Political violence in West Bengal: BJP making dent in TMC's vote bank may exacerbate situation
The cycle of political violence in West Bengal portends to persist long after the 2019 general elections are over.
TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee's much-talked-about policy of appeasement started backfiring with the BJP's advent in West Bengal.
Now with the BJP getting stronger in the state, the TMC is trying to strike a fine balance between the two communities.
Another contradiction that Banerjee will find difficult to handle is the TMC's faction fights.
The cycle of political violence in West Bengal portends to persist long after the 2019 general elections are over. It may actually turn worse even if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) manages to make a perceptible dent in the vote bank of the Trinamool Congress (TMC). For, contradictions give birth to confrontation.
And there are no dearth of contradictions in West Bengal's politics, which has been centred around the TMC till now. The factors that lead to violence are all intact, and both the parties, it seems, are ready to fight it out ‒ both politically and physically on the streets.
Why? One, TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee's much-talked-about policy of appeasement started backfiring with the BJP's advent in West Bengal. The TMC had initially tried to take the lead in wooing the Hindu voter by organising Ram Navmi processions to counter the BJP. It had to quickly abandon the strategy in deference to its Muslim vote base, who make up more than 30 percent of the state's electorate.
As a matter of fact, the TMC is now not too sure of the support of the huge chunk of Muslim voters that it has enjoyed so far. The composition of the Muslim vote bank in West Bengal is a little curious. The most aggressive of them are those who came in from Bangladesh and are heavily influenced by the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islam and the Urdu speaking Muslims of Kolkata and its adjacent industrial areas. Many of the latter group comprise those who had shifted to East Pakistan as Muhajirs after Independence, but had to come back to West Bengal after the birth of Bangladesh.
The TMC, through various religious leaders and opinion-makers, have managed to keep them on its side, while the rest of the Muslim population ‒ comprising 'indigenous' Bengali Muslims, mostly small and landless farmers ‒ have been led by their brethren. But the situation is changing fast, particularly because indigenous Bengali Muslims are afraid of a Hindu backlash. They are now coming out into the open, pleading for peaceful co-existence.
Now with the BJP getting stronger in the state, the TMC is trying to strike a fine balance between the two communities. But public memory is not as short as it is believed to be. While there are possibilities of communal rift and clashes, the TMC is likely to lose its lead role as the arbiter. The Muslims may seek other power centres for protection.
What's more, a divide between the Muslims of West Bengal and the aggressive infiltrators and Urdu-speakers may make the situation easier for BJP, while TMC will never be able to recover from the loss of its oldest ally in the state. The 'indigenous' Muslims shifted their allegiance from the CPM to the TMC during the Nandigram uprising in 2006-07. Nandigram is a Muslim-dominated area.
Two, the TMC has triggered a dangerous game of brinkmanship. It did so by changing the political narrative just before the last phase of polling. It realised then that the urban middle class 'bhadralok' could not be swayed simply by its claims of having brought about “development” in the state and the accusations it hurls toward the BJP of communalism, the Centre's 'dirty' politics and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'villainy'.
Since the 'bhadralok (read the genteel middle class)' would rather prefer democracy, a goon-free system and clean and impartial governance ‒ which the TMC cannot provide at short notice, Banerjee changed the tone and tenor of her tirades against Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. As the elections headed toward the seventh phase of polling in Kolkata and its adjacent industrial areas, she began painting the BJP leaders as low-brow pedestrians, ignorant of Bengal’s grand heritage.
The reason? She said since both Modi and Shah were outsiders, they could never understand the Bengali psyche. Later, she and her party leaders went a step further, saying the BJP, as a party, is “anti-Bengali”. So, it's the duty of every Bengali to reject the BJP and vote for the TMC. Even if done unwittingly, Banerjee has triggered a dangerous game.
Such provocations will obviously not lead to a competition on who knows more about the history of the Bengal renaissance or Tagore's poetry or the group theatre movement. A senior Congress leader, who did not want to be quoted, said, "It might, instead, lead to widespread street fights to decide who will be Bengal’s icon ‒ Ram or Rahim or Tagore. People's lives will be determined by which language they speak and which god they worship."
Three, another contradiction that Banerjee will find difficult to handle is the TMC's faction fights.
As the Lok Sabha polls draw to a close, the perception that the TMC only has time till the 2021 Assembly elections is growing strong. So, the factions, which are not in a position to control the syndicates and other avenues of making money, are getting increasingly fidgety. They also want their pound of flesh. So much so that soon after the final phase of the Lok Sabha elections, the TMC office in the North Kolkata constituency was vandalised and burnt down. The Lok Sabha seat is being contested by TMC's Sudip Bandyopadhyay and BJP's Rahul Sinha.
The first impression was that it was a BJP attack. But later, TMC leader and state minister Sadhan Pandey admitted that it was the result of the violent clash between two factions of his party. Already, several people have been killed in faction fights.
Finally, political observers across party lines are sure that even if the BJP becomes a force to reckon with in the state, as long as the TMC has the power to hand out state doles, it will have ample supplies of musclemen and hangers-on, who depend solely on 'state funding'. And since the BJP has proved this time that it's not going to retreat in the face of violence, the clashes are going to be bloodier in the not-so-distant future.
It seems both the TMC and the BJP have created a political demon that feeds on the never-ending cycle of violence in the state.
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