Is Mamata Banerjee Willing to Do What It Takes to Keep BJP Out of Bengal?

In the fevered imagination of the Sangh parivar, West Bengal is a low-hanging ripe fruit ready for plucking.

Mamata Banerjee. Credit: PTI

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Credit: PTI

Not a bus was burnt, not a morcha was organised, nobody donned colourful headgear to prevent viewers from watching Padmaavat in West Bengal. Albeit, some students of Jadavpur University sat on a dharna on the road to protest the violence and rampage unleashed by the Shree Rajput Karni Sena, but that is a quirk of quintessential Kolkata.

The peaceful, obstruction-free start of the screening confirmed chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s declaration at the recently-concluded Bengal Global Business Summit that “we love tolerance”, which was a jibe meant to heavily underscore the difference between her state and Sangh parivar aka Bharatiya Janata Partyruled states. The truth is that in West Bengal, Padmavati is a favourite story, one of the most thrilling tales in the immensely popular Raj Kahini collection written by Abanindranath Tagore. Curiosity and sentiment pulled people to the multiplexes and Banerjee got to take the credit.

Revisions and inventions have, therefore, become part of the alleged race between the Sangh parivar and Banerjee to keep the popular imagination fed. Thus, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s new explanation: demolition of the Babri Masjid was not against Islam, it was a blow against a structure that embodied enslavement and subjugation. In Kolkata, for a memorial meeting to honour two kar sevaks from West Bengal who died in the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992, general secretary Suresh Bhaiyaji Joshi insisted that religion had nothing to do with it.

The political reconstruction of popular tales is part of the strategy to capture the public imagination by hook or by crook. It is fuelling the expansion of the popular perception of a serious contest between the Trinamool Congress (TMC) as the incumbent and the BJP, backed by the Sangh parivar, as the challenger.


Also read: The Motorbike, Bengal and Beyond

In the fevered imagination of the Sangh parivar, as its propaganda machine claims, West Bengal is a low-hanging ripe fruit ready for plucking. It has been working hard to make its presence felt. BJP president Amit Shah claims that “the field is completely open in Bengal”. As of now, the BJP is working overtime with smoke and mirrors to project its popularity. Its real strength is untested in a straight fight against the TMC, because it has not as yet earned the position to be so considered. To reach that position, it needs to be there numerically – in the panchayats, in the municipalities and in the state assembly. Merely notching up three wins in the 2016 state assembly elections, or worse, coming in second in seven seats or working as a spoiler in about 70 seats, does not make the BJP, as yet, the principal challenger to Banerjee.

For Banerjee, joining in the game of ‘no smoke without fire’ vis-à-vis the BJP is a politically smart move and it is convenient. She needs the BJP to keep the TMC under control. It is not a organised machinery where membership is controlled and every member is accountable to the boss. It is an unruly collective that is loyal to Banerjee and its leaders; anointed, appointed and self-proclaimed, work in unison only when the fear of being ousted compels them to do so.

By taking the BJP’s aggressive incursions into West Bengal seriously, Banerjee has solved the problem of being partly responsible for the unexpectedly fast decline of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front. Now that she is focused on defending the state and its love for tolerance and democracy from the assault of the BJP, her past sins in unleashing widespread, brutal and sustained violence against the opposition, principally the CPI(M), in her race to establish dominance in every corner of West Bengal, have been forgotten by the public and overlooked by opinion makers.

A 'Save Bengal' dharna organised by the BJP. Credit: PTI

A ‘Save Bengal’ dharna organised by the BJP. Credit: PTI

Having succeeded in her single-point political strategy to squeeze the CPI(M) out and push it to the periphery, the political space was open to the BJP for an invasion. In 2014, it thought that the time was right. The party polled over 17% of the votes. But it was wrong in its expectations that it was all set to climb to number two and become the undisputed challenger. In the 2016 elections, its vote share sank to just over 10%.

However, the political space in West Bengal is now split into two lopsided camps. There is the BJP and there are the established parties all of whom are anti-BJP. And the competition is fiercest among the anti-BJP parties, that is, the CPI(M)-led Left Front, the Congress and the TMC. To keep the BJP contained and relatively small, the three other parties will need to find a way of preventing a multi-cornered contest in every constituency, be it at the panchayat level, the municipal elections or the general elections in 2019.

It is a piquant conundrum. It is unthinkable that either the TMC or the CPI(M) will make tactical adjustments to ensure that the winnable party succeeds. Within the West Bengal Congress, there are differences over making friends with the TMC to keep the BJP at bay. And the CPI(M) has shot itself in the foot by endorsing a political resolution in Kolkata last week in which it emphatically declared that the Congress as an election ally was untouchable. Therefore, any solution that requires adjustment to contain the BJP is likely to fail, as of now.

Also read: BJP at Zenith and CPI(M) at Nadir Yet Comrades Reject Congress Tie-Up

Barred from considering the Congress as a potential partner, uneasy about Banerjee’s intentions, the CPI(M) has no plan on what it should do to coordinate its election tactics with anti-BJP forces in West Bengal to maximise and leverage their strength to defeat the BJP. The 55 votes in the party against an electoral understanding with the Congress included some from West Bengal. There are smaller, much smaller, Left parties with which the CPI(M) can work, but that will not contain the BJP on the scale necessary to defend West Bengal from its encroachments.

The intelligent thing to do for the CPI(M), the Congress and the TMC, as the biggest and, therefore, the most responsible parties, would be to make sure that the BJP does not significantly increase its footprints across West Bengal in the forthcoming panchayat elections. Each of these parties having adopted an ekla chalo re (walk alone) position because the differences are irreconcilable, there does not seem a way forward.

There is a curious parallel between West Bengal and Tripura. Both Banerjee and Manik Sarkar (Tripura chief minister) find themselves pitted against the BJP, because in both places the opposition parties have been made ineffective through systematic decimation of the organisations to achieve maximum dominance. If the BJP makes a breakthrough in Tripura, then West Bengal’s established political parties would be warned. The lesson that would need to be learnt would affect Banerjee the most. And she must know it.

So, what will Banerjee do? And how will she handle this problem of her own making? Her ambition to become the hegemon by pursuing a politics that was originally designed by the Congress, and developed and improved by the CPI(M), has turned West Bengal into a state with two camps – anti-BJP and BJP. Any election understanding or alliances by any of the big three would necessarily have to be with a rag-tag bunch of minuscule parties with no traction beyond their front doors.

It’s a quintessentially Bengali puzzle, and on Banerjee rests the responsibility of finding a workable solution, the outlines of which are obvious. If she were to allow the CPI(M) and the Congress to retake the political ground they have been forced to evacuate by the TMC working in combination with the state apparatus, there would be a strengthening of the anti-BJP side, which would in effect squeeze the BJP out of the larger space that it occupies now and much larger arena that it plans on taking over in the future.

Liked the story? We’re a non-profit. Make a donation and help pay for our journalism.
  • subhasis ghosh

    He, Rahul Gandhi and the erstwhile champions of social justice (who have been caught with their hands in the till) are the trioka propelling BJP’S rise.

  • subhasis ghosh

    Your pointer on “What to read next” just below this article, suggests that we should read “No Durga idol immersion on Muharram to avoid clashes: Mamata Banerjee”. That itself explains exactly how “we love tolerance” is imposed in Mamata Banerjee’s West Bengal. As for BJP thinking that West Bengal is ready for easy picking, the author of this article has confused BJP’s election war cry for serious analysis.

    • Sulata Mojumder

      Well said! Mamata and her gang love tolerance because they successfully decimated CPI(M) and the Congress through her fearsome tactic of violence that witnessed people evaporated from the face of earth.

  • subhasis ghosh

    So right. The goondas who were earlier supporting the Left have now switched over to TMC. The challenge for BJP is able to assure safety to voters post elections. Only then will it win.

  • Sumanta Banerjee

    Like the Bourbon rulers of France, who `never forgot the past, and never learnt lessons from it,’ the Indian Leftists are treading the same suicidal path that their German comrades did in the 1930s, by fighting among themselves (Communists versus Social Democrats) and fracturing their people that led to the success of Hitler. If Prakash Karat’s line is adopted by the CPI(M)’s next Congress, it will lead to a similar fracture among the larger Indian electorate who believe in secular and democratic values, but will get split by voting in triangular contests, and pave way for the re-election of Modi in the 2019 general elections. This is the last thing that we want – given his atrocious record of anti-people economic policies and divisive communal acts. The immediate priorities are – (i) preventing Modi and BJP from coming back to power after the 2019 general elections, and (ii) thwarting their plans to establish a fascist theocratic state by changing the Constitution. To meet these urgent demands, it’s necessary for all the Opposition parties to sink their differences – whether ideological, regional, or based on ego conflicts of their leaders – and come to an electoral understanding regarding choice of candidates so that there’s no split among the anti-BJP voters (who constitute more than 60% of the electorate – BJP got support from only 30% at the last 2014 elections)

    • subhasis ghosh

      Just because 30% people voted for NDA, does it mean that the balance 70% have a common ground?

  • Sulata Mojumder

    As a Hindu in Bangladesh, we are being widely persecuted in our everyday life in Bangladesh in the hands of majority Muslims. Needless to say that this widespread persecution that Hindus are facing in Bangladesh is state-sponsored terrorism. India and particularly the West Bengal government has miserably failed to provide the logistical, moral, and ethical support to protect us from the non-stop persecution. West Bengal needs a government that is morally strong that will implement and execute rules of law fearlessly. India does not need a fearsome criminal government let by TMC but a fearless morally driven government.


    Rather then targeting Public issues.Article is written on Political parties. great kudos to journalism in your word “NON profit ”
    First you know political parties are more clever and they carry more skilled shrewd adviser . they do not need your or anyone advice
    Second why Bjp style of politics seems threatening to you but not Mamta.
    public chooses tmc or Bjp so it is better be their voice.


    Banerjee is a master politician. You can teach her nothing.

  • Sumanta Banerjee

    The “balance 70% ” of the electorate who are divided today, need to be mobilized on a “common ground,” in order to defeat the fascist BJP in the 2019 polls. As for Mamata Banerjee, while she indulges in populist acts to woo the Muslim mullahs (with sops like salaries for imams), she allows goons to kill common Muslims (re: mob lynching of three Muslims in Chopra in Durgapur on June 22, 2017. The accused Hindu Bengalis were released on bail soon after their arrest – because of Trinamul connections ?).