Nisar Siddiqui | Caravan Daily
NEW DELHI — The bugle for Lok Sabha elections in 2019 has been blown in West Bengal. The state has emerged as epicentre of pre-poll bustle. On last Sunday, as the CBI went to raid Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajiv Kumar’s residence in connection with Saradha chit fund scam, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee became his shield. Surprisingly in one of the unprecedented happenings in India, the police arrested the CBI officers. It led to a stand-off between BJP-ruled Centre and TMC ruled West Bengal. As this drama continues to unfold in myriad of hues, both BJP and TMC eye political dividends out of it.
Ballot Bonanza for Mamata
The head-on face-off with BJP promises unlimited political benefits to TMC chief Mamata Banerjee. She is emerging as a national leader who has dared to stand eye-to-eye in front of powerful BJP. She along with Naveen Patnaik of BJD and late Jayalalitha of AIADMK had survived the onslaught of the Modi wave in 2014. Meanwhile, Opposition leaders like
Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati and Tejashwi Yadav have tasted defeats at the hands of Modi in recent years. Mamata not only defended her citadel in 2014 Lok Sabha polls when the Modi wave was at its peak, she also defeated BJP in 2016 Assembly elections.
In fact, Mamata is aiming many birds with a single stone. First, she wants to project herself as a credible Opposition leader who can match up to the charisma of PM Narendra Modi. Second, she wants to convince Muslim voters that she is the only alternative before them as she is directly torpedoing saffron forces. Third, she wishes to shift 2019 poll battle from Hindi-heartland to West Bengal. It will not only lead to change of electoral issues, BJP’s outreach among Hindi voters may be affected negatively.
Earlier, it was the Left (CPM) that used to be the main target of Mamata, but now she only seems to fight BJP. Her strategy changed after 2014. She vehemently refused permission to BJP Rath Yatras (rallies) in the state. Her administration denied permission to UP CM Yogi Adityanath’s address at a local rally.
There are around 27-28% Muslim votes in West Bengal. The majority of votes have been claimed by Mamata’s TMC since 2011 Assembly polls. But a section of Muslims have also cast their votes to the Left and Congress party. Mamata eyes complete Muslim share. In case her fight with BJP continues to be in limelight, political pundits are sure that Muslims will move towards Mamata in hordes.
Gains for BJP
Post 2014, the graph of BJP is on steep rise in West Bengal. BJP has eclipsed both the Left and Congress to become the main Opposition in the state. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah have given extra attention to West Bengal in recent months. They have tried to portray Mamata as leader of Muslims alone. Language of Muharram versus Durga Puja, Bengali Muslims being illegal Bangladeshis has been used by BJP leaders. BJP is applying all its gun powder to communally polarise the atmosphere in the state. The ongoing CBI-Police stand-off will further add fuel to this atmosphere.
In 2014, BJP had garnered around 11.5% votes. In recent Panchayat polls in the state, BJP’s vote share rose to 23.5%. The state has total 31,802 gram panchayat seats. TMC won 20, 848 seats. BJP bagged 5,567 seats and was on the second position. The CPM won only 1415 seats, while Congress was distant fourth with 993 seats.
Similarly, in 2018 bypolls in Uluberiya and Navpada, BJP came second and lost to TMC by thin margins. Both Congress and CPM lost their votes to TMC and BJP.
The saffron party has zeroed in on 22 seats in 2019 elections. The state has total 42 seats. In case the state is further rinsed in communal colours, chances are BJP will gain more and will emerge as the main challenger to TMC.