As the elections in Bengal are getting closer, the competition between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) is getting stronger. This election and its results are important—and can be historic—because of the entry of new players. And therefore, the whole nation is looking forward to the Bengal Elections keenly.
Recently, there was a lot of hue and cry by the BJP when some people allegedly tried to attack the BJP party president JP Nadda's convoy near Diamond harbour in West Bengal. While the BJP labelled the attack as a “sponsored violence”, CM Mamata Banerjee called it a “drama” staged by the BJP to gain media attention. But apart from all this, there are other things which make this election important.
Other than the BJP and the ruling TMC, there are other players as well – Left Front, led by CPI(M), Congress Party, AIMIM.
The situation of the Left Front and the Congress
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Left Front did not win a single parliamentary seat. Also, except the Jadavpur constituency, it lost all its deposits in all its seats. The Congress, which is its alliance partner, did not fare well too and managed to get only two seats. In the upcoming 2021 elections, the two parties have again joined hands, and this time, it’s not just about the electoral victory, but also about maintaining their relevance in the state.
The Left Front, which used to be a major party in the state and ruled for decades, is now seeing an existential crisis. Their first aim is to retain themselves as the main opposition party of West Bengal. Mamata Banerjee’s thumping victory in the 2011 elections marked the end of the Left rule in West Bengal. In the 2016 Assembly Elections, Trinamool Congress had a landslide victory, whereas the BJP got only two seats. But now, the BJP is emerging as the main opposition to TMC, which should be a matter of concern for the Left Front which is losing ground. In an article by The Quint, CPI(M) leader Shatarup Ghosh said, “Of course the BJP is our main opposition—not just in West Bengal but also nationally. They are ideologically and politically completely opposed to us. But that being said, we are not ready to give an inch to Mamata Banerjee either. The TMC needs to go, but they can’t be replaced by the BJP. That is our position”. The Left also alleges that TMC violence against them increased especially after 2016. “At this point, because we couldn’t function in full strength, there was a void in the space of the opposition. The BJP came in at that point and said that they’re running the centre, have CBI, ED and other machinery and can help fight the TMC in a way that the Left can’t. Those who wanted to vote against TMC, therefore, naturally went to them”, he adds.
The Indian National Congress has ruled West Bengal first from 1947–62, and then again from 1972–77. After that, Congress has not performed well in the elections here.
Rise of AIMIM in West Bengal
All India Majlis-e-Ittehad Ul Muslimeen– better known as AIMIM, has seen a rise recently outside their home state, after winning 5 seats in the Bihar elections. Party President Asaduddin Owaisi held a meeting with AIMIM West Bengal party functionaries for taking their views with regards to the upcoming elections and political situation in the state, calling it a “fruitful” meeting.
On AIMIM focusing on Bengal Elections, TMC MP Saugata Roy took a jibe at the party’s chief and called him “an assistant of the BJP, who is being used by the latter to split non-BJP votes”.
Muslim votes are crucial for the TMC. AIMIM senior leader Syed Asim Waqar tweeted, telling Mamata Banerjee’s party that their enemy is the same, the BJP. Aurangabad MP and AIMIM Maharashtra President Imtiaz Jaleel tweeted: "Bihar tou jhaaki hai...WB, UP baaki hai" (Bihar is just the beginning, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh are remaining). Other than this, party chief Owaisi recently said that it has been the consistent stand of the party that it would not contest elections in Assam and Kerala, as AIUDF and the Indian Union Muslim League are present in the two states. These points clearly show which states the party is aiming for.
AIMIM rallies had also gathered large crowds in Bihar. It won 5 seats in the Seemanchal region of Bihar, which borders West Bengal. It is also trying to emerge as the voice of the Muslims in states like West Bengal and UP. AIMIM was part of the Grand Secular Democratic Front, that had two UP based parties—Bahujan Samaj Party(BSP) and the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP)—besides Samajwadi Janta Dal and Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP). Owaisi's party was the best performer among all of them, other than that only BSP managed to get one seat.
Muslims in West Bengal
Muslims form about 27% of the West Bengal state population, but still remain underrepresented. They account for only 6% of government jobs. Although their representation has been better under the TMC, they still need improvement in the representation for the betterment of their community.
BJP and TMC
Recently, TMC MLA Suvendu Adhikari—along with 23 others—joined BJP, at Home Minister Amit Shah's Midnapore rally, as a major blow to Mamata Banerjee and the TMC. Shah alleged that Mamata Banerjee has changed her party’s slogan from “Maa, Maati, Manush” (Mother, Earth, Humanity) to “extortion, corruption and pandering to the nephew”, targeting Banerjee’s nephew and MP Abhishek Banerjee.
The BJP increased its seats from 2 to 18 in West Bengal in the 2019, which came as a surprise. Almost 57% of Hindu votes went to the BJP, and 32% to TMC. The party is trying to woo Hindus and also the Hindi-speaking population of West Bengal. Recently, BJP-supported Hindutva organisations such as the VHP, Bajrang Dal and the RSS, which had only a little presence in the state, have become more assertive, as was seen through their armed processions for Ram Navami.
To keep a check on the saffron party’s rise, the Mamata government made sure to announce new schemes and that the previously implemented policies remain fresh in the minds of the people. Recently, the TMC released its 'report card' on the work they have done and the promises kept. They have mentioned the 'Sabujsathi' scheme in it, which, according to the Mamata government, has been fulfilled. In this scheme, bicycles were to be distributed among approximately 40 lakh students from classes 9th to 12th studying in govt run and govt aided schools in West Bengal. The scheme was launched in September 2015. A scheme called “Swasth Saathi” was launched recently by the West Bengal government, as the BJP attacked the government by saying it did not implement the Ayushman Bharat scheme of the central government.
Even after opposition from newly emerging parties in the state, like the BJP and AIMIM, other than that from the already existing parties, the Left Front and the Congress, the TMC is trying to remain optimistic about their third term. Who’s winning? Only time—and the people of West Bengal—will tell.