WEST BENGAL: THE LAND OF PARTY INCLUSIVE POLITICS

The complexity of West Bengal politics sets itself differently complex to the shades of National politics. There has been a range of common identities like upper class, elite, working class etc. over which parties have fought intensely in the former elections but this time there are newer subjects like the Bengali identity card, migrants, illegal migrants and most importantly the saffron card of Hindutva alongside with newer strategies to draw the minority Muslim population, but to a greater political irony all of this co-exist in West Bengal irrespective of the wide stretched ideological terms. Adding to this ironic existence, what is also interesting to acknowledge in the political culture of West Bengal is the different party banners and flags hanging from a common point, highlighting that the external politics of West Bengal is bonded with an internal affection.

Elders in families, who have been there around the 70s and 80s are mainly Congress and Left supporters. However the number of CPI(M) supporters has diminished out of their traditional approaches which didn’t align with the modernist populist tendencies of the late 1980s political system. The ones in the age group of 40-50 are mainly with the TMC and the new age political wokes are the major support masses for the BJP. The ideological concrete that existed in West Bengal during the Left years, has shrinked after the coming in of Mamata Banerjee and has been replaced by populist measures. An extension to this populist tendency has worked for the BJP’S advantage too in the state and the party whose existence in the state has been from the 80s is turning into a stronghold for the BJP mainly because of the Modi factor. Meanwhile the soft Hinduisation of the cadres of ‘secular’ parties across the political spectrum cannot be sidestepped in assessing the ascendancy of the Hindu Right in the state, and the Left’s tacit support of it.

The political system in West Bengal has been eroded by all together different phenomena to that of the larger national politics. So it is very natural to see a political figure critiquing a rival today and the very next day become a part of the same. Perhaps this is the reason that of the candidates the BJP has fielded in the state majority of them have their roots in the ruling TMC and interestingly the RSS led dominance of BJP has also become a marginal factor in West Bengal, where most of the BJP biggies have their roots in the TMC. The erstwhile card of BJP has seen an alternate way in the state and not only that the larger catch of this political rivalry between the BJP and the TMC lies in a shared partnership of the past. TMC was a part of the BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) from 1999 – 2004. In the Lok Sabha election of 1999, Trinamool Congress won 8 seats with BJP.In the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, TMC won 1 seat with BJP and in the 2006 Vidhan Sabha elections, TMC won 30 seats with BJP. On an interesting note, the current foes were former friends.

However putting the onus of this variable relations on the TMC-BJP isn’t the only fascinating feature of West Bengal. The current alliance partner of Sanjukta Morcha (Sanyukta Morcha) – Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Indian National Congress were the former political rivals in the state and Mamata Banerjee was a part of the later. The All India Trinamool Congress has its root in the Indian National Congress and back then the politics of West Bengal circulated across Left Front and Congress. The politics of West Bengal underwent an initial crucial change when the Left Front won the 1977 assembly election, defeating the incumbent Indian National Congress. The Left Front, led by Communist Party of India (Marxist), has governed for the state for the subsequent three decades.The deepest levels of distrust and hostility of supporters from both parties against each other fester at the grassroots till date and this is an obstacle that will need to be overcome for the partnership to present itself as a viable political choice for voters.However today the alliance with the Congress is the only survival strategy for the CPI (M).

Stretching the political curiosity in the state the AITC-Congress alliance in 2009 was another considerable shock as Mamata Banerjee had walked out of the Congress to form the Trinamool Congress in 1998 and making things worse the party had contested both the 1999 and 2004 Lok Sabha elections in an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party. Meanwhile the former state rivals of the Congress, the Left parties were providing crucial support to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre until 2008, when they withdrew support over the Indo-US Nuclear Deal issue and this is believed to have given the Trinamool Congress a decisive edge over the Left in the state.A section of the CPI(M) state leadership has always blamed the CPI(M)’s all-India leadership’s decision to withdraw support from the Congress for the Left Front’s downfall in West Bengal.

In the 2011 West Bengal Legislative Assembly election, the Trinamool Congress bagged victory along with the alliance that included the Indian National Congress and Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist) but after coming to power, TMC began engineering defections from the Congress and chopped the feathers of its own alliance partner. It began with two Congress MLAs walking across soon after the election, and several leaders and workers subsequently switched to the TMC. In September 2012, Mamata withdrew support to the UPA government at the Centre, protesting against FDI in retail, increase in the price of diesel, and the limits on the number of subsidised cooking gas cylinders for households.Since the 2016 Assembly polls, 17 out of the Congress’s 44 MLAs have joined the TMC. So Mamata Banerjee led TMC not only replaced Congress as a major opposition in the Left ruled years but walked every step in hijacking the West Bengal presence of Congress.

