Mission Bengal

The pre-poll discourse in the State is rarely ideological but about intimidatory heft. Both the TMC and BJP can’t ignore it

The BJP’s desperation to succeed in Mission Bengal by toppling its arch-enemy and Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee and the latter’s spirited fight to hold on to her turf, if only to challenge the BJP’s formulaic invasion of Opposition-ruled States, will inevitably spill over into clashes and violence. The latest flashpoint was around an attack on the convoy of party president JP Nadda, with the BJP blaming TMC cadres and the latter claiming it was staged to implicate them. In the process, both camps are caught in issuing threats and counter-threats that in no way tests the capability of each in ensuring good governance or the promised land. While the BJP’s hunger to chase its electoral goal and the concomitant rhetoric and war cry are understandable, does it have to plummet to the depths of threatening counter-violence? Or is it a ruse to build a case for total breakdown of law and order and ensure a high-security election for the Assembly, which would be, by implication, one conducted under Central scrutiny? That’s what is apparent with Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar sending a report to the Centre, saying the security arrangement was inadequate for Nadda’s convoy and asking Mamata to watch out as the State was not her fiefdom. That’s what State BJP chief Dilip Ghosh recklessly seemed to suggest a few days ago with his crass remark that those opposing a fair verdict or intimidating voters would find themselves either with broken bones or at the crematorium. As for the TMC, it has been hardened by the politics of violence and agitations. Coercion, violence or booth management, which the Left parties in Bengal had perfected into what is called “scientific rigging”, became part of a machinery that no party in Bengal has been immune to but that in no way could effect a tidal change. One must remember that Mamata uprooted the Left giants operating within that hostile system. She stood up to them but having arrived, built her political stock on her personal charisma, cause-based activism and grassroots connect. The BJP itself, while promising change, has been charged with getting men from Bihar and Jharkhand into Bengal for “electoral management.”

Each political party has institutionalised muscle power and mischief-making recruits have been changing camps according to the trade winds. Crossovers in Bengal politics are rarely ideological but solely about intimidatory heft. Sadly, that has set the terms of the discourse instead of issues, becoming an obnoxious scare tactic for every voter, decided or undecided, that they should weigh in with the strongest side. Little wonder then that the BJP has allowed rabble-rousing ways of its State leaders to negate Mamata’s stature, considering she still has an emotional hold on the people. This is why BJP is having to work the ground despite a favourable tide in the Lok Sabha polls. And by claiming victimhood in a “reign of terror” early on in the campaign, it is justifying the need for violence as defence as part of its propaganda. For its house is not quite in order. That’s why Home Minister Amit Shah has made Bengal his focus. He has to take care of internal dissension between the original BJP cadres and TMC rebel imports over the quantum of importance that each should get. While the original party workers are gung-ho about a Centrist push to the campaign, the turncoats are wary of Bengal’s anti-Right ethos and are not being able to commit to the party’s hegemonic planks. The BJP is pitching its campaign on the TMC’s “politicisation of institutions”, particularly the police, but that is yet to cut ice given the record of its own autocratic methods in States it already governs. Its minority appeasement plank against Mamata or her COVID management have been blunted by the Bengal leader’s new-found maturity in matters religious, her smooth conduct of the Durga puja and arresting the pandemic spiral better than the projected scenarios. Besides, after years of nurturing and solidifying its vote base in North Bengal, and investing its lot with the Gorkhaland movement, the BJP’s key man and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leader Bimal Gurung jumped ship and declared support to Mamata. With such hurdles cropping up just six months before the elections, Shah, therefore, has come down to mathematical certainty like working on consolidating the tribal and Dalit vote in the State. And he is chipping away the Trinamool’s strengths, like weaning away Suvendu Adhikari and other disgruntled leaders who are not happy with Mamata’s blind reliance on her nephew Abhishek Banerjee and election strategy advisor Prashant Kishor. Shah had poached Mukul Roy, closest to Mamata at one time, to get a sense of her winning strategy. Now he has Adhikari,  a popular grassroots leader, an organiser and mobiliser for issues like Nandigram. Both are not exactly clean, with ED cases against them, but the BJP is willing to manipulate their weakness to its own strength. The party is desperate about Bengal for more than one reason. First, it sees it as a liberal and intellectual outpost that has been its ideological polarity, and having made inroads in the last Lok Sabha election, it now wants the glory of a conquest. Second, along with Odisha, Bengal has been a vanguard of the East that has held out against its juggernaut. Third, the BJP wants to prove that poll arithmetic can override cultural opposition to it. Of course, Mamata is used to taking several punches and emerging stronger in the end. And instead of getting increasingly caught up in a reactive game with the BJP, she is now focussing on her “doorstep” appeal, launching new and highlighting existing welfarist schemes. In fact, only she can break the vicious cycle of violence, drive home the message of development and hold the BJP to account on its real specific plans for “poriborton.” As for the BJP, it needs an equally charismatic face. Will cricket icon Sourav Ganguly agree to be Shah’s man for the job?

Source: The Pioneer news

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