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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 14, New Delhi, March 20, 2021

2021 West Bengal Assembly Elections: BJP losing ground points to decline of the popularity and charisma of Modi and Amit Shah | Arun Srivastava

Friday 19 March 2021

by Arun Srivastava

Just fifteen days ahead of the beginning of the 8-phase assembly elections in Bengal, the high speed juggernaut of Amit Shah which he had pushed in action a year ago with great gusto appears to be losing steam. His entire efforts to invigorate it have proved futile. Shah’s BJP which till a week back was ordained to make Mamata Banerjee bite dust has suddenly appears to be losing relevance and turning a pariah.

Media commentators and political analysts are busy burning mid night lamp to find out the reason for the sudden shift in the public mood. These experts though feel that the BJP’s script is not moving as desired, they have no explanation to offer why the script was not moving? They are unable to identify. These are the people who claim to be conscience keepers and boast of knowing India and its people better than others.

Some of them attribute the shift in the mood of the floating voters for this decline in the BJP’s graph. Their arguments make it abundantly clear that they are even aware of the basic tendencies and approach of the floating voters. The floating voters do not decide a month or a fortnight ahead of the polling day. This section of the voters usually decide their choice just three or four days ahead of the d-day. These people simply watch the mood of the committed voters, mode of the campaigning and the issues that feature prominently during the electioneering. The strength and stature of the candidates matter most these voters. They are seldom carried away by the slogans of the political parties.

While TMC released its manifesto on March 16, the BJP and the Left-Congress is yet to announce their poll promises. The BJP is yet to announce the complete list of its candidates. The saffron party is facing the worst crisis of probable candidates. It has to nominate one of its union ministers and three MPs, as it was not getting suitable candidates.

The inability to retain the campaigning spirit and also its incompetence to come out with the plausible and relevant slogans And ideas have been primarily responsible for BJP losing its initial tempo in the state. One ought to not to forget that BJP has no support base of its own in the state. It was surviving on the borrowed support. It is a well known fact that just after Left Front lost the 2011 assembly election to TMC, large number of CPI(M) and cadres of other left parties had joined the BJP purely with the aim of getting administrative protection. Some of them re-joined their parent parties in 2016, but a large number of them continued to be with the BJP. Incidentally they projected themselves as the old saffron cadres against the turncoats from the TMC.

People turning away from the BJP has its reflection on the turn out of the people at he rallies of Amit Shah. He has to cancel his trip to Jhargram and addressed — what BJP insiders admitted was a “very low turnout” — virtually for only around seven minutes from Kharagpur, barely 42km from the venue; the change of plan formally attributed to “damage” to his helicopter.

“You people have assembled in large numbers in this scorching sun. I was scheduled to visit Jhargram for a poll campaign rally….But my helicopter got damaged and I could not meet you…I apologise for this,” said Shah before slamming the Trinamul-led state government and assuring people of many tribal benefits, should his party come to power.

The release of the BJP’s list of candidates for the third and fourth phases of the Bengal Assembly polls has erupted in the face of the party with protests breaking out across Bengal on Monday against several nominees.

There is no denying the fact that the outbursts will have a negative impacts on the party’s prospects in the elections if not addressed immediately. “These protests will send a wrong signal. As it is, we are being ridiculed for not naming all candidates together and fielding MPs in the Assembly polls. Now, the protests will adversely affect the party’s image,” a state leader said.

Through out the state the party’s old guards have been protesting the candidature of Trinamul turncoats. In most of the districts the party offices were vandalised. The BJP lacks Trinamul’s organisational reach in most parts of Purulia, Midnapur and Jungle Mahal, as evident from the comparable spread of their posters, festoons and wall graffiti. The inability of the BJP to reach out to anti-TMC voters was pointed out by the party MP and columnist Swapan Dasgupta; “A significant chunk of the Muslim vote plus the transferable vote of the CPI(M) would make the third formation more winnable and catapult the ISF to a position where it could claim to be the foremost representative of Muslims in the state... Abbas would become the Bengal counterpart of Assam’s Badruddin Ajmal.”

The efforts of the BJP to ignite caste passion and play on the caste sensibilities have gone against the interest of the party. The Bangali Bhadralok which in the past had supported the Left for its progressive and liberal ideas appears to have rallied behind the TMC in retaliation to the BJP denigrating the Bengali cultural and ethos. The manner which Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have been showing scant respect for the Bengali sensibilities has simply hurt the Bengali pride.

It is wrong to say that the shift is not impacted by the organisational strength of the Trinamool Congress. A major section of such cadres have come to realise that the BJP would not match the organisational strength of the TMC. The borrowed cadres could not be relied much. Meanwhile the aggressiveness of the TMC cadres at the block level unnerved these cadres. The major reason was the entry of the TMC turncoats in the BJP. The left cadres who had formed the axis of the BJP, came to realise that their old rivals were getting more importance and patronage than they deserved. It turned them insecure.

Their insecurity has been the prime reason for the “original” cadres protesting against nomination of most of the turncoats to contest election. The situation culminated to such an extent that Amit Shah has to hold late night meetings with the “original” cadres to pacify them. A huge section of the original cadres taking advantage of the situation either preferred to withdraw from politics or go back to their old paternal parties.

One of the reasons being cited is the withdrawal of the young cadres from active support to the party. Who are these younger elements? The reasons for coming down of their enthusiasm must have to explained. A sizeable portion of these cadres are non-bengalis. Two factors worked against their continuing to support the BJP; first; they got scared of an uncertain future in the state and second, the role played by the BJP in Bihar assembly election. These young elements could not repose tgeir trust in the BJP that the party would stand by them in future. The way the BJP was raising the issue of non-Bengali versus bengalis was not liked by them. They knew that a clash between the two communities will prove to be detrimental to their economic interest.

They have seen how the BJP leaders have been promoting the interest of the feudal and upper caste elements in Bihar. Most of these youths have primordial relation with Bihar. Though Tejashvi Ydav or Akhilesh Yadav did not campaign in Bengal their extending support to Mamata mace these youths to rethink of their political stand of supporting BJP.

By throwing their weight behind the TMC, the two regional players, RJD and SP, both of which have the BJP as the main rival in their own states, are signalling a coalition of regional political forces against the hegemony of the saffron national party. While the next general elections are still a very long way away, such signalling keeps alive the possibility of a political third front emerging ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

A Mamata got hurt inNandigram aspersions were cast by the BJP on her. This was in fact disliked by the voters. Though just after the incident Mamata had said she was attacked, later she amended her stand. Her avoiding to reiterate her allegation of being targeted by a group of “four or five people, who pushed her” is being projected by her opponents and detractor as a candid confession that she had lied on that day. Else there was no reason for her to retreat.

While she made a retreat from her earlier stand, the six member delegation of the TMC met the full EC team, including Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sunil Arora and submitted a memorandum emphasising that the attack was a part of conspiracy. The memorandum alleged that the BJP leaders in Bengal had threatened the chief minister through tweets and other remarks and "Injuries to Mamata Banerjee in Nandigram were not a result of an unfortunate incident but that of a conspiracy. The events leading up to the attempt on her life leave no doubt that the attack was part of a deep-rooted conspiracy".

However on March 16 while addressing a public rally she blamed Amit Shah for conspiring against her. On Tuesday she accused Union home minister Amit Shah of conspiring against her by misusing central agencies and meddling in the affairs of the Election Commission to harass government officials in the state. At a rally in Bankura’s Mejia, she said: “As the elections approach, the Union home minister has started his work. The home minister is orchestrating a conspiracy sitting in Calcutta. He is planning who will be grilled, who will be targeted and who will be persecuted by central agencies.”

The chief minister said the central government and the BJP were misusing agencies like the CBI and the ED as the turnouts at the party’s campaign rallies had been dismal. “Will you use your muscle power to deploy the agencies against us as people are not coming to your meetings? Will you conspire against us for the low turnouts at your events now?” she asked.

After Mamata’s retreat the TMC leaders were not keen to rake up the issue afresh notwithstanding they were sure that the attack was a part of a conspiracy. Mamata preferred to retreat realising that the state should not witness violent protests. Her stand made the workers and cadres maintain restraint.

But it was the hard worded rebuttal from the state election commission of their allegation that forced the TMC to raise the matter with the central Election Commission and raise its allegation of conspiracy. TMC on Thursday wrote to the EC, accusing it of acting at the behest of the BJP and pointing out that an “attack on the life” of the chief minister had taken place within 24 hours of the Bengal police chief being shifted by the EC. “Deliberate transfers at the top echelons of the police administration at the behest of the BJP have been leaving a serious destabilising impact on the state administration,” said Trinamul secretary-general Partha Chatterjee.

The Commission instead of spending some time to find out the truth at the ground level replied tersely; “it is full of insinuations and averments and it would be “undignified” to react to the ruling party’s allegations”. What was really shocking was it reflected that either the EC was trying to conceal the fact or the official had no knowledge of the functioning of the Commission.

The primary focus of the Commission was to deny the TMC charge that the panel had taken over the law and order machinery in the state in the name of conducting elections and appropriated the whole governance structure and it was working at the behest of the BJP leadership. The Commission said that the life, security of the chief minister and the home minister has to be duly protected by all those that are in charge of maintaining the law and order machinery of the state.

Significantly commission’s stand has been contradicted by none else but by the former Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi who pointed out that the “state government has no control over the police once elections are announced”. Later Quraishi also tweeted : “State government has no control over the police once elections are announced. Every policeman from DGP to the last constable stands transferred to EC. EC transfers/suspends all those against whom there are complaints of corruption or partisanship.”

Reiterating their conspiracy claim, the TMC leaders said that BJP MP Saumitra Khan, on March 9, had written to union minister Babul Supriyo on twitter that “you will come to know tomorrow after 5pm”. “It clearly indicates that something grave was planned and was in the offing beyond at Nandigram on March 10, 2021,” the leaders wrote in their letter to CEC. Even to cover up the crime the BJP planted eye witnesses Chittaranjan Das and Debabrata Das.

In her video message from hospital, while urging workers to maintain peace Mamata said; "I sustained injuries in hand, leg and ligament. I suffered chest pain... I was greeting people while standing near the car when I was pushed against it, yesterday. I was given medicines and taken to Kolkata, where my treatment is on," she said. Meanwhile, TMC MLA Paresh Pal said, "The condition of her leg is serious. Doctors are treating her. A little more pressure could have resulted in spine injury."

It is worth mentioning that nowhere she named the BJP or held her any of the rivals for the incident. But even then the BJP chief Dilip Ghosh and state Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Choudhary targeted her and accused her of indulging in theatrics and doing dramabazi.

Political violence in West Bengal is a routine affair, particularly in an electoral season. The violence embedded in Bengal’s political landscape is believed to be abnormal with the progressive nature of Bengali society and the refinement of its culture.

Explaining about the chain of events, the leaders wrote that on March 8, 2021, West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh had posted a caricature on his Facebook page where it was shown that Mamata Banerjee would be “hit” when she visits Nandigram. “Around the same time, numerous complaints were filed by the BJP with the Election Commission of India seeking immediate removal of the erstwhile Director General and IGP of West Bengal and almost immediately and unilaterally, on March 9, 2021, in an abrupt decision, without consultation with the state Government, the ECl removed the erstwhile DGP,” the memorandum added.

The East Midnapore district authorities on Thursday sent a preliminary report to state administration on the incident suggests that the door of the Scorpio which Mamata had been riding had gone back to hit her left leg after some men had fallen on it. The report also suggests that she was partially right in her allegation. Meanwhile EC taking action against the DM and SP of the district on the charges of lack of adequate security reinforces the fact that the officials were not alert. How could EC overlook this aspect and deny its failures.

The police would carry out detail probe and try to answer some questions like why there was inadequate police deployment along the VIP’s line of route at Nandigram, why enough civic volunteers weren’t deployed to hold ropes that would keep masses at a bay, how thousands of villagers arrived in front of the convoy when Mamata Banerjee is a Z-category protectee.

Even an officer of the home department said; “There was a clear failure on the part of the local police in handling the crowd and the chief minister could have suffered an even bigger accident”. The initial report goes against a claim of the saffron ecosystem that her vehicle hit a pole and the door slammed into her

Meanwhile leaders of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, the farmers’ body spearheading the national protests against the Centre’s three agriculture laws, will address a rally on March 13 in Nandigram. Hannan Mollah general secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha said; “We have been invited by a group of Sikh sympathisers from Bengal to campaign in favour of our movement at four places in the state, including Nandigram and Singur. Some of us will be participating in these programmes,”

The TMC leaders sought to know, “ why the SP and local police were suspiciously absent when an attempt was made on her? ”

The most shocking was the observation of the state Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Choudhary. He literally echoed the statement of Dilip Ghosh. He even came out with the suggestion that the state CID should have been asked to find out the truth. His statement bore the impression that Mamata was the greatest “personal” enemy of the Congress. As the leader of the Congress group in Lok Sabha, he ought to have been aware that after declaration of the election in a state the law and order comes under the direct control of the Election Commission. Even the chief minister cannot direct the state’s bureaucracy to carry out his or her directives and instructions.

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