West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee (L) with Prime Minister Narendra Modi (File Photo, Image credit: Outlook India)

Bengal suits BJP more than the other four poll-bound states

As West Bengal is the only state where the Bharatiya Janata Party sees a ray of hope of snatching power from its rival by causing polarisation, it is utilising all the resources at its disposal, though it is a fact that Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry are also going to polls in the coming summer.

Unlike any other state the election bugle was sounded way back on November 4 night when Union home minister Amit Shah, first paid a two-day visit to West Bengal. He had visited the state again on December 19-20 and was again scheduled to make a trip on January 30-31, but had to cancel it due to the security-related developments in Delhi.

However, he had addressed a public meeting in Howrah through video-conferencing on January 31.

Scenario in West Bengal

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited the state twice within a fortnight—first time on Jan 23 on the occasion of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s 124th birth anniversary—and again on February 7 the BJP chief J P Nadda had almost made West Bengal his second home.

It is true PM Modi visited Assam twice along with West Bengal and other senior leaders are making trips to Tamil Nadu the fact is that the maximum energy is being focused on West Bengal, obviously because the scenario in Mamata Banerjee-ruled state somewhat suits the saffron brigade.

Bihar Poll Campaign

Compare this situation with Bihar Assembly election of October-November last in which Amit Shah did not campaign at all citing health reasons. He landed in Kolkata late on November 4 night though the last date for the election campaign in Bihar was November 5 evening. But he did not deem it fit to even make a token presence in Bihar.

Prime Minister Modi too addressed just a dozen rallies in four separate days. This was in total contrast to the 30-odd election rallies he had addressed in 2015 Assembly election in Bihar. Contrary to this, in West Bengal the saffron party had virtually launched the election campaign five months before the polling process is supposed to begin. This is something unusual. The saffron party is trying to appropriate all the iconic personalities of the state be it Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekanand or Netaji.

Besides paying two visits, Modi on December 22 spoke through video-conferencing on the centenary celebration of Viswa Bharati University.

With little scope of AIADMK-led alliance returning to power in Tamil Nadu—the BJP is its partner—no prospect in Kerala as well as in Puducherry the party is investing heavily in Bengal.

Challenges in Assam

In Assam the saffron party, which is in power, is not very sure of winning the election because of several reasons.

The number one reason is the hostile stand of the All Assam Students’ Union, from which the Asom Gana Parishad, had emerged. AASU has been opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act ever since it was passed in December 2019.

Ironically, the AGP, with 14 MLAs, is still sharing power with the BJP.

Secondly, the emergence of the six-party Grand Alliance, whose main constituents are Congress and All India United Democratic Front, has come as a challenge. The Grand Alliance may have been lacking any leader after the death of three-time chief minister Tarun Gogoi on November 23, yet the coming together of six parties has certainly come as a morale-booster to the opposition camp. The BJP will try to polarise the votes as AIUDF is considered as the party of Bengali-speaking Muslims.

The third problem with the BJP is the deteriorating relationship with its alliance partner, Bodoland Peoples’ Front after the last December Bodoland Territorial Council election in which the BJP contested alone. The BPF has 12 MLAs and is supporting the BJP which won 60 seats in 2016.

Anti-Incumbency Factor

Compare to this situation, the BJP is somewhat confident in West Bengal where the anti-incumbency factor may have some impact on the ruling Trinamool Congress government. In 2019 Lok Sabha election the party registered victory in 18 out of 42 seats.

True, there are substantial Muslim populations in Assam and Kerala too, yet it is in West Bengal that the over-all environment is ripe for communal polarisation of votes. State chief minister and TMC leader Mamata Banerjee enjoys mass support yet the challenge to her is formidable this time.

Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna. The views expressed are personal.

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