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‘Let’s see what the voters will think’: Here is why TMC sees an opportunity where others see a meme

As the chants of Jai Shree Ram grow louder, one thinks that perhaps this time, her shenanigans won't work. What Mamata should also remember is that Bengal, while patient with tyrants, refuses to look back once they vote them out of power.

On the 10th of March, Mamata Banerjee alleged that she had been attacked. The CM alleged four-five people deliberately pushed her, after which she fell down and suffered an injury on her leg. She said that it was done as part of a conspiracy. Banerjee said that she was in deep pain due to the injury, and also had a fever. After she got injured, Mamata Banerjee, allegedly writhing in pain, travelled almost 300 km to get admitted to the SSKM hospital.

Both the CM and her party workers alleged that it was a conspiracy to keep her out of election campaigns. Although they didn’t name anyone, they tried to blame the BJP for the incident.

Eyewitnesses, however, completely trashed Mamata’s claims of being ‘pushed’ by some people. They claimed that the entire account given by Mamata Banerjee was false and that it was an accident. They also said that she was surrounded by police protection at that moment, denying the claim by the CM that there was no police protection around her at the time of the incident.

Describing how the CM suffered an injury, the eyewitnesses said that Mamata Banerjee was greeting the crowd with folded hands from her car. The car was moving, and she had kept the door of the car open to greet the people waiting by the roadside. At Birulia Bazar in Nandigram, the open door of the moving car hit a pillar, causing the door to shut forcefully. The door hit the leg of Mamata Banerjee, causing the injury, said the locals who claimed to have witnessed the entire incident. They said the allegation that 4-5 people pushed the CM is completely false.

The eyewitness statements and the obvious discrepancy in Mamata Banerjee’s version of events did not deter the usual suspects from wondering ‘what would the voters think about this’, since it was unfathomable to them that BJP would not believe the events as claimed by Mamata Banerjee.

They called such assertions by BJP downright heartless and cruel, saying, that it would be interesting how voters would now react to it.

Tweet by Prashant Bhushan
Tweet by Swati Chaturvedi

One has to admit – the picture of a woman leader, lying in bed with that expression on her face and a bandaged leg is extremely powerful. India, as a country, loves the triumphant story of a distressed woman beating the odds in a man’s world and rising, much like a phoenix, to fight for the downtrodden. It makes for a perfect movie.

As we also know, elections are often won on sentiments. We might deny it because we want to think of ourselves as logical individuals who like to weigh the track record of every leader and then make an informed decision – but it is not true. People vote based on which leader can tug on their heartstrings. Politics is not an easy job, one might argue. You need to really figure out what people want. What they REALLY want. And then, promise to give it to them. Not just promise, in fact, but appear to be convincing, motivated and most of all – empathetic. The mark of a really good politician is to ensure that the people themselves begin to believe that you, and only you, are the answer to all their woes. You, and you alone, will fight for them.

The mark of a good leader is, of course, to actually be sincere, promise what you can deliver and once the people believe you and vote for you, deliver on those promises.

That is, however, not really TMC’s style.

In 2011 when Mamata Banerjee came to power, she came to power on the plank of Maa, Maati, Maanush. She said that she was a daughter of the soil and that she would toil till her last breath for the interest of those who belong to this soil.

Mamata made the arduous journey from that statement to keeping quiet while Bengali Hindus burnt in riots, protesting against NRC, a proposal to send Bangladeshis back and then, proclaiming that all Bangladeshis in Bengal were citizens.

Essentially, TMC has always played on the people’s sentiments to either come to power or retain power. But when the country elected PM Modi, it got over the emotional blackmailing of the Congress and learnt to look beyond the rhetoric. Why does TMC then think that this rhetoric will work in Bengal in 2021? Why does it believe that if an accident is called an orchestrated attack on Maatir Maye (Daughter of the soil), it will still resonate with the people?

For starters, it is good politics. Don’t believe me? Here is what Prashant Kishore said in one of his interviews about the Bengal elections.

Kishor was asked categorically about what could change his estimate that BJP won’t win more than 100 seats in Bengal in 2021. His answer? If there is an attack on Paramilitary Forces, then BJP could win more seats.

The underlying sentiment in this segment and this response by Prashant Kishor is rather simple – In Bengal, emotions run high and for the elections to sway massively, an emotional trigger is needed.

Could the Nandigram fiasco of Mamata Banerjee be one of those orchestrated fiascos? We can’t say. Let’s not forget that today, almost 24 hours after Mamata Banerjee and TMC claimed that this was an organised attack by the BJP, the police report has categorically stated that it was an accident.

So why do emotions work in West Bengal?

One has to recall how The Left Front ruled the state for seven consecutive terms 1977–2011, five with Jyoti Basu as Chief Minister and two under Buddhadev Bhattacharya. Under Jyoti Basu, the state saw multiple massacres of Hindus, including the Marichjhapi massacre. Under Buddhadev Bhattacharya too, political violence was almost at its zenith.

Bengalis, though, gave the Left more than 35 years to do something substantial for the state. Why? Because the Communists spoke about doing something.. something for the downtrodden. Something for those who were left behind by the industrialisation in the rest of the country. Something that they sought. Just.. something.

When they realised that even after 35 years, the Communists had not done much, they would have still voted for the Communists had Mamata Banerjee not promised to do something for the downtrodden. Something for those who were left behind by the Industrialisation in the rest of the country. Something that they sought. Just.. something.

Bengal trusted Mamata because they saw how she sat hungry for them.

Hunger strike by Mamata

Bengal trusted her because they saw how the Communists beat her up because she was fighting for them.

An attempt to murder Mamata Banerjee when she was a Youth Congress leader

And they knew, that it was a fight between Mamata, who wanted to better their lives, and the Communists, who wanted to retain power.

You see, Bengal and its inhabitants are mesmerised by their illustrious past. The dreams of revolution against the British, the fight against the tyrants, and intellectuals who fought against all odds are central to being a Bengali. Politics, as such, is not just dinner table conversation, it is a conversation held with strangers – at bus stations, at cigarette shops, at paan shops, in the bus, in the trams – just about everywhere. And while talking about politics, one often hears tales of how, armed with passion, their ancestors fought the British. How today as people throng to have breakfast at Flury’s, their family fought the British when Indians were not allowed. How when they were in college, they used to partake in unions to ensure that labourers got their rights.. so on and so forth.

That element of ‘revolution’, a sentiment that spurned the freedom struggle and something as vicious as the Naxalbari movement, is engrained in Bengal and in the blood and hearts of Bengalis.

Mamata, with her latest drama, which for the rest of the world is but a meme to laugh at, is trying to recapture the very sentiment that brought her to power.

A daughter of the soil fighting the tyrants to come back to power so she can fight for the people. It is the perfect plan. Prashant Kishor said it because he has studied Bengal and Mamata replicated it because she has lived through it.

Only this time, it is entirely possible that Mamata is not viewed as the revolutionary being silence, but someone who is perceived to be tyrant silencing the revolutionaries.

As the chants of Jai Shree Ram grow louder, one thinks that perhaps this time, her shenanigans won’t work. What Mamata should also remember is that Bengal, while patient with tyrants, refuses to look back once they vote them out of power. They gave the Communists 35 long years and when they finally got fed up, they voted TMC to power and never looked back. This time, Bengal’s sentiments may just lie with those who are being murdered, hanged from trees, beaten up by a party that seems to be losing grip on power and much to her chagrin, swollen ankles may not help to bring back her lost glory.

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Nupur J Sharma
Editor, since October 2017

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