Certain moments in the life of a nation or a state shape its future destiny. The 2019 general election is one such defining moment in Bengal’s political history.
For the first time, the Hindu right-wing has been catapulted to the centre of the state’s electoral narrative. From a slender two-seat tally in the 2014 general elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party has notched up a double-digit figure, winning nearly 19 seats and bringing the Trinamool Congress tally down to 22 from 34.
At the time of writing this article, counting is still underway. The possibility that the BJP could go on to win more seats and perhaps, even exceed the TMC’s tally, cannot be ruled out.
“Congratulations to the winners. But all losers are not losers. We have to do a complete review and then we will share our views with you all. Let the counting process be completed fully and the VVPATs matched,” tweeted Bengal’s TMC chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
Her words may appear casual at a moment as critical as the one the TMC is grappling with. A consummate politician, Banerjee, must, however, be more than aware of the daunting political challenges that lie ahead in the next couple of years.
The Right’s strong political assertion in Bengal coincides with the Left’s total decimation in West Bengal: a state it once ruled uninterruptedly for over three decades. The reasons behind this convergence of the Left and the Right should worry all those professing a commitment to secularism.
By deliberately deploying a dangerous tactic in this election, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), actively and passively, helped the BJP pick up a large number of seats. The CPI(M)’s top leadership sent out a clear message on the eve of the polls: defeat both the TMC and the BJP. The CPI(M)’s near invisibility on the ground coupled with the party’s political bankruptcy ensured a shift towards the BJP among large sections of its voters.
The slide in CPI(M)’s vote-share bears out this argument. From 22.96% in 2014, the CPI(M)’s vote share slipped to 6.77 in this election. The TMC’s vote-share, on the other hand, has gone up from 39.79% to nearly 45%. The CPI(M)’s two sitting MPs, Mohammad Salim from Raiganj and Badaruddoza Khan from Murshidabad, ranked third in their respective constituencies.
Since the ascendancy of Mamata Banerjee to power in the state and the installation of the Modi government at the centre, Bengal was thrown into a new and volatile political situation. Both BJP and the Left targeted Mamata Banerjee, charging her with politics of “Muslim appeasement.” The harsh truth remains that neither the erstwhile Left Front government nor the present TMC dispensation have done anything to improve the economic and educational status of Muslims. The Sachar committee report bears testimony to this.
The entry of the BJP into West Bengal will deepen the traditional communal fault-lines in the state. During my trips to Bengal for election coverage, I found a sudden anxiety among many members of the Muslim community. An anxiety – they claimed – they never before had.
It will take months for the political heat and dust to settle down. Today’s results come at the end of a long-drawn and brittle personal face-off between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
Some questions that come to mind are: will Mamata Banerjee be able to keep her flock together? How much worse can the political violence get? Will Mamata Banerjee be able to ensure the protection of the large Muslim community on her watch?
The BJP is pumping money into Bengal. The CPI(M) believes that the more it helps to erode the TMC, the closer it will come to power. The ground reality in Bengal is in total contradiction to such fantasy. In fact, what could well happen is a further consolidation of BJP’s support in the state. That, however, does not seem to be of much concern to the CPI(M) either in the state or at the Centre.