Mamata Banerjee’s recent missive to the Opposition parties, calling them to unite, raised many an eyebrow. It was curious, coming in the midst of a no-holds-barred campaign in West Bengal and two days before her own election in Nandigram.
Naturally, it made many wonder. Is Mamata viewing a larger canvas for herself? If she wins again, she will undoubtedly give new heart to the entire Opposition that is fighting with its back to the wall. But if she loses, she will hardly be a contender for leadership of the Opposition nationally. Since everything hinges on victory or defeat, why raise the issue in the midst of a raging campaign?
The answer lies more in Bengal, than outside it.
The Mamata message was to her own state. She has tried to forge a tacit understanding with both the Left and the Congress, constituency-wise, the idea being to enable the party be best placed to defeat the BJP and win.
The Congress, many believe, will join the government if Mamata comes to power or if the Assembly is hung. Surveys show that she has the edge. But the battle she is waging against the BJP is the toughest one she has ever fought. That’s why she is repeatedly urging the minorities not to waste their votes. It is significant that neither Rahul Gandhi nor Priyanka Vadra have campaigned in West Bengal.
The gist of Mamata’s words is clear. All Opposition parties are at the receiving end of the BJP’s onslaught, as it moves towards its goal of a one-party dominant India. They have to come together, in the states and the Centre, to survive. If a feisty Mamata can be cornered, it will be so much easier to get to the others. Election-2021 has only gone to underline the point once more.
Every election in India is fascinating because it brings to light the shifts taking place at the ground level, both societal and political; and to project future trends. The BJP’s strategy will be to try and piggyback the regional parties where it is weak, like Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the way it is doing in Tamil Nadu today.
In Kerala, the BJP may not be able to win many seats, but it may be able to influence the outcome in many more. Its interest lies in allowing the Left Front to win. It may calculate that eliminating the Congress this time would leave the field open for it in the next bout and it can start to position itself, as it has done in West Bengal over the last three years.
The Left parties also stand to gain from a weakening of the Congress and the rise of the BJP, up to a point. This will lead to a division in the anti-Left votes, enabling it to remain in power even the next time round.
The Congress tends to wilt when out of power. The absence of a chief ministerial face does not help the Congress when the Left has someone like Pinarayi Vijayan.
Whether or not Edapady Palaniswamy retains Tamil Nadu, he has shown promise in the way he has dealt with the Covid challenge. He managed to persuade one-time rival O Paneerselvam to be the number two. He manoeuvred the situation in such a way that Sasikala decided to quit politics, for the moment at any rate. She would have really queered the pitch for the AIDMK. And “EPS” displayed quick reflexes to make A Raja’s (DMK) derogatory comments about his late mother into a poll issue.
The DMK chief ministerial candidate MK Stalin — surveys predict victory for him — has already launched his son Udhayanidhi, even before he has occupied the CM’s chair. So, that is another star rising on the Tamil horizon.
Gaurav Gogoi may be treading carefully, but he seems to have taken charge after the death of his father Tarun Gogoi. Conspicuous by her absence is Sushmita Dev, a one-time rising star in the Congress. Assam could have been there for the taking had the Congress knuckled down to work three years ago — as the BJP did in West Bengal.
Election-21 is notable in several other ways. There is a greater brazenness in evidence. Raids against opponents by Central agencies had become commonplace, but they are now taking place in the middle of the polls (against DMK leaders in Tamil Nadu). An opponent is threatened with action by the NIA in Assam. There were EVM machines found in the car of a BJP worker in Assam. The explanation: it rained and there was no other vehicle available to transport the machine! Such an explanation would have been unthinkable in the past. So, even niceties are going out of the window. Given the way the Central agencies are being used against opponents, corruption is increasingly not an issue anymore.
Elections are the heartbeat of any democracy. The BJP fights the elections as if it is a do-or-die affair and any poll, even a local election, is its last battle. But the way the election campaigns are being carried out at the cost of governance has serious implications. The deadly Naxal attack in Chhattisgarh that killed 22 jawans took place when both the Home Minister and the Chief Minister were out campaigning for days. Even the Parliament session was cut short because of the polls. This, when Parliament could not meet for the winter session last year because of Covid. The Finance Ministry admits an ‘oversight’ on a decision involving a cut in interest rates on small savings of millions.
The Covid cases are going through the roof. Now Central teams are being sent to Maharashtra, Punjab and Chandigarh. This should have happened weeks ago, when the first warning signals came. If only the ruling party and, indeed, all parties would be concerned about people’s woes, as they are about gaining power themselves! It’s as if nothing else matters today, other than winning an election. Not the lives of citizens, nor their rights, not their savings nor their security.
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