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Bengal elections: political landscape changing ? 

 From Devsagar Singh

Bengal elections: political landscape changing?

New Delhi, Feb 17: The political landscape in West Bengal seems to be changing with the possibility of a three-cornered contest in the upcoming assembly polls in April/May this year. Parties like the Indian Secular Front newly formed by a local influential Muslim cleric, RJD and NCP have reportedly agreed for a tie-up with the Congress-Left Front combine to take on the TMC and the BJP, the two key players. Will it adversely impact the TMC? Have the chances of BJP brightened? These are some imponderables both the parties may now have to contend with.

            It is common knowledge that the bulk of the estimated 30 percent Muslim votes went in favor of the TMC in the past two assembly polls.  After the coming of ISF  and Asaduddin Owaisi’s  AIMIM in the poll scene, however,  there is speculation that the Muslim votes may be divided. In a counter to this argument, on the other hand, TMC supporters maintain that the minority votes will further consolidate in their favor following the strident Hindutva campaign by the BJP.

             That the TMC’s support base has eroded somewhat is clear from the fact that a number of influential leaders have deserted the party in the recent past to cross sides.  Ten years of TMC rule has created an anti-incumbency factor.  With allegations of corruption and wrongdoing, coupled with the BJP’s serious attempt to polarize voters on communal lines,  Mamata is fighting this election with her back to the wall.

            As for the BJP, the party  is wading in uncharted territory. Its only claim on the state is the one-time success of winning 19 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the last parliamentary elections. But the assembly elections are different from the Lok Sabha polls. They are not necessarily contested on national issues. Local issues play a dominant role.  The BJP’s forte, especially under Prime Minister Narendra Modi,  has been its appeal on national issues. How much it sways the voters of West Bengal in the assembly elections remains to be seen. What is obvious, however,  is its apparent runaway success in raising Hindutva sentiments in a good section of people.  This is clear from the manner in which Mamata is defensive on issues like the ‘Jai Sri Ram’ chant, the battle cry of the BJP.

             West Bengal voters have thus far been known for their secular credentials.  Will they change this time? No one knows. But if the attendance in public meetings of Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah is anything to go by, it is not impossible.  A senior official identifying himself as ‘Pravasi’ (non-resident) Bengali claimed the state was fast moving to become another Kashmir, apparently hinting at the rising Muslim population and thereby justified the rise of the BJP in Bengal. But such sentiments are rare.  For the ‘Bhadralok’ (gentlemanly) morality of the average Bengali, communal politics has been taboo.

               In this scenario, if the Congress-Left Front combine pulls off to become a serious third pole, it will be a big achievement by itself. This still buoys the BJP supporters who claim such a development will only help the party. Their calculation is based on the premise that the Hindu votes will consolidate in their favor as against division of the rest, including the minority votes.

 

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