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West Bengal

Muslims constitute about thirty percent of the population of West Bengal. By 2020 the BJP’s 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. As the BJP seeks to conquer new territories, it is drawn to co-opt and integrate the local power elites of rival parties. This strategy is in full swing in Bengal, where the ranks of the BJP have been swelled by a staggering exodus of both party workers and leaders of the ruling All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC or simply TMC).

Banerjee, a sharp critic of Modi, largely conducted a one-woman campaign to retain power by leading scores of public rallies. "It is a stupendous performance by Mamata Banerjee because Modi was determined to win Bengal, but it's clear that his entire political machinery and strategy was unable to defeat her," said Diptendu Bhaskar, a political analyst in Kolkata, West Bengal 's capital.

The incumbent chief minister's party in India's West Bengal state defeated Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in a state election held as the coronavirus pandemic surged to crisis levels. Mamata Banerjee, 66, is set to be the chief of West Bengal for the third time after her Trinamool Congress party (TMC) won a two-thirds majority, taking more than 200 seats in the 294-seat state assembly, election commission officials said 02 May 2021. Final counting for some seats was still under way on Sunday. Banerjee is now India's only woman chief minister. Despite the defeat, Modi's BJP made substantial gains, making it the main opposition party as its tally in the state legislature went to nearly 80 seats from just three seats won in 2016.

The West Bengal Assembly elections were held in eight phases, beginning 27 March and ending 29 April. According to the Election Commission website, the result of the West Bengal election will be declared on 02 May 2021. Bengal reported 82 per cent voter turnout in the first phase of the 2021 Assembly election. There are a total of 294 assembly seats that will be going to polls, of which 68 are reserved for Scheduled Castes and 16 for the Scheduled Tribes. West Bengal has a total of 42 Lok Sabha seats. In the general election 2019, TMC witnessed a big shock after the party reduced to 22 seats from its previous 34. While the BJP won 18 seats in the left bastion.

The politics in West Bengal has largely been dominated by Mamata Banerjee-led All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC or simply TMC) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). For nearly 40 years, since 1980, the state remained isolated from national politics. The local narrative has always been ruled by Leftist ideologies. In 2011, Mamta Banerjee broke this trend and has ruled the state for 10 consecutive years. Now, the TMC is eyeing to withhold its power for the third straight term in the state. The CPI(M), which is contesting with Congress has gradually started fading in the state since 2011.

In the politically charged state, the ruling Trinamool Congress party (TMC) and PM Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were locked in a bitter contest. TMC headed by two-time Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is striving hard to score a hat-trick and the saffron party is also leaving no stone unturned to make sure lotus blooms in the state. The third front had the CPI-M and Congress entering into a seat-sharing arrangement, and this combine is also trying to align with the ISF.

In the state, the BJP promised to constitute separate ‘task forces’ to curb alleged land grabbing, cattle smuggling and communal violence. According to the manifesto, while the ‘Niratonko Task Force’ will seek to “investigate and curb communal and terror incidents, and take strict action” against the perpetrators, the ‘Go Surokkha Task Force’ is meant to to “check the sale and illegal smuggling of cows across the border”. The manifesto also promises a Rs 100 crore “temple restoration fund” to renovate and repair temples across the state.

The election in the state of West Bengal was the most crucial of the 2021 round for national politics. The BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections it made a dramatic leap to win 18 out of the state’s 42 seats. On the back of the appeal of Modi, the BJP quickly occupied the political space vacated by the disintegrating Left parties. Despite the Congress-Left Front, the 2021 election was widely expected to be a straight contest for power between the ruling TMC and the BJP. Given the high anti-incumbency sentiments the ruling TMC faces over charges of corruption, violence, and high handedness at the local level, the outcome was on a razor’s edge. Even though the BJP was fighting on local issues, Hindu majoritarian formed the glue of the campaign in a state where nearly a third of the population is Muslim and victory depended on polarizing Hindu votes.

West Bengal is especially important for the BJP. First, the BJP has mostly made gains in new states at the expense of the Congress, but Bengal would be a testament to its ability to defeat a regional, linguistic-based party in state elections. A successful campaign would provide a template for future conquests in southern India, as well as helping BJP shed the Hindi/north-Indian tag. Bengal was the ideological birthplace of Hindutva nationalism and carries deep resonance among the BJP base. Bengal was a test of what political scientist Sajjan Kumar termed “subaltern Hindutva,” that Hindutva assertion rises from the ranks of the backward castes and classes, and not from its traditional bastion in the upper castes.

In Bengal, the BJP did exceedingly well among segments of Dalit and Tribal voters in 2019, as well as garnering the votes of the bulk of the OBCs (Other Backward Castes). Thus, along with the “Hindi” tag, victory in Bengal will help the party discard its “upper caste” baggage. A triumph in Bengal would see the BJP proclaim its entry into a new era, as a more diverse and inclusive pan-India party.

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 don’t 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) government’s 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: 06-06-2021 18:15:55 ZULU