(This is an exclusive long-form essay that aims to provide the most comprehensive and incisive understanding of West Bengal Assembly Election 2021: the ground-shifting and momentous battle in post-Independence Bengal. The first part can be read here; second part here. This is the third and the final part)
Bengal 2021 and Thereafter
In 2011 (Assembly Election), the BJP’s voting percentage in Bengal was 4.06%. It rose to a historic 17.02% in 2014 (General Election): the year Prime Minister Narendra Modi led BJP-majority-NDA Government came to power in New Delhi. This remarkable performance eclipsed the BJP’s previous best voting percentage of 11.34% in 1991 General Election.
From 17.02% in 2014 (General Election) the saffron vote share in Bengal dropped sharply to 10.2% in 2016 (Assembly Election) that indicated the waning away of the high tide of 2014.
The astonishing leap took place in the General Election of 2019. The BJP’s voting share in Bengal skyrocketed – out of the blue – from 10.2% in 2016 to 40.2% in 2019; and the party won an unprecedented 18 – out of 42 Lok Sabha (LS) seats – from Bengal.
(Prime Minister Narendra Modi – supported by the state machinery and the Sangh Parivar – is making an unprecedented – ‘full-spectrum and no holds barred’ – effort to defeat Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in Bengal Assembly Election 2021)
How did such an improbable, and almost unreal, occurrence – of a ‘300% jump’ in voting percentage – take place?
Especially when Bengal – with the highest number of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in India – was reeling under the adverse effects of demonetization, followed by the tedious disruptions caused by the introduction of the over-complicated and over-technocratic Goods and Services Tax (GST).
Bengal was actively opposing the controversial CAA-NPR-NRC policy. The civil society, the students, the NGOs and the non-right-wing political parties were protesting on the streets, after understanding the insidious hidden corollaries of the proposition.
The communal colors of the central regime had also become apparent, along with its growing fascist symptoms and its inherent anti-democratic impulse. Many were exhausted by the societal and familial divisions caused by IT cell propaganda, designed for psychological warfare, and the deliberate incitement of hate, insecurity, fear and torment.
Some had also started to feel the haunting presence of a shadowy ‘deep state’ that was guiding the central regime’s strategies from behind the curtain, and had begun to question and express doubts, about the actual sovereignty of India.
The birth of ‘an entity’ – ghostly and ominous – within the political structure of ‘New India’, was expressed in intriguing words by the then-incarcerated Congressman P. Chidambaram in late 2019.
On November 2, he tweeted, ‘The truth is that there is an unknown government within the known government. And the known government does not know about the unknown government within it.’
Before the 2019 General Election, it wasn’t going that well for the BJP in Bengal. Yet the saffron party managed to jump from a voting percentage of 10.2% to 40.2% in just 3 years!
Analysis fails and becomes meaningless, when one is not absolutely sure whether the election results have accurately reflected the will of the people.
I say this because the critical issues of 2019 General Election: 19000 missing Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and the alleged mismatch of voter percentage with polled votes in over 300 LS constituencies are still unresolved, and remains unexplained by the Election Commission. The cases are now buried in the courts, while serious doubts continue to be raised by various studies, political parties and civil society groups about the integrity of the election process, the counting software and the voting machines.
By mentioning the above, I am flagging the possibility of a rigged General Election 2019. But a final settlement of this issue requires the role of an all-party Parliamentary Committee, independent investigations by the agencies and a fair legal pronouncement from the court, which cannot happen right now. Hence, without any conclusive proof, I have to proceed with the assumption that the people of Bengal actually voted for the BJP in such a large number in 2019. And a combination of factors played their collective role in bringing in the BJP as a serious contender.
The main factors were the rapid grass-root-level expansion of the RSS in Bengal, the BJP’s seemingly unlimited resources and organized machinery, propaganda tsunami led by the pro-BJP ‘corporate media, IT Cell, WhatsApp Army and social-media trolls’, sabotage of various LS constituencies by AITC or TMC leaders who later joined the BJP, the blood-stained Panchayat Polls of 2018 when the TMC bludgeoned the opposition whose candidates were not allowed to contest in most of the seats, pervasive anti-incumbency against the overconfident TMC government who under-estimated the penetration of the Hindutva narrative, hidden support of the CAA-NPR-NRC policy by the Namashudra refugees from Bangladesh, the mind-boggling swing of the former Left voters to the right and the ‘nationalist fervor’ brought about by the controversial Pulwama attack, followed by the Balakot war theatre.
