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Posted at: May 21, 2019, 6:44 AM; last updated: May 21, 2019, 6:53 AM (IST)

Trinamool no pushover despite BJP surge

Ajoy Bose

Ajoy Bose
After a relentless no-holds-barred campaign over the past two months in West Bengal, the BJP is still unable to pose a stiff challenge to the Trinamool Congress in more than a dozen of the 42 parliamentary seats, yielding creditable but not spectacular gains for the saffron party as claimed by its leaders and cheerleaders.
Trinamool no pushover despite BJP surge
Wily: Mamata Banerjee is adept at mobilising her own supporters and immobilising those of her rivals at the constituency level.

Ajoy Bose
Journalist and author

THE concerted assault by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah to demolish West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s bastion may not get results commensurate with the effort. Bengal’s warrior queen, although pushed to the wall, is far from being vanquished despite a palpable surge for the BJP among various social segments across the state, giving the party a larger-than-life profile unimaginable even a few months ago. After a relentless no-holds-barred campaign over the past two months, the BJP is still unable to pose a stiff challenge to the Trinamool Congress in more than a dozen of the 42 parliamentary seats, yielding creditable but not spectacular gains for the former as claimed by its leaders and cheerleaders.

This is not to belittle the extraordinary progress made by the BJP in a state where it was a political nonentity just a decade ago. Taking advantage of the virtual collapse of the Left and the Congress — the two previous main opponents of the Trinamool Congress — and exploiting the vast financial resources and clout of Central institutions at their command, the Modi-Shah duo has been able to boost the BJP’s electoral support, creating a buzz among those inimical to the Mamata regime that a muscular, dabang emperor in Delhi is about to unseat her. 

Even in the 2014 parliamentary polls, the BJP, riding on the Modi wave, had shown its promise by nearly trebling its vote share from little over 6 per cent to just under 17 per cent, although it managed to increase its seat tally to just two from one. In these elections, the support for the Prime Minister appears to have intensified in West Bengal, in sharp contrast to the decline of backing for him compared to 2014 elsewhere in the country. Not surprisingly, this has created an impression that he is about to storm Didi’s fortress.

However, a closer examination of the poll scenario in West Bengal would reveal that the BJP would require a miraculous quantum leap in the vote share to get into even double digits in terms of seats in the state. This is underlined by the fact that in as many as 36 out of the 42 parliamentary seats in West Bengal, there is a gap of more than 25 per cent vote share between the BJP  and the Trinamool Congress in what the two parties got in 2014. Of these 36 seats, the BJP got less than 10 per cent vote share in 25 and not more than 15 per cent in the rest. 

While there is much talk about the BJP being the beneficiary of the attrition of votes from the anti-Mamata opposition, particularly the large tribal vote bank of the Left and sections of the Dalits as well, political observers tend to ignore that the Trinamool Congress, too, is gaining from the collapse of the traditional Opposition in West Bengal. For instance, the Muslim minority vote, 55 per cent of which is estimated by a post-poll survey by the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) to have voted for the Congress and the Left in 2014, is this time likely to defect almost en masse to the Trinamool Congress, which is now seen as the only bulwark against the Hindutva campaign of a rampaging BJP. Significantly, compared to only half a dozen seats where the tribal vote is a deciding factor, the Muslim vote may clinch the outcome in three times that number. 

The other stumbling block to the Modi juggernaut in West Bengal is the complete lack of local organisation and leaders who are completely dependent on the PM’s charisma to win the elections. While the BJP has been able to buy over key Mamata aides like Mukul Roy and former Trinamool strongmen like Arjun Singh, this is a risky strategy, considering that neither Modi nor Shah are very conversant with the convoluted internal dynamics of West Bengal politics. Nothing better illustrates this than the curious case of Barrackpore parliamentary constituency, where Trinamool rebel Arjun Singh is the BJP candidate, hoping to unseat former Union Railway Minister and Mamata confidant Dinesh Trivedi.

When Arjun Singh revolted earlier this year against Mamata Banerjee and was swiftly snapped up by the BJP as a prize trophy, it was widely expected that Trivedi, who had won from Barrackpore in two successive elections on the Trinamool ticket, would lose. However, Didi, who was furious at the defection to the BJP of her former henchman who used to strong-arm voters in Barrackpore on her behalf, has proved that she is cunning as well as feisty. She is said to have turned the tables on the BJP by using the personal animosity against Singh of Mukul Roy and his son Subhrangshu, who curiously remains a Trinamool Congress legislator even after his father crossed over to the BJP.

Ironically, on the polling day in Barrackpore, Trivedi seemed relaxed, playing cricket, while former don Arjun Singh complained that he was beaten up by goons of his old party. The West Bengal Chief Minister’s skills at mobilising her own supporters and immobilising those of her opponents at the constituency level, notwithstanding the might of New Delhi in marshalling Central security forces and the Election Commission, may well play a significant role in determining the poll outcome in the state.

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