Accurating the legacy of, ‘Tit for tat’ for the first time the TMC tasted its own bitter recipe when Mamata’s second in command and Mukul Roy defected to the BJP in 2017. Roy can be termed as the biggest boon BJP received in West Bengal paving it’s for a saffron rule with a TMC coating. After Roy switched several TMC biggies have followed him to the BJP leading to the ginormous 2019 Lok Sabha performance, when the party won 18 Lok Sabha seats with a vote share of 40.3% compared to the Trinamool Congress’s 22 seats with a vote share of 43.3%. BJP continues shopping TMC leaders and this is the reason why the party is being seen as a potential winner in the 2021 elections.

Moreover the void in Opposition space in West Bengal allowed the BJP to gain ground in 2014 and 2019. The 2014 Lok Sabha election results provided further evidence that the theory of a Congress-Trinamool Congress tie-up having led to the Left’s defeat in the state, was incorrect and it was the Left which suffered the biggest damage. The Congress’s vote share went down from 13.5% in 2009 to 9.6% in 2014, whereas the Left Front’s vote share fell massively from 43.3% to 29.6%. The biggest gainer of the erosion in Left Front’s support-base was the BJP, which increased its vote share from 6.1% to 16.8% and managed to win two Lok Sabha seats in 2014 which was equivalent to the Left’s share.

A lot of Left cadres shifted support to BJP inorder to defeat TMC irrespective of the BJP using its usual majoritarian agenda to destabilise and branding all other political parties as appeasers of the Muslim minority. It is interesting that to counter the wooing of the Muslim voters miffed with the TMC camp and to prevent the community votes shifting to parliamentarian Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM, which may indirectly help the BJP, West Bengal witnesses a new minorities based party Indian Secular Front floated by Cleric Abbas Siddiqui of the popular Sunni Muslim shrine Furfura Sharif in Hooghly district, who has raised the hopes of the Congress-Left Front alliance, which is allegedly trying hard to counter attempts by the BJP and the ruling TMC to polarize the electorate.

Considering the grassroot opinion on the dynamic changes of West Bengal Shuvajit Sarkar who is an SFI Leader comments that, “Before 2011 politics of defection wasn’t there in West Bengal, even in Congress’s time when it was centrally very strong and was a major opposition in West Bengal”. According to Mr.Sarkar – ‘Defections happen from TMC to BJP because TMC has gained it’s ground with BJP’S support and ideologically they are alike’. Mr.Sarkar also highlighted that when Gujarat Riots occurred, there was a national level political criticism of BJP but the then alliance partner TMC didn’t condemn the matter. He further added that, “TMC grassroot workers are against BJP but not the party stalwarts”. According to him – BJP and Left are two parties who have organisational structure but it’s ironic how BJP is accommodating and preferring over faces who have no commitment to its ideology. Mr. Sarkar even made a pivotal point about the BJP countering the party’s Hindutva card that, “there are staunch Hindus who support non-BJP parties, so Hindu vote bank isn’t working to BJP’S advantage”. According to Mr. Sarkar – People of Bengal will vote for issue politics.

Stretching the observations of Mr. Shuvajit Sarkar his ideological rival and the Vice-President of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha Mr. Gurpreet Saluja comments that, “The inclusive culture is a part of West Bengal politics and hails from the point of people who are always welcoming a change which according to Mr. Saluja will work on the advantage of the saffron party this time. Mr. Saluja made a point also mentioned by Mr.Sarkar which throws bright light on their mutual rival Mamata Banerjee. According to both of them, ‘Mamata came with a good agenda as a grassroot political worker but after coming to power she completely sidelined the grassroot issues and turned to a corrupt hegemon with her party projecting her as one. According to Mr.Saluja this is where the BJP one of TMC’s former alliance partners, emerged as the most stiff competition.

The 2021 Assembly elections is the time when the old bastion of Centre Left vs Left is seeing a saffron sway projecting Right vs Centre Right, making way for a political system which is unique to the land of largest democracy. However still West Bengal sets a milestone example to the scattered and differential National politics with its peaceful coexistence of political rivals to the extent of hailing from a single family. Be it Tathagata and Saugata Roy; Jayant Sinha and Yashwant Sinha or to the newest example of Suvendu Adhikari and Sisir Adhikari the personal relationships haven’t widened a bit irrespective of the political differences. That is why a TMC candidate can be seen celebrating Holi with BJP nominees irrespective of the parties tied on a tough battle because West Bengal delivers all together a different political taste to the ideologically contested politics of India.

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