By Sandip Ghose
As Narendra Modi addressed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s mega rally at the Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata on Sunday afternoon, a Bengali TV channel was showing, on a split screen, chief minister (CM) Mamata Banerjee’s meeting in Siliguri.
When Modi raised the pitch on allegations of “cut money and syndicates” under the Trinamool Congress (TMC) rule, the channel switched its audio to Banerjee. At that moment, she was coming down heavily on the Modi government for its proposals of privatisation and corruption in central schemes.
Exactly a week ago, there was another large rally at the same Brigade Maidan. It was the coming together of three strange political bedfellows — the Left Front, Congress and the newly-formed Indian Secular Front (ISF) helmed by a Muslim cleric, Abbas Siddiqui. Their message was similar. Leaders of the new alliance spoke out against the misrule of TMC in the state and the anti-people policies of the BJP at the Centre, adding, for good measure, the BJP’s deficit on secular credentials.
Thus, at the level of rhetoric, West Bengal seems poised for a triangular contest. But, the actual state of play at the ground level is not so evenly balanced. That apart, Bengal has not seen such a high-stakes election in recent memory.
These are also geographies where the new secular front (of Left-Congress-ISF) is hoping to score at the cost of Trinamool. But mired in internal contradictions, it is unlikely to make any significant dent. The TMC’s physical hold in these parts is strong, given its solid base among the dominant community. Phased elections may ensure a more disciplined ballot. But whether it can tilt the scales in favour of the BJP is not certain.
In Bengal, Banerjee is a phenomenon. She dons a teflon coating that might be even a shade stronger than what Modi enjoys in other parts of India. So, she needs neither the epithet of “Banglar Meye” nor the prop of “Bohiragoto” (outsiders). But faced with desertions, she has been forced to field many outsiders, a decision that may come back to bite her compounded by a weakened cadre base depleted by defections.
With successive state governments at perpetual loggerheads with Delhi for over 50 years, there is a widespread feeling that Bengal has missed the development train.
Therefore, Bengal’s voters may like to give the BJP’s promise of a “Double Engine Ka Sarkar” a chance, turning this into a wave election. Like Banerjee’s call of “Ebar or Never” in the 2000s, the BJP is fighting this election based on a now-or-never spirit. For the Left and Congress, however, the writing on the wall appears to be never-ever.
(The op-ed appeared in The Hindustan Times)