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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 50, New Delhi, November 27, 2021

Electoral Rout of Hindutva in the 2021 West Bengal Bye-elections | Shubham Sharma

Saturday 27 November 2021

by Shubham Sharma *

The recently concluded by-elections in West Bengal witnessed a huge political retreat of the forces of Hindutva. The BJP not only lost all the four assembly segments to the TMC but saw a huge erosion in their vote share. In Dinhata, Shantipur, Khardaha and Gosaba, its vote share went down from 47.6% to 11.31%, 49.4% to 23.22%, 33.67% to 13.07 and 41.88% to 9.95%, respectively.

Although by-polls are not the best markers to assess a party’s electoral position but when the polls are held within six months of the last assembly elections and the society is going through a period of immense polarization, by-polls can present a much clearer picture of the quick-shifting sands of state politics. Moreover, in Bengal, by-polls have served as a decisive marker of the political dynamics. In 2009, the TMC-Congress combine won twenty-five of the forty-two Lok Sabha seats and subsequently won eight of the ten assembly seats which went for by-polls six months later. It all unfolded when the Left was solidly ensconced in power.

BJP has lost the confidence of the people of Bengal as a credible alternative to the TMC. Had it not been the case such drastic erosion to its vote bank could not have happened in such a short span of time. It took the TMC almost a decade along with the faulty political-tactical line of the CPI(M) to decimate the Left in Bengal, electorally. The voters’ rejection of the BJP also has deep roots in the overall disaffection with its policies at the centre. Price rise, rampant inflation and the attempt to hide all the crises under the veneer of Hindutva and the phantasmagoria of ‘Hindus are in danger everywhere in India’ have been well understood by the people of Bengal.

In the three assembly segments i.e., Khardaha, Dinhata and Gosaba where the population of Hindus is 90.58%, 90.19% and 88.06% respectively, there was no consolidation of the BJP’s ‘Hindu vote bank’ against Mamata Banerjee whom the saffron brigade derisively calls ‘Begum’. The fact that communal polarization has its limits has clearly been established by these by-poll elections.

For the secular and progressives who often rightly tend to see BJP’s loss as a deliverance have causes to worry: the legions of turncoats who overnight dumped BJP for TMC. This has made a mockery of principled politics in India of which there was already little room. Such opportunist brinkmanship also shows that there is a very thin line that distinguishes the BJP from the TMC. Or else how is it possible that the TMC sweatshop has overcoats of all sizes and lengths for the saffron turncoats? After all it was BJP who once labelled Mamata as ‘sakshat Durga’ or Durga reincarnate and Mamata in her fight against the Left returned the favour by calling RSS as the ‘true patriots!’ There is still no hidden love lost between Mamata and the RSS when on the eve of the assembly elections Mamata declared that her fight is not against the RSS but the BJP since the former never wins elections. For anyone to give such a statement means that either he/she has no knowledge of Indian politics, or he/she has lost all mental faculties. And in Mamata’s case it is neither.

Another tragic aspect of the by-elections was that the Left has failed to recover and appear as a credible alternative for voters in the state. Much of it has to do with the confused political-tactical line adopted by the CPI(M). Until the 2016 assembly elections, the Left front had a respectable 26.91 % vote share in Bengal. An ill-thought alliance with the Congress-led to an erosion of almost 14% vote share and the Congress increased its vote share by 3.15% to 12.25%. Very clearly it was the Congress that gained the Left votes for its candidates without any reciprocation towards the Left candidates at the ballot. The lesson was not learnt in the last assembly elections when the CPI(M) decided to join forces with the Congress in the name of defeating the twin evil of the TMC and the BJP. The arithmetic of ‘pooling votes’ was a crude one and made the CPI(M) appear as the Communist Party of India (Mathematics) instead of Marxist!

The pincers of communal polarization were sharpened, and the end result was that the Left ended up surrendering its political turf to the BJP allowing it to tap the massive anger against the TMC. The BJP did succeed to rock Mamata’s cart for once but the sheer misogyny and the hate campaign by it left a bitter taste in the mouths of the people of Bengal leaving them with no option but to vote en masse for the incumbent TMC.

Hindutva’s timely retreat has come as a good riddance for the Left. The Shantipur by-polls has important lessons for it. It was the only seat where the Left front candidate gained a respectable 19.57% per cent of votes. And interestingly, it was the only assembly segment where the Congress stood its candidate who secured a dismal 1.41% share of votes. In the 2021 assembly elections the CPI(M) surrendered the seat for the Congress where its candidate got only 4.48% of votes whilst earlier in 2016 the CPI(M) alone secured a solid 35.48% of votes. The return of 15.09% of votes to the Left fold establishes the redundancy of the alliance with the Congress and the promising future of an independent electoral fight. This fight has to be in consonance with other progressive platforms which have been at the forefront of protests against the divisive CAA and NRC such as the Joint Forum Against CAA and NRC.

The BJP is not going to this humiliating loss in stride. It is bound to sharpen its communal rhetoric. The best example of this was Kailash Vijayvargiya’s press conference wherein he said that ‘just like Islam was spread via the force of the sword, the TMC is increasing its influence in a violent manner’. Poor Vijayavargiya does not seem to know that one of the first converts to Islam in India was the Chera king, Perumal of modern-day Kerala who travelled to Arabia when Mohammad was alive. And whilst his stay, Mohammad gave the hand of his disciple, Malik Ibn Dinar’s sister to Perumal who was then given the name ‘Tajuddin’. On his return journey he fell ill and died at Zafar in Yemen where he was buried. Before his death Perumal wrote letters to Chera chieftans to whom he had entrusted his kingdom, asking them to extend all assistance to Arabs visiting Kodungalluur, cradle of the major religions of the world and known for its cultural syncretism. The Prophet, meanwhile, had deputed Dinar to propagate the tenets of Islam and spread the new religion in the Chera kingdom.

Armed with the letter of introduction from Perumal, Dinar and entourage called on the new rulers of Cheraman who allotted the visitors Arathali temple along with its lands. Dinar built the Cheraman Jama Masjid on the temple land in 629 A.D, claimed to be one of the oldest in Islam. Despite this, the BJP wants us to forget the history of syncretism and give us a violent picture of the past so that it continues its own violent ways of politics.

* (Author: Research Scholar at the Dept. of World History, University of Cambridge)

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