WEST BEN­GAL: MAMATA’S FEARS

India Today - - STATES - By Romita Datta

The Ben­gal chief min­is­ter is clearly un­nerved. The ex­pan­sion­ist strides of the BJP in West Ben­gal, a state that had prac­ti­cally no saf­fron pres­ence till re­cently, is forc­ing Mamata Ban­er­jee to adopt strate­gies she would never have con­sid­ered—like woo­ing the be­lea­guered Left Front and tom­tom­ming her ‘Hindu’ cre­den­tials.

Here’s one rea­son why: from the 17 per cent vote share it grabbed from the Left and the mori­bund Congress in Lok Sabha 2014, the BJP jumped to an im­pres­sive 30 per cent to take sec­ond place in the re­cent assem­bly by­poll in Con­tai (South) in East Mid­na­pore district. The Left Front and Congress polled a mis­er­able 17,423 and 2,200-odd votes re­spec­tively, com­pared to the BJP’s 52, 843 votes.

The BJP may have just two MPs and three MLAs but by never wast­ing an op­por­tu­nity to take on the Tri­namool Congress gov­ern­ment it “has emerged as the main op­po­si­tion in the state to­day”, says po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Biswanath Chakrabarty.

Saf­fron is sud­denly vis­i­ble ev­ery­where—from the breath­less string of pub­lic meet­ings and demon­stra­tions to the ag­gres­sive pro­ces­sions around Hindu fes­ti­vals. “There were more peo­ple at the (BJP’s) Ram­navami pro­ces­sion than at CPI(M) ral­lies,” a TMC min­is­ter grudg­ingly ad­mit­ted.

Keenly aware that the BJP was gain­ing from the in­creas­ing at­tri­tion in the Left’s tra­di­tional sup­port base, Mamata is do­ing the un­think­able—of­fer­ing tacit sup­port to the Left by al­low­ing them po­lit­i­cal space and sup­port in the hope that this will

pre­vent fur­ther haem­or­rhag­ing among the com­rades. Sources in her gov­ern­ment say the ur­gency fol­lows a state in­tel­li­gence re­port that claimed scores of Left vot­ers had moved to the saf­fron fold. At a closed door party meet­ing on April 21, the chief min­is­ter re­port­edly told TMC lead­ers to visit their con­stituen­cies and re­as­sure Left vot­ers and warn them of the dan­ger­ous de­signs of the BJP and RSS.

But is it too late al­ready to stop the saf­fron jug­ger­naut in Ben­gal? In the past six years, some 50,000 RSS swayam­se­vaks have fanned out into the vil­lages. Chakrabarty says that with its un­lim­ited money and mus­cle power, and with Prime Min­is­ter Narendra Modi and party pres­i­dent Amit Shah’s com­bat­ive pos­tures, the BJP is in­creas­ingly be­ing seen as the only party ca­pa­ble of chal­leng­ing Mamata’s strong­hold on vot­ers.

The saf­fron rise is also due to a vis­i­bly sharp­ened com­mu­nal po­lar­i­sa­tion in the state. “Hin­dus are ques­tion­ing her (re­li­gious) iden­tity,” says state BJP chief Dilip Ghosh, amused that “Mamata is be­ing forced to say pub­licly that she is a true Hindu, born in a Brah­min fam­ily and knows San­skrit shlokas by heart”.

It’s true that Mamata has sparked off a new de­bate on who is a true Hindu. “Hin­duism teaches love. It is the re­li­gion of Ra­makr­ishna Paramhans and Vivekananda. I am a sachcha (true) Hindu. They (BJP) are a shame on Hin­duism,” she has been heard say­ing in pub­lic. A se­nior state ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial says “she has also stopped invit­ing Mus­lim imams to her po­lit­i­cal gath­er­ings and re­frains from us­ing Urdu cou­plets in her speeches like be­fore”. In­stead, the chief min­is­ter has taken to recit­ing San­skrit shlokas and invit­ing re­li­gious lead­ers from the Ra­makr­ishna Mis­sion to her meet­ings.

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