But the circumstances and the atmosphere in 2021 are not the same as of 2019. The most telling statistics are the difference between the voting share of the BJP in four states between the General Election and the Assembly Election.
Haryana 58% (General Election 2019) and 36% (Assembly Election 2019)
Delhi 56% (General Election 2019) and 38% (Assembly Election 2020)
Bihar 53.25% (in alliance, General Election 2019) and 37% (in alliance, Assembly Election 2020)
Jharkhand 55% (General Election 2019) and 33% (Assembly Election 2019)
From an abnormal high in the General Election 2019, the four states witnessed a dramatic fall in the BJP’s vote share by an average of 19.56%!
I am not sure whether such a drastic rise and fall of voting share of any political party (that too in the same year, in the cases of Haryana and Jharkhand) has ever occurred in the history of India.
Hence, to only assume that the unnatural 40.02% vote share of the BJP in Bengal in 2019, will still hold in 2021, or fall marginally, is unreasonable. One may also witness a sharp collapse of the BJP’s vote share, just like in the other states. Moreover, when people certainly vote differently in terms of General and Assembly Elections, and the political scenario in Bengal has changed significantly in 2021.
AITC / TMC has largely maintained its vote share in Bengal. From a high of 44.91% in 2016 (Assembly Election), it marginally fell to 43.3% in 2019 (General Election).
It was the voters of the Left and the Congress who had boosted the BJP in 2019. The Left vote share fell to 7.5% in 2019 (General Election) from 19.7% in 2016 (Assembly Election), while vote share of the Congress fell to 5.5% in 2019 (General Election) from 12.3% in 2016 (Assembly Election).
One of the most remarkable comments of 2019 came from a district level leader of the Left, who said, ‘even though we voted for the BJP, we remain CPM’!
There was a deeper truth behind the farcical comment. What he meant was that Left voters had voted for the BJP, not because they had been converted by the Hindutva narrative, but because they wanted to spite the TMC and protest against the ‘corrupt and violent’ excesses of the TMC cadres / local leaders at the district and the village level, who erased political space for the CPM, and thereby made the BJP viable, as a vehicle of opposition.
So the explanation given revolves around the inability of the Left voters to save themselves from the continuous atrocities by the local TMC people, and hence, they were compelled to move to the BJP, for resources and for protection.
This is true; but not the entire story. There was also a slogan: ‘Ekushe Ram, Chhabbishe Bam’ (‘RAM in 21; BAM in 26’); a strain of Left thought that said, ‘let’s bring in the BJP in 2021 to get rid of the TMC, and then we will get rid of the BJP in 2026, and bring in a Left government.’
This naïve suicidal thinking could have been another historic blunder of the Left, in the tradition of blunders like preventing Jyoti Basu from becoming the Prime Minister of India, withdrawing from the UPA in 2008 in lieu of the US-India Nuclear deal that has proven to be largely inconsequential and being unable to distinguish between the BJP and the TMC, and calling them the two sides of the same coin.
Everyone knows that nothing much will be left of the Left, if the BJP ever comes to power in Bengal: the state machinery, the sedition law and the draconian act like UAPA will be misused to obliterate the ‘communists’ / ‘leftists’ who are severely despised by the right wing.
But thankfully, another historic blunder was perhaps averted, when the Politburo issued a statement – prodded by the position, arguments and debates sparked by CPI (ML) leader Dipankar Bhattacharya – that put the defeat of the BJP as the foremost goal of the Left.
So the Left is no longer asking its voters to cast their votes to defeat the TMC, avenge its 2011 loss and strike-back against the subsequent localized atrocities they had to suffer and endure. Incidentally many of the corrupt and vindictive TMC local leaders – now discarded by the party – have now joined the BJP. In this changed situation, the Left leadership is asking the Left voters to defeat the BJP first.
This vital message, combined with the formation of the Sanyukta Morcha / United Front (Congress-Left-ISF) coalition or jote, is likely to garner critical votes from the sizeable anti-incumbency pie, which would have otherwise gone to the BJP, if the option of another cohesive opposition in Bengal, wasn’t made available to the miffed voters, who won’t vote for the TMC, under any circumstances.
(Biman Bose of Communist Party of India (Marxist), Abbas Siddiqui of Indian Secular Front and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury of the Indian National Congress, who are fighting as the jote or the Sanjukta Morcha in the Bengal Assembly Election 2021)
The Left has fielded younger idealistic candidates who have created a positive buzz in their constituencies. They are also talking about the real socio-economic issues which need to be spoken about. There is a sense of ‘Return of the Left’, in public perception.
