The March of The Saffron in West Bengal that began with the Ram Navami rally in 2017 has reached resounding levels with the addition of senior Trinamool leader Suvendu Adhikari in its ranks and a host of other leaders from Mamata Banerjee’s party as well as others. For the first time, in a long long time, a BJP victory in the 2021 Bengal Assembly elections appears well within the realm of possibilities.
As we have maintained here at OpIndia, the rise of BJP in West Bengal reflects a tectonic shift in the political landscape of the state. And it is made even more significant because, perhaps for the first time in the history of the state, the fate of political parties will be decided by the extent of religious polarization among the electorate.
There are other significant takeaways from recent events that beg a special discussion.
A definitive cultural shift in West Bengal and a new brand of politics takes root
The BJP, as a political entity, has always embodied cultural aspirations that other parties in India do not generally envisage. Due to its umbilical attachment with the Hindutva movement, their political victories have been dependent on the success of the cultural agenda of which it is the political vessel.
It is precisely due to this reason that the rise of BJP in any state usually reflects the changing cultural landscape of the region as well. And that change is reflected in West Bengal too. There is an undeniable change in the air.
Certain individuals might pejoratively refer to it as ‘Mandir Politics’ but whatever it may be called, it is definitively different from the Communist politics that has dominated the state. In a lot of ways, even Mamata Banerjee did not put an end to that brand of politics even after she won the elections.
Trinamool Congress continued with the same brand of politics that the Communists espoused. It was only later that she embraced minority appeasement full tilt.
The Adhikari Rebellion
The Adhikari Rebellion, which has seen a horde of Trinamool MLAs and workers jump ship to join the BJP, is certainly a nightmare situation Mamata Banerjee would have hoped to avoid ahead of the elections. But perhaps, in her heart of hearts, she was well aware that it was only a matter of time.
There is a letter that Suvendu Adhikari penned for his colleague at Trinamool Congress and the grassroot workers of the party announcing his decision to quit. It is beyond doubt one of the greatest resignation letters ever to have been penned. And that letter beautifully illustrates the point this author was making before in this article.
The letter spoke of creating a West Bengal that our “ancestors” would be proud, it spoke of Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Paramhansa Ramakrishna and emphasized greatly on the cultural heritage of the state. It was quite an emotive letter but the most interesting part, certainly, was the issues Adhikari chose to focus on.
Suvendu Adhikari is a mass leader and has great popularity on the ground. There will be repercussions of that decision in the elections.
West Bengal: The decline of the Left
West Bengal has been the home of the Communist movement in India. And now, after all these years, we are at a position where there is no realistic chance for the Left Front to win the Assembly Elections. 2016 will probably prove to be the last time in a very long time to come that they would be considered the primary opposition party in the state.
Even then, nobody seriously believed they would be able to win the state in 2016 and the overwhelming victory of the Trinamool Congress proved those predictions correct. Truth be told, Trinamool Congress is not responsible for the utter decimation of the Left. The credit for that goes solely to the BJP.
It is the BJP that has robbed the ground beneath the Left’s feet. It is also true that the Left needs a particular political climate to thrive. It cannot survive in regions where concerns around identity dominate political discourse. People must be more concerned with unions, land ownership, development and other factors to allow the Left to thrive.
But the BJP has managed to capitalize on concerns among the electorate regarding their identity and has weaponized the general poor state of governance and rampant corruption against the ruling TMC. In doing so, it has eliminated conditions favourable to the Left.
Also, unlike Trinamool Congress, which was more than willing to allow the Left Front to control certain spaces in Universities, it is extremely unlikely that the BJP will adopt a similar approach. For instance, the major confrontation between the ABVP and Communists at Jadavpur University is illustrative of the fact that the Left will not be permitted to retain control of their ‘safe spaces’.
A cultural revolution is on the horizon in West Bengal. And unfortunately for the Left, the sky has a saffron tint.
Enter Amit Shah
We have said it earlier here at OpIndia that unlike what liberal intellectuals would have people believe, West Bengal has always been extremely fertile to the politics of Hindutva. All it needed was a face credible enough and with an aura of authority to ensure it flourishes.
With Narendra Modi, time came for Hindutva to make its mark in the political landscape of Bengal. And his trusted general Amit Shah has personally engineered the rise of the BJP in the state. Also, it was in his presence that Suvendu Adhikari and others joined the BJP.
Amit Shah did what he does best. In a roadshow on Sunday, that served as a demonstration of the strength the BJP has gained in a very short span of time, he announced that time had come for Bengal to throw out Bangladeshi infiltrators. It was certainly a jibe at senior opposition leaders in Bengal who have been calling Narendra Modi and Amit Shah ‘outsiders’ in Bengal.
The roadshow and the defections will also work against Trinamool’s allegations that the BJP is a party of outsiders. Because no one could seriously believe that Suvendu Adhikari is an outsider or that the thousands and thousands of people at Amit Shah’s rallies are all outsiders.
The show of strength also demonstrates that the BJP will not be deterred by the relentless assault on its cadres and the brutal repression tactics of the West Bengal government. It will lift its chin and continue marching on.
The induction of Suvendu Adhikari into the party certainly demonstrates which way the wind is blowing. Even more so, even Trinamool sympathizers would agree, Mamata Banerjee’s conduct is becoming increasingly erratic and on occasions, her recent behaviour has bordered on deranged.
Furthermore, she will have to combat two terms of incumbency in order to win in 2021. The allegations of corruption, the levels of political violence never before seen, no real improvement in the lives of people and a discernible dent on Mamata Banerjee’s personal credibility will contribute towards deciding the fate of political parties.
All of these factors will determine the results of the 2021 Assembly Elections. In addition to that, a sleek political machine that just keeps on rolling, the BJP will prove to be a formidable foe. But given demographic reasons, the aversion towards the BJP among certain sections of the urban Bengali Hindu community and the lack of any state leader in the party to match Mamata Banerjee, it is still an even prospect. But as of this moment, if the BJP were told that they have a 50-50 chance of victory, they would have grabbed it with open arms.