An unusual figure could be observed in Kolkata on Sunday ahead of the Assembly Elections in West Bengal in March. A man dressed as God Shiva was seen campaigning for the CPI(M), a party that postures itself as a uber-secular communist party.
A man dressed as Lord Shiva campaigns for CPM in Kolkata ahead of next month's Assembly elections.— The Indian Express (@IndianExpress) February 28, 2021
(📸 by Shashi Ghosh) pic.twitter.com/nSCugJmzov
In the garb of the Hindu God lies a message that has been largely ignored by political parties in India. It is the tale of a party that has failed to understand its own voter-base and in the end, was made to pay the price for it.
It is no secret that the BJP’s rise in West Bengal has been fueled by the shift in the allegiance of voters who had for generations chosen the hammer and sickle symbol on election day. The saffron party became a force in the state riding largely on the sentiments of disgruntled voters who had been disillusioned by the Left front.
The reason for this was obvious. The Left Front had failed spectacularly in addressing the concerns of Bengali Hindus and ultimately, lost their favour. While the leaders of the front postured themselves as uber-secular, their power derived from the masses whose values differed widely.
Political entities, after a prolonged period in power, often come to believe that they have the liberty to conduct themselves in a manner they deem fit without suffering any adverse consequences but unfortunately enough, they are always forced to reckon with reality soon enough. Actions do have consequences.
For instance, prominent CPI(M) leader Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya participated in a ‘Beef festival’ in 2015. The event was organised in Kolkata to protest the beef ban in some states. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Bhattacharya was the communist candidate from Jadavpur. CPI(M)’s vote-share dropped by 15.04% while the BJP managed to increase its own by 15.15%. TMC’s Mimi Chakraborty won the seat with nearly 48% of the votes.
In Tripura, which had been one of the last remaining bastions of the CPI(M), the BJP began its campaign for the Assembly Elections 2018 by reminding voters that the party had chosen to support the students of JNU who had made extremely disgusting remarks towards Maa Durga.
While the campaign diverged towards development and other local issues soon enough but this journalist was witness to the fact that the events of JNU played a prominent part in the BJP’s campaign at least during the initial phases. It is unclear the extent to which it played a role in BJP’s victory in Tripura but it cannot be denied that it did play a part.
For a party that keeps harping about the BJP not understanding Bengali culture, the CPI(M) does not understand Bengali culture outside the Leftist echo-chambers of Kolkata either. The average Bengali Hindu will not take kindly to beef-eating or support the hooligans of JNU.
The man dressed as Shiva campaigning for the CPI(M) in Kolkata is a reminder of the party that the Communist party once was. It was a party of Bengali Hindus who they took for granted. They came to believe that the culture of the elites in Kolkata was representative of Bengali Hindu culture as a whole. What they ignored was that there were vast sections of the electorate outside of the leftist echo-chambers in Kolkata and that is what the BJP capitalised in.
The trajectory of BJP’s rise is demonstrative of that fact. The BJP nurtured its strength from well outside Kolkata and now it is well poised to breach the citadel itself, although it remains to be seen how many seats it does eventually win in Kolkata.
Nevertheless, the fall of CPI(M) in West Bengal and the eventual rise of BJP is demonstrative of what happens when political parties take their voters for granted and ought to serve as a warning for everyone concerned.
A decade after the Communist regime was ousted from power, there is no realistic possibility of victory for the Congress-Left alliance in West Bengal. They will play an important role for certain, depending on the section of voters it manages to attract.
If the Left Front manages to regain even a small fraction of the voters it had lost to the BJP, then TMC’s odds of retaining power increases manifold. On the other hand, if the Left Front’s gambit with radical Islamic preacher Abbasuddin Siddiqui Peerzada succeeds, then Mamata Banerjee can kiss the Chief Minister’s office goodbye.
The future, however, looks extremely bleak for the Left Front. Politics in Bengal will remain polarized along religious lines for the foreseeable future and under such circumstances, Muslim votes are much more likely to consolidate under Mamata Banerjee than the CPI(M).
The Communists lost touch with their voter-base and now they are staring down the barrel of obliteration. And therein lies a lesson for all political parties. The man dressed as Shiva may still have faith in the CPI(M) but his brethren have by and large shifted their allegiance towards the BJP.