The combined vote-share of the Left and the Congress of 13% in 2019 (General Election) is expected to rise in 2021 (Assembly Election).
But there is still a grumpy Left constituency who is allowing its visceral animosity towards Mamata Banerjee and the TMC to cloud its judgment about the unfathomable dangers posed by the growth of the RSS and the BJP in Bengal. The crass, sexist and misogynist lampooning of Didi – especially on social media – is helping the Sangh Parivar’s narrative to a certain extent, and also repelling undecided-voters from voting for the Left.
So one has to see whether most of the Left voters have agreed with the call of the Politburo – to consider BJP as the prime enemy – or some are still harboring the suicidal thought of voting for the BJP to defeat the TMC.
However, the vote share of the Sanjukta Morcha is likely to be quite substantial, and it will naturally boost the Left and the Congress. Whether it will rise enough to regain most of the votes which they had lost to the BJP in 2019 (General Election) – approximately 20% – and thereby, push the right wing to the third position, is however not certain. We can only know this on 2 May 2021.
AITC / TMC remains well poised to win the 2021 Bengal Assembly Election in spite of the determined Sangh challenge to grab power, the defections of various leaders and the strong anti-incumbency wave that has been fueled by the excesses of its cadres and local leaders.
The TMC top leadership had the time to sort out the problems by removing poor district-level leadership where over 60% of the block presidents have been changed, reforming the functioning of the local units, sincerely addressing the genuine grievances of the people and reaching out door-to-door to the voters. The schemes and programs – which one never hears about on the newspeak of the corporate media – like Didi Ke Bolo, Duare Sarkar, Swasthya Sathi and Paray Samadhan have been extremely successful.
The BJP’s initial strategy to create a public perception of ‘lawlessness’ in Bengal to enforce the President’s rule before the Assembly election didn’t succeed. The next strategy to create a false public perception of ‘collapsing TMC’ and ‘exodus from the party’ hasn’t also worked. Despite the defections – engineered through temptation and intimidation – the core of the TMC remains intact, and the party has been sufficiently replenished, and strengthened.
Now the BJP is trying to create a pro-saffron wave – that is non-existent on the ground – through propaganda, spin, fake news, mind games and biased ‘ground-reports’.
(We already know that the BJP controls media narratives and the interpretation of all narratives by bullying, lying, screaming and bulldozing into the minds of the people.
However, it must be noted that the dubious ‘ground reports’ of the Bengal Election are also being churned out – not only by the lapdog media – but also by some ‘liberal’ journalists from well-known ‘independent media’, who are centering their ‘reporting’ only on the ‘talking-points’ of the BJP, and largely omitting the ‘knock-out punches’ from the opposition’s narrative; and hence, they are actually doing pro-BJP propaganda in a round-about and subtle manner.
This is not a new phenomenon; this is going on for a while now. But there has to be greater public awareness about the deceitful journalists and morally-deficient commentators from the ‘liberal’ sphere who are playing an explicit double-game.
If one analyses their work carefully, one can see that they are actually protecting the image of the Prime Minister while simultaneously criticizing the right wing, doing various damage control on behalf of the BJP, over-criticizing Rahul Gandhi with an underlying agenda to remove the Gandhi family from the INC leadership, unfairly downsizing the opposition at every opportunity and pushing the narratives and the key-phrases of the Empire, rooted from the Delhi-Mumbai based ‘think-tanks’ – related to public policy research, geopolitics, economics and media – which are always geared towards the ‘BJP, US and Neoliberal’ interests)
Accusation of ‘tolabaji’ (extortion), ‘cut money’ and ‘syndicate-raj’ against the TMC by the Prime Minister Modi and the BJP aren’t getting much traction in Bengal, when the examples set by the controversial PM Cares Fund and the coterie-raj of few crony capitalists, don’t inspire much confidence.
The accusation of the alleged Muslim ‘appeasement’ by Mamata Banerjee – that had held its sway before 2019 – has lost its sting lately. Even though, the BJP sensing public disinterest and low enthusiasm, has maneuvered the Bengal Assembly Election towards the incendiary plank of divisive and communal politics.
Suvendhu Adhikari – Didi’s saffron opponent in Nandigram constituency – is calling her ‘Begum’ and ‘Khala’; Prime Minister is interspersing words like ‘temple’ and ‘appeasement’ in his campaign speeches.
