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Mamata still holds Bengal strings

Mamata still holds Bengal strings
Elections to West Bengal Assembly are scheduled for 2016 but preparations have already begun with the political parties positioning themselves already.  How else can you explain the present open fight between the BJP and the ruling Trinamool Congress in Parliament and outside? The BJP chief Amit Shah made the fact that West Bengal is on the horizon of the BJP clear when he took over.

While Didi was quite contended after a spectacular victory in the 2011 Assembly polls and was happy to see the slide of the left parties as well as the shrinking of the Congress, she is now posed with the problem of a rising BJP. Once in power, the Trinamool started its turf domination programme and dealt with any opposition severely. This is now backfiring on the Trinamool. Mamata initially saw the rise of the BJP as a temporary phenomenon.

The party had never been a force in Bengal politics traditionally as it had only some influence in a few pockets. As recently as 2009, the BJP in Bengal was struggling hard to even enroll new members. For the first time, it won two Lok Sabha seats in the State and its vote share jumped to17 percent from just 6 per cent in 2009 polls.  But Mamata was riding high. While 60 per cent of the Opposition votes were divided among the Left Front, Congress and BJP, it was the solid support of 28 per cent Muslims votes that helped Mamata to improve TMC’s seat share from 19 to 34 in the last general election.

What made Mamata sit up and take note of the BJP was the subsequent victory in the by-elections when the BJP opened its account in the West Bengal Assembly in September. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP chief Amit Shah have made it clear that their target is to storm the Assembly in 2016. The next two steps will be to do well in the ensuing corporation elections and then the 2016 polls.

To fulfill this objective the BJP has already started micro management. It has identified some campaign issues including the Saradha scam, mis-governance, non-development, decline in law-and-order and links with the Jihadi groups. Riding high on the Modi wave, the party has set an ambitious target of enrolling one crore new members by next year March. It has inducted 1.5 lakh people in West Bengal and many of them are from the cadre of CPM. The party has trained 50 state-level leaders, who in turn will train another 100 newly inducted BJP members at the district-level who will then go and spread the message of the BJP’s ideology in wards and at the panchayat level in villages. Interestingly, BJP will be working on consolidating Hindu votes, but will refrain from using polarizing rhetoric, lest Muslims consolidate against it.

Didi, on the other hand is all set to confront the BJP at two levels. At the national level, she has responded to the Congress invitation for Nehru’s 125th birth anniversary this month by attending it in Delhi.  This was part of her efforts to join the anti – BJP group. To fight BJP she is now willing to even join hands with the Congress, the erstwhile Janata Parivar and the Left to save her turf.

The echo can be heard in the current winter session of Parliament with the Trinamool Congress leading the attack on the Modi government. Although the Congress has the largest number of seats in the Rajya Sabha where the BJP is in a minority, it has left it to the TMC and others to lead the attack on the government. The Left, TMC, and the Janata Parivar have a cumulative strength of around 50 MPs in the Rajya Sabha. With the support of the 67 members Congress group, the government will find it difficult to push through legislation in the upper house. These parties, marginalized by the rise of the BJP, have decided to form an informal bloc in the Rajya Sabha. The bloc puts the insurance reforms bill at risk.

At the state level, she has decided to hit the streets. Launching a counter offensive against the BJP and the CBI, she has gone back to what she is best – the street politics and confrontational politics. She has dared the centre from her fortress “to invoke the Article 356 and arrest me if you can.” Amidst cheers from her thousands of supporters Mamata thundered from the Netaji Indoor Stadium this week, “Our fight against political vendetta has started. They have attacked us, we will reply politically.” She has declared an all out war against the BJP, Modi, CBI and her detractors. This will continue until 2016.

Though the BJP has made some progress in improving its base, it is still not in a position to take full advantage of the growing distrust of the Trinamool.  Mamata’s support base at the rural level is still intact.   It is not enough for the BJP to depend on Modi’s charisma and the RSS‘s organizational ability as much more needs to be done. The BJP has to find a credible Bengali face to lead the party in the state. The power corridors are full of the rumors that the BJP is waiting for the TMC to break.

The next acid test will be the corporation elections next year and both the parties are getting geared to face it. Then comes the final test of the 2016 elections. Will Mamata be able to regain the lost ground and come back to power again? Will the BJP be able to do Maharashtra or Haryana in Bengal?  One week is a long time in politics and 2016 is far away so one has to wait and see. IPA
Kalyani Shankar

Kalyani Shankar

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