Mamta Banerjee is rattled by the growing popularity of the Modi-Amit Shah led BJP, is evident in her rants.
It is a rare Lok Sabha election when the electoral mood in the state of Uttar Pradesh does not occupy centre stage. The explanation is simple: Because Uttar Pradesh contributes the maximum number of seats, 80, to the House, it holds the key to government formation. The 2019 polls ought to have been no different, given that the results in Uttar Pradesh indeed are indeed critical for the players in the field. But there has been a dramatic shift in focus on the part of both the media and the political parties away from this state, to another, West Bengal.
Suddenly, there is talk that the outcome in this eastern state will be crucial to deciding the next government in New Delhi. West Bengal does have a sizeable contribution with 42 seats, but it is still small compared to Uttar Pradesh. The reason why West Bengal has become important is largely due to the brinkmanship of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress. In every phase of the polling, large-scale violence has been reported from the state, with media reports clearly indicating that the Chief Minister’s party men had indulged in intimidation and assaults. The target has been supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party who too, have hit back.
Mamata Banerjee ousted the Left Front from West Bengal despite the latter being in power for over three decades on a trot.
But why is Mamata Banerjee resorting to extreme steps — in her language — and her party workers rampaging across the state? It cannot be just that the contest is severe between the Trinamool Congress and the BJP. It is as bitter in Uttar Pradesh, with the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party combine taking on the BJP. It is equally intense in Odisha where the BJP is seeking to end the hegemony of the Biju Janata Dal. But there has been no violence in those states.
The primary reason for the West Bengal Chief Minister’s desperation has to do with her prime ministerial ambitions. If her party cedes ground to the BJP in the state, then she will stand at a disadvantage to push forward her claim to the nation’s leadership. Unlike in the case of parties such as the Congress and the BJP which have a nationwide presence, her Trinamool Congress is restricted to West Bengal, and it’s a do or die battle for her there. Mamata Banerjee has sought to occupy the pole position as a challenger to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, outdoing other opposition leaders in spewing venom against him — calling him a thief and a goon and threatening to slap him and break his teeth.
That she is rattled by the growing popularity of the Modi-Amit Shah led BJP, is evident in her rants. Over the months, she has done everything by the book and beyond to obstruct the BJP’s campaigning in the state, by blocking rallies of its president Shah and even Modi. She has indulged in minority appeasement to ensure that that bloc of votes remains with her. She is also fighting to retain her party’s standing for future Assembly elections — which too will become a challenge for her in case the BJP wins a sizeable number of seats in this Lok Sabha election.
All of this has resulted in a unique situation in West Bengal. In normal circumstances, the Trinamool Congress should have been happy to see the decimation of the Left and the Congress. But now it must be hoping they do well. This is because the votes of the two parties are threatening to shift to the BJP. If there is a large-scale transfer of Left and Congress votes to the BJP, Mamata Banerjee will be in deep trouble. On its part, the BJP is certainly looking to take away those votes, besides those from the Trinamool camp. Although the Left has been marginalised in the state over the last decade or so after Mamata Banerjee’s rise, it still managed 30 per cent of the votes in the 2014 parliamentary elections. Psephologists believe that, even if the Left loses 10 per cent its vote-share, it could lead to a huge spiral in the seats that the BJP will win, and consequently result in a big reduction of Trinamool seats.
Over the past couple of years especially, the BJP has been on a surge. In 2014, it had bagged 16 per cent of the votes polled but did particularly well in the last violent-hit panchayat elections. It has been able to not just exploit but also construct a shift in public mood in the state. It has been emboldened by its victory in Tripura Assembly polls against an entrenched Left and believes it can repeat the performance in West Bengal at the national level. Mamata Banerjee ousted the Left Front from West Bengal despite the latter being in power for over three decades on a trot. The BJP now expects to engineer a similar upheaval, with the Trinamool Congress at the receiving end.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.