The BJP’s effort to convert Didi (elder sister) to Pishi (paternal aunt; father’s elder sister) in the minds of the people has come to a cropper. Not to mention the issues of economy and development, whose record for the BJP – going by what has transpired since demonetization – is totally abysmal, and cannot possibly be stressed upon, to demand votes. That too at a time when Bengal isn’t doing poorly, but quite alright, under the present socio-economic situation that has devastated and impoverished the nation since 8 pm, 8 November 2016.
There is a pin-drop silence from the Prime Minister and the BJP about demonetization, GST, lockdown and Farm Laws. NRC has been put on the backburner, but the promise of CAA to help Hindu refugees has been kept alive.
The BJP’s use of the communally-colored motif of ‘Bangladeshis’, also didn’t have the same effect in Bengal, as in Assam. In West Bengal or epar Bangla (this shore of Bengal), Bangladesh is not Pakistan, but opar Bangla (other shore of Bengal).
That’s why, ‘Bangladesh’ / ‘Bangladeshis’ has been dropped, and replaced by ‘Pakistan’ / ‘Pakistanis’.
Bengal has 5.8% tribal population. Chief Minister Hemant Soren of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) has categorically said that the nature-worshipping adivasis are not Hindus and has evoked the Sarna Tribal Religious code for indigenous people.
JMM decided not to field their own candidates for the Bengal election and is supporting the TMC. This augurs well for Didi in the tribal belt where the BJP had managed to make inroads in 2019.
Chief Minister Hemant Soren also campaigned for the TMC in the tribal dominated assembly segments of Bengal where he warned the people about the ‘double-engine’ narrative of the BJP that asserts that if the state and the centre governments are of the same party then there will be better growth and development.
Soren said, ‘Double-engine, for them, means looting from both hands. Jharkhand suffered a lot because of this…and people threw them out in 2019.’
‘BJP’s double engine government in our state robbed farmers, Dalits, and the poor. During their double-engine regime, our state witnessed a slew of mob lynching because of BJP’s divisive politics. Don’t allow that to happen in Bengal.’
Finally Soren, used the popular analogy that many are using, ‘BJP is a clone of the East India Company, whose only agenda is to pit people of the country, state…against each other to divide, rule and loot.’
23.5% of the Bengal population comprises of Dalits / Scheduled Castes, and which way they will move will be a prominent factor in the election.
After TMC’s poor performance in this key segment in 2019, it formed the Namashudra Development Board. It also launched the party’s refugee cell with units in every district and gave land ownership papers to people living in refugee colonies. TMC has also formed separate cells for SC and ST.
All such efforts are likely to bring back voters from the Dalits / Scheduled castes to the TMC, along with the voters from the Gorkha and other communities in the North Bengal, who are no longer supporting the BJP.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with an eye on the Bengal election and to use religion to garner votes, visited Orakandi in Bangladesh on March 26 – during his two-day state visit to the neighboring country – to pay his respect to Harichad Thakur, the founder of the sect of Matuas in undivided Bengal, belonging to the Namashudra community, whose members had migrated to India from Bangladesh, post 1950, after facing discrimination, violence and riots.
The Matuas have a massive presence in Bengal and can swing the election in as many as 74 of 294 Assembly seats. But the clan is now politically divided, with a growing influence of Left-leaning Ambedkarites. Both the BJP and the TMC are doing their utmost to woo them, along with the other large communities, like the Rajbongshis and the Mahishyas.
Award winning Bengali writer from the Dalit community, Manoranjan Byapari – who is a former refugee come from East Bengal (now Bangladesh) – is the TMC’s MLA candidate from Balagarh, Hooghly district.
Byapari announced that he is here to fight the BJP’s ‘naked show of power and divisiveness’. He added, ‘We have lived in harmony for many years despite the harsh life we have had to endure’ and hence, he wished to stand against the ‘criminal’ deed to ‘polarize people’ on ‘religious and caste lines’ when the ‘people are already struggling with so many other issues’.
Muslims comprise 27% of the population in Bengal, of which 25% are Bengali Muslims. The majority of them – fearing the consequences of Hindutva coming to power in Bengal – is likely to consolidate behind the TMC. While Indian Secular Front (ISF), associated with religious leader Abbas Siddiqui of Furfura Sharif, has fielded Brahmins, Dalits, Adivasis, even LGBT activists, along with Muslims, in their allotted seats as part of the jote or the Sanyukta Morcha (Congress-Left-ISF).
Whether the ISF will dent the minority vote share of the TMC in the 26 seats they are contesting in, and give an inadvertent advantage to the BJP, remains an unanswered question, and can only be known after the results.
One of the most crucial segments in this election is the women voters. Statistics tell us that more women vote for the TMC than men, and they vote in even greater numbers, for women TMC candidates.
This trend is likely to consolidate and even increase, because of the benefits received by women in Bengal from TMC’s ‘UN award-winning public service initiative’ Kanyashree Scheme, due to the sympathies for ‘a physically injured – yet defiant – Didi’, and in lieu of the manner Prime Minister Narendra Modi is addressing Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in his speeches.
Following the inglorious sequence of infamous phrases – ’50 crore ki girlfriend’, ‘Jersey Cow’, ‘Congress ki Vidhwa’ and ‘despite being a woman’ – the Prime Minister’s way of intonating ‘Didi. Oh Didi’ during his campaigns has created a backlash amongst women. Most are finding it to be creepy, disgusting and offensive. AITC / TMC Member of Parliament Mohua Moitra described it as ‘taunting a Chief Minister in the cheapest, basest way possible.’
The damage has been done. One doesn’t insult women / feminine / Shakti on the soil of Bengal. The gender ratio in Bengal has advanced from 956 last year to 961 in the final voters’ list published by the Election Commission. TMC has actively mobilized and empowered women. Prime Minister Modi’s taunting intonation – Didi. Oh Didi – won’t earn him much fandom from the women who have crossed 49% of the total registered voters; and is more likely to repel them from voting for the BJP.
The BJP’s campaign in Bengal has visibly lost steam in the recent weeks. The Rath Yatra received a lukewarm response, there are poor turnout at the rallies, leading to cancellations of public appearances by the BJP heavyweights. Rallies by the UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath witnessed more empty chairs than people. The BJP has to regularly bring in people from outside the state, in buses and trains, to fill the rallies by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Public spats and farcical chaos happened in terms of BJP’s ticket distribution, along with violence by their own aggrieved workers, who vandalized their own offices.
Many of the campaigning BJP candidates are getting accosted by angry people who are asking about price rise, sale of PSUs, the state of economy and why India has added more poor people in the world last year than any other country on earth; and they have no answer, but to run.
All this present a sorry picture of the Bengal BJP unit that is already divided in 3 or 4 factions, with multiple Chief Ministerial aspirants.
Insiders have leaked information about the disunity – marked by undercurrents of hostility – in the BJP camp between the old guard and the new recruits from the TMC-Left-Congress ‘discredited sphere’, and between the predominantly Bengali-speaking and the Hindi-speaking groups.
All this don’t inspire confidence that the BJP will be able to provide a cohesive cabinet and a local state leader who will be able to unite the warring factions, which presently only answer to likes of Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP President J.P. Nadda and Bengal in-charge Kailash Vijayvargiya, who are all – like the TMC says – bohiragotos or ‘outsiders’, who don’t know ‘Bengal’s history and culture’.
All the gaffes by the national BJP leaders only make them appear more like bohiragotos: the statue of Vidyasagar being smashed during a rally by Amit Shah in Kolkata; Home Minister Amit Shah garlanding a statue of a general tribal leader thinking it to be of the legendary freedom fighter Birsa Munda; J. P Nadda saying that Tagore was born in Santiniketan and referring Swami Vivekananda as ‘Vivekananda Thakur’; and the Prime Minister Narendra Modi trying to look like Tagore and making an embarrassing hash of Bengali language repeatedly, leading to a mountain of parodies and social media memes.
Bohiragoto or ‘outsider’ narrative has become a powerful rallying point. Bohiragoto doesn’t mean ‘non-bengalis’; it means those – even Bengalis – who haven’t grown-up or lived or worked in the state.
For over four decades, either for good or for bad, the decisions about Bengal have been taken in Bengal, for Bengal and by the people of Bengal. The general sentiment says, this tradition, or the way of life, should go on, without Bengal having to bend before Nagpur, Delhi or Ahmedabad, or to be run – via remote control – from the ‘outside’.
Even an Islamophobic high school friend of mine – who is an ardent follower of the Modi cult – is caught up between his Hindu and Bengali identities. He apprehends that the BJP might thrust a ‘non-Bengali Hindi-speaking outsider’ or a ‘Bengali from outside the state’ as the Chief Minister of Bengal and introduce cow politics that will destroy rural income and the flourishing leather industry at Bantala. He says he will be voting for the TMC; many others in the WhatsApp group of ‘Modi-Cult Followers’ will be doing the same.
A history buff reminded me that it was Lord Curzon who introduced communal politics in 1905 to partition Bengal on religious lines; not for the stated reason to govern better, but to weaken its growing anti-colonial nationalism.
The partition had to be overturned in 1911, but the British had to save themselves from the escalating revolutionary heat in Kolkata. Pistols were being fired and bombs were being thrown by the underground groups. So the British changed the colonial capital to New Delhi, and moved North for better safety.
He finished off by saying, ‘BJP has re-introduced the divisive communal politics in Bengal just like Lord Curzon, and its consequences can be unimaginable.’
A ‘non-Bengali’ friend – who thinks ahead and worries too much – created a fable: ‘If the villagers are troubled by some native jackals; and to get rid of them, they consider opening the gates of the land to non-native hyenas, then they will be making a foolish mistake.’
He also added that many from the younger generations of his Marwari community don’t want the BJP in Bengal. ‘Not only because they have suffered due to Modi’s economic policies. They also don’t want to become the collateral damage to the subsequent tensions which will get inevitably sparked off, as the victorious BJP will arrogantly and forcibly assert its own Hindi-Hindutva-Heartland culture over the culture of Bengal.’
‘We know from the liberation struggle of Bangladesh, how the Bengalis are protective of their language and culture. We don’t want a new cultural warfare in West Bengal that may blow out of proportion and spark the revolutionary zeal once again, and give birth to new groups.’
‘In that case, we will looked upon as prime enemies and come in the direct line of fire. We will be forced to leave Bengal that we don’t want to do. Bengal has been the promised land; it’s an auspicious place for us. We are happy here.’
Another friend speaks on similar lines. She had voted for the BJP – ‘for the first and only time’ – in the 2019 (General Elections), because she was ‘suddenly carried away by the frenzy of war’.
Now she says, ‘If the RSS-BJP wins here, then they will treat Bengal as the Huns treated Taxila. They look at Bengal as enemy territory and a place of communists, feminists, Muslims and anti-nationals; they will act like conquistadors, and things will turn really ugly.’
When a group of RSS-BJP supporters – all wearing saffron T-Shirts – landed up in the iconic Coffee House in Kolkata, they not only appeared feeling out of place, but they also behaved like a group that has come to occupy, siege and teach the poor natives about the ‘new boss in town’.
The macho grand-standing backfired. They were shooed away by the locals of College Street and other customers, who cried out a slogan that touched a raw nerve, ‘Tomader bukey Nathuram, amader bukey Khudiram’ / ‘Nathuram in your hearts, Khudiram in ours.’
(Civil society has engaged itself wholeheartedly in regard to the Bengal Assembly Election 2021)
This time around, there has also been an unprecedented surge in civil society initiatives to warn the people about the dangers posed by the BJP.
#NoVoteToBJP campaign – floated by the people’s platform Bengal Against Fascist RSS-BJP in January 2021 – has become popular and has gone pan-India, with the visiting leaders from the Farmers’ Protest, also using the phrase to tell people to shun the BJP, during their well-attended Mahapanchayats in Bengal.
Several stars from the Bengali film, theatre and music industry came together in a viral music video – Nijeder Mawtey, Nijeder Gaan / Our own song, in our own way – that is more like a resistance anthem against the approaching footsteps of fascism and the divisive politics of hatred.
The music band Fiddler’s Green released a superb composition and an accomplished video – Dike Dike Hao Hushiar / Beware, Everywhere – about the dangers posed by communalism to society, with soothing music and powerful lyrics:
“Master conman, champion scamster, rioting and hate is his art,
Starting fights on caste and religion, he tears the nation apart.
Now he wants to capture and sell Bengal, then leave us high and dry,
There’s still time, watch out, beware. Stay alert to hold your head up high.”
The civil society messaging has been so effective that Dilip Ghosh, the BJP President of West Bengal and a Member of Parliament, got visibly irked and declared, ‘Intellectuals are a burden to society’. He also warned artists to avoid doing politics, otherwise he will crush them. His comments were met with anger, laughter and derision.
‘Khela hobey’ – a war cry – and ‘Banglar meye’ – ‘Bengal wