POL­I­TICS & PUB­LIC AF­FAIRS: Tak­ing the fight to Ma­mata

BJP be­lieves it could be West Ben­gal’s scene-stealer in Lok Sabha polls and not Tri­namool Congress

Business Standard - - FRONT PAGE - RADHIKARAMASESHAN

BJP be­lieves it could be West Ben­gal’s scene-stealer in Lok Sabha polls and not Tri­namool Congress. RAD­HIKA RAMASESHAN writes

There are sev­eral rea­sons for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) be­lief that West Ben­gal, and not Odisha or the North­east, could be its sun­rise state in the up­com­ing Lok Sabha elec­tion.

“In 2014, this state had lit­tle role in el­e­vat­ing Naren­dra Modi as PM. But, this time it will play a piv­otal part,” said Suresh Pu­jari, the BJP’s as­sis­tant cen­tral min­der for West Ben­gal.

Ac­cord­ing to Jay Prakash Majumdar, who heads the BJP’s po­lit­i­cal feed­back depart­ment in Kolkata, “The cat­a­lyst for such a hope is Ma­mata Ban­er­jee (West Ben­gal chief min­is­ter and Tri­namool Congress pres­i­dent).” The ar­rest­ing im­agery of Ban­er­jee glow­er­ing at the Cen­tre in a re­cent sit-in to protest the Cen­tral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion’s (CBI’s) al­leged ex­cesses jux­ta­posed with the ex­as­per­a­tion of the BJP brass af­ter the ad­min­is­tra­tion re­peat­edly de­nied per­mis­sion to hold a sim­ple pub­lic meet­ing de­lin­eated the con­tours of a fierce bat­tle in the off­ing.

In­deed, the con­fronta­tion be­tween the Naren­dra Modi govern­ment and Ban­er­jee could cap­ture the zeit­geist of the 2019 elec­tions. The BJP is strain­ing at the leash for an ex­po­nen­tial in­crease in its tally from two to 20+, while the Tri­namool Congress (TMC) is look­ing to net all 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state, eight more than what it had won in 2014.

For the past one year, the BJP’s vis­i­bil­ity has grown; it is fight­ing the TMC on ev­ery plat­form in vil­lages, towns and cities. Ban­er­jee fur­thered our cause by sin­gling out the BJP as her main op­po­nent. Our ‘Save Democ­racy’ ya­tra (in 2018) was a 30-day ag­i­ta­tion that be­gan when we didn’t have any kind of orig­i­nal base or a vote per­cent­age. The govern­ment stopped it. That move boosted our morale and we or­gan­ised meet­ings of the Prime Min­is­ter and Amit Shah (BJP pres­i­dent). The pop­u­lar im­pres­sion was that be­cause the BJP went all out to oust Ban­er­jee, she foiled its plans.”

How­ever, a gap ex­ists be­tween a pre­sump­tion and the re­al­ity, more so in West Ben­gal, where the BJP’s vote per­cent­age in the 2009 par­lia­men­tary polls was just 6.14 per cent as against the TMC’s 31.18 per cent and the Com­mu­nist Party of In­dia (Marx­ist)’s 33 per cent. In 2014, the BJP’s vote share went up to 17.02 per cent and the TMC’s jumped to 39.79 per cent — still a dif­fer­ence of 22.77 per cent.

Sau­mi­tra Khan, who re­cently joined the BJP but was elected to the Lok Sabha from Bish­nupur on the TMC's ticket, be­lieved the saf­fron party's prospects hinged largely on the abil­ity of the Congress and Left Front to cut into the over 30 per cent Mus­lim votes. “Mi­nor­ity votes are the TMC’s main source of strength. In re­ac­tion, the Hin­dus are group­ing around the BJP be­cause of Ban­er­jee’s ap­pease­ment pol­icy. If Mus­lim votes are dented, Ban­er­jee be­comes vul­ner­a­ble,” Khan claimed.

On a broader can­vas, the BJP has fash­ioned a nar­ra­tive in­spired by the sto­ry­line used in Bi­har (against Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad) in the 1990s: Con­jure up im­ages of vi­o­lence and law­less­ness and project Ban­er­jee as the spear­head of a “klep­toc­racy” of re­gional chief­tains.

Roopa Gan­guly, a Ra­jya Sabha MP and BJP leader in West Ben­gal, said: “Day­light mur­ders in crowded ar­eas are com­mon in the state. Ban­er­jee, once a fire­brand op­po­si­tion leader, turned out to be a poor ad­min­is­tra­tor... It is my re­spon­si­bil­ity as a com­mon cit­i­zen to fight law­less­ness.”

Gan­guly main­tained that the op­ti­mism Ban­er­jee in­fused “even among the up­per mid­dle class” when she ousted the Left Front in 2011 has pe­tered out. “Peo­ple think be­yond the CPM-TMC bi­nary. That’s why Modi is pop­u­lar,” she said.

As for “cor­rup­tion”, sig­ni­fied by the multi-crore Rose Val­ley and Saradha ponzi scams, Khan’s line was: “When Ban­er­jee’s once clos­est con­fi­dants Sudip Bandyopadhyay and Madan Mi­tra and her MP Ta­pas Pal were ar­rested, she did noth­ing. She let them rot in jail. When a po­lice chief (Ra­jeev Ku­mar, Kolkata Po­lice com­mis­sioner) ap­pre­hended ar­rest, she sat on a dharna. This is highly sus­pi­cious.”

On the counter-charge of the BJP in­duct­ing for­mer TMC MP Mukul Roy and As­sam heavy­weight Hi­manta Biswa Sarma (a for­mer Con­gress­man) even af­ter their names fig­ured in these scams, Pratap Ban­er­jee, the BJP’s West Ben­gal gen­eral sec­re­tary, said: “Roy was ques­tioned (by the CBI) when he was in the TMC. Sarma was ques­tioned when he was in the Congress. Noth­ing was found against them. If the two are sum­moned again (by the CBI), they will go. If they are con­victed, the party will act against them.”

The BJP’s cam­paign against the TMC will be themed around “loot­ing” the poor through the chit fund scams. “The poor have lost over ~40,000 crore. They don’t want to see a leader do­ing the dharna drama. They want their money back,” stressed Pratap Ban­er­jee. It also counted on three other fac­tors to see through its “Mis­sion 23 (Lok Sabha seats)”: Al­leged fac­tional fights in lo­cal TMC units over “shar­ing the spoils of power”; the or­gan­i­sa­tional “dam­age” sup­pos­edly ren­dered by Roy; and the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion’s di­rec­tive to have CCTV and real-time footage in each of the 78,800 booths. “That will check booth cap­tur­ing,” said Majumdar.

The con­fronta­tion be­tween the Naren­dra Modi govern­ment and Ma­mata Ban­er­jee may cap­ture the zeit­geist of the polls

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