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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 25 New Delhi June 8, 2019

New Grammar of Politics in West Bengal

Sunday 9 June 2019, by Arup Kumar Sen

West Bengal has witnessed significant political transformations in the 17th Lok Sabha elections in 2019. The BJP has emerged as the main political contender of the ruling party in the State, Trinamul Congress (TMC). The vote-share of the Left came down from about 30 per cent in 2014 to less than a two-digit figure in 2019, and the Communist Party of India-Marxist [CPI-M]—could not win a single parliamentary seat in the State. The outcome of the 2019 elections in West Bengal has been aptly recorded by two researchers connected with The Hindu CSDS-Lokniti Post-poll Survey 2019: “The result is spectacular for the BJP. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, it won only two seats and secured about 17 per cent of the votes. In the 2019 election, besides bagging 18 parliamentary seats out of 42, it also raised its vote-share to 40 per cent...The survey shows that about two-fifths of the traditional Left voters shifted to the BJP and about one-third to the Trinamul Congress.” (The Hindu, May 28, 2019)

The decimation of the Left in the electoral battle of 2019 is a significant event in the political history of West Bengal. But, what is most ominous is the way in which the BJP is building its organisation and consolidating its power in the State with the foot-soldiers of the Left. The shift of loyalty of members of the Left to the BJP is reported by journalists making field visits to different parts of West Bengal. Let us listen to some micro-stories of conversion reported in the media.

Samir Naskar, 40, is a former member of the Sonarpur Zonal Committee and Panchayat of the CPI-M in South 24 Parganas district. Now, he is a member of the Hindu Jagran Manch and a committed foot-soldier of the BJP. (See Suvojit Bagchi’s report in The Hindu, May 18, 2019)

The shift of loyalty of grassroots workers of the Left to the BJP is accompanied by shift of loyalty of some important Left leaders. Shantanu Chakraborty, former CPI State Council member and son of the Party’s former Basirhat MP (1996-2009), Ajay Chakraborty, is now the BJP district secretary. Similarly, Tapas Ghosh, a branch committee member of the CPI-M in Basirhat, joined the BJP in 2016 and is now a BJP ward president. (See The IndianExpress, May 26, 2019) Ghosh justified his political conversion to the visiting reporters: “We have told Left workers, first save your life then think of saying ‘Inquilab Zindabad’. Over a thousand Left workers joined the BJP with us.”

The most spectacular case of political conversion in West Bengal is that of Khagen Murmu, the three-time MLA (2006-16) of the CPI-M from the Habibpur constituency of Maldah in north Bengal. He joined the BJP months before the Lok Sabha elections, 2019, and got elected as a BJP candidate from the Maldah Uttar Lok Sabha constituency.

It has become a part of violent political culture in West Bengal that the winning party cadres forcibly take possession of the rival party’s offices and hoist their party flag, after a political upheaval. But, what is reported to be happening this time is quite astonishing. Days after the 2019 Lok Sabha election results were declared, cadres of the CPI-M captured over 160 TMC party offices across several districts of West Bengal. Reportedly, majority of the TMC party offices that the Left captured are located in constituencies won by the BJP in 2019. Most of these places belonged to Left parties before 2011. (See Himadri Ghosh’s report in The Wire, May 28, 2019)

The above developments hint at a new grammar of politics in West Bengal.

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