Indian voters; the economic decline of West Bengal relative to other more dynamic states; and the rise of a genuine opposition All India Trinamool ("grassroots") Congress party (TMC) led by the maverick populist Mamata Banerjee.

Politics of Bengal had long been devided into two political parties - Communist & Congress. Mamata Banerjee was with Congress till 1997. She left Congress because Bengal Congress always had a pact with CPIM, and Congress did not want CPIM to lose power in Bengal. Mamata realized that her struggle would never materialize if she stayed with Congress. Ultimately, Trinamool Congress was formed.

A feisty politician, Mamata Banerjee started her career with in the early 1970s. She held several important portfolios in the four decades that she has been in politics. In 1991, she was minister of state for human resources, youth affairs and sports; and women and child development with the Congress government at the Centre. In 1999, she allied with the BJP and was appointed minister for railways. Back as an ally with the Congress in 2004, she got the coal and mines portfolio and in 2009, she became the railway minister for the second time round.

Popularly known as "Didi", Mamata Banerjee played a crucial role in highlighting the state's alleged atrocities on the people of Nandigram and in supporting the farmers of Singur when they protested against the land acquisition by the state for the Tata Nano project.

It took her almost 20 years to establish herself in the minds of the people of West Bengal as a credible opponent of the Left rule. Many a street protest especially one in which she was badly injured took place before the Bengalis were convinced of a change. They felt Mamata Bannerjee was best suited to usher in that change.

With a landslide victory in the 2011 state assembly elections, Mamata Bannerjee dismantled 34 years of communist rule in her home state of West Bengal. The change that she brought disappointed a lot of middle class Bengalis. Law and order suffered. She was accused of blatant appeasement of the Muslims. Her street fighter persona went completely against the middle class bhadralok ethos of the Bengalis. To top it all, her party was corrupt in all senses of the word. However, despite these negatives, people voted her to power after 5 years (in larger numbers). And the reason is, lack of a credible opposition personality. Neither the Congress, nor the BJP had a luminous political personality, unless of course, Rupa Ganguly manages to elevate herself in the eyes of most Bengalis. That seems unlikely as Bengalis, unlike the South Indians, know where to draw the line as far as film personalities go.

The Left Front (LF) governments failure created a political vacuum in West Bengal, where a vicious ideology could germinate over the years. In 2017, for the first time, BJP reached the provincial assembly of West Bengal on its own, which spread a shockwave to many pundits in the state. In a 295- seat assembly, with less than 1% seats and around 8% total vote share, the BJP was not a big player. Although an immediate electoral prospect of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was not foreseen, there remained the possiblity of ultra-right narrative taking over the public space.

The fact that CPI(M) was losing in West Bengal and to the BJP did not seem to have registered with the leadership. The state party was in denial that the 16-plus percent votes it lost in the 2019 general elections, when it did not win even one seat. The Left would have to seriously re-invent itself, if it hoped to come to power. It would have to connect with the youth of today, for which serious introspection is needed. The present Left leaders of West Bengal need to be retired and fresh leadership needs to be brought in, a project that will take a minimum of 10 years if not more.

West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar on 04 May 2020 mounted a fresh assault on Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, accusing her of running a "police state" and saying her "misplaced" stance about constitutional norms reflects "authoritarianism" which has no place in a democracy. Dismissing allegations levelled by Ms Banerjee that the governor was trying to "usurp powers" and create a "diarchy in the state", Mr Dhankhar said the people of West Bengal are aware of who in the state is "usurper and extra-constitutional fountain of power" and who is running the "government and syndicates".

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Page last modified: 12-05-2020 14:23:02 ZULU