By: Prof. Pradeep Mathur
In West Bengal the electoral battle is not only on the inside- outsider syndrome or on communal divide. In fact it is more intense . It can even be termed as a clash of cultures. In the end Bengalitva may win over Hindutva.
NEW DELHI: Predicting the outcome of a forthcoming election is always a tough job and you often run the risk of being proved wrong in the end. In fact no wise person other than those who have some monetary or political gain to make should do so. However,for politicians, political party workers and political correspondents electoral politics is bread and butter and they cannot help talking about it howsoever wide of the mark their assessment may be. This is what is happening in relation to West Bengal the assembly elections are at least four months away . Social media is full of opinion polls -based news stories as to who will win how many of 294 seats of West Bengal Assembly.
Of the four states and one Union Territory where assembly elections will take place this year ,West Bengal is clearly the most important State. For one it is the biggest State in terms of assembly size after U.P. and then in Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress the BJP leadership sees biggest challenge to its authority and political clout in the country. Little wonder the BJP is going all out to dislodge Mamata Banerjee from power in Kolkata .
The BJP’s unexpectedly good showing in the 2019 parliamentary elections when it won 18 of the 42 seats has set the narrative that the assembly elections will see a close and keen contest between Mamata Banerjee’s Trianmool Congress and Prime Minister Modi’s BJP. Most of the assessments and opinion surveys are based on this narrative. More than anybody else BJP leaders themselves believe in this narrative and think that West Bengal is all set to welcome them with open arms.
However, this may not come true because of several reasons. In fact to assess the electoral outcome in the forthcoming elections one must first try to understand the typical Bengali mind. An average Bengali is steeped in tradition and is extremely proud of his culture, history , language and literature. He is non-conformist , is irreverent to authority and by and large unimpressed by the status of those who have power or money. Their excessive sense of self importance often limits their all-India vision and ,therefore, they are often accused of sub -nationalism .
Whatever one may say but it is rather difficult to reach Bengali mind through a typical North Indian pathway. To be on the right track those writing on West Bengal elections have to keep this in mind
We may like Mamata Banerjee or not but there is no denying the fact that she perfectly represents the Bengali mind. She is proud and defiant and that makes her someone as a class apart. Perhaps no other Opposition leader had registered a protest so tellingly before the Prime Minister of the country as she did on Parakram Diwas on Netaji’s birth anniversary function at Victoria Memorial. She may never be able to attain an all-India stature but she is certainly Prime Minister Modi’s most formidable opponent in India politics at the moment.
The all-important question is if Mamata Banerjee will be able to convince the voters of West Bengal that she is not only the best votary of Bengali subnational identity but also its most powerful protector. She will also have to convince the voters that if the BJP comes to the power in West Bengal it will mean dilution of this identity into the cultural confluence of the Hindi belt something which BJP champions and an average Bengali abhors.
There are indications that Mamata is winning this battle to capture Bengali mind. She is succeeding in proving BJP to be an outsider . An NGO has already started a “ Anyone but BJP “ campaign and as time to go to the polling booth approaches such voices may become louder.
In fact the stance the Left Front and the Congress take will have a decisive impact on the West Bengal election results. It is no secret that the spectacular victory of BJP in 2019 parliamentary elections was made possible by support from CP-M cadres who were angry by Mamata Banerjee and wanted to teach her a lesson. But it may not be so this time
Both parties the Congress and the CP-M are as strongly pitted against the BJP as Mamata’s Trinamool Congress in the 2021 assembly elections. The big question, therefore, is if they will go for some understanding with Mamata to keep the BJP out. However, it is a Catch 22 situation for both. They also see a powerful Mamata as a threat to their existence.
Elections are quite some time away and a lot will depend on what happens in between. The road for BJP however is not as smooth as it has thought it to be . For one the charges against Mamata are not cutting much ice and the BJP government’s image is also not improving. Then may be BJP is helping Mamata Banerjee in her bid to be the leader-protector of Bengali identity. Indifferent to the fact of cultural diversity of India and unfamiliar with the federal and democratic culture of its politics , BJP’s stress on slogan of Rashtravad strokes those emotions which islands of regional culture like West Bengal do not like.
For all we know BJP’s strategy of communal polarization may not succeed because to its chagrin Bengalivt may prove more powerful than Hinduvt. That is the reason which may prompt strong opponents of Mamata like CPI-M and the Congress to be weary of the BJP and go soft on, if not back Mamata .In that case the BJP’s strongest weapon of Rashtravad ,an euphoria for majoritarianism, will prove to be its worst liability.
Prof Pradeep Mathur is a veteran journalist and media educator & Advisor cum Chief Consulting Editor of ICN Group.