West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee (File Photo, Image credit: The Indian Express)

How different is voting pattern in West Bengal?

As the voting pattern in West Bengal is somewhat different from many other states of India it is not very easy to predict the poll outcome. It is the state where there is hardly any caste and even community-divide during the election, though of late attempts are being made to communally polarise the polity. In contrast till sometimes back class divide was more politically pronounced.

Notwithstanding the emergence of BJP at the national level it is rather easy to identify the voting pattern of different castes in other states. The backward-forward or Dalit-non-Dalit voting trend can often be felt easily before the election. It is only when there is a big wave that these divisions disappear.

Bihar Example

Take for example the case of Bihar Assembly election of November 2020. Even before the campaign picked up most of the political pundits predicted that an overwhelming percentage of Yadavs would vote for the Rashtriya Janata Dal-led Grand Alliance in Bihar. 

According to the CSDS study done immediately after the November 10 result 82 per cent of Yadavs voted for this party while only five per cent exercised their franchise in favour of NDA.  Similarly, 76 per cent of Muslims voted for the Grand Alliance and five per cent for the NDA.

In the same way, one can say beforehand how will Brahmins, Thakurs, the Yadavs or Dalits vote in Uttar Pradesh.

Before every election journalists would try to analyse as to  how will the Lingayat and Vokkaliga vote in Karnataka or Brahmin and Thakurs in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh or Jats and Rajputs in Rajasthan etc.

Vote Banks in the West

Such social division is very palpable in advanced democracies as well. In the post-World War-II United States the African-Americans, Latinos, migrants, Jews etc. would largely vote for the Democratic Party while the Whites would vote strongly in favour of Republicans. In the same way Indian- and Pakistani-origin people, along with African migrants, in the United Kingdom will largely vote for the Labour Party while the White upper middle and elite class would often go for the Conservative Party.

No Single Caste Domination

As there is no scope of Brahmin-Dalit, Brahmin-Bania, Muslim-Yadav or Muslim-Dalit etc like combination in West Bengal one finds it difficult to make any prediction on this basis. Nor is there any room for any one caste domination like Jats in Haryana, Marathas in Maharashtra, Reddys in undivided Andhra Pradesh and Rajputs in Rajasthan, or Patels in Gujarat.

Of late, the BJP is trying to cause polarisation on community line in West Bengal. Not only that it is trying to attract Matuas and Rajbanshis (both Scheduled Castes) —who, in the past, like almost all other sections of the society, used to vote for Left Front and then Mamata Banerjee. After being routed out of power in the 2019 Assembly election in neighbouring Jharkhand, the state created in the name of Adivasis on November 15, 2000—the saffron party is leaving no stone unturned to win over the tribal votes of West Bengal.

As the state had a 34-year long rule of the Left Front government there was more talk of class divide. It is true most of the parties of the Left Front constituents were led by the upper caste-men (Bhadralok) they used to get the votes cutting across the caste and even community lines.  The change started taking place after the Nandigram and Singur movement against the land acquisition policy of the Left Front government in 2007-08. They were finally voted out of power in 2011. This was largely because the Communists abandoned the policy of class struggle and started acquiring land, rather forcibly, for Nano car project in Singur in Hooghly district and for Special Economic Zone in Nandigram in East Midnapore district. Mamata Banerjee exploited this contradiction and beat them on their own turf.

Till lately it was secular party versus secular party. There was little scope for causing any type of another divide. Now the efforts are on by the BJP to alter the voting pattern in the state.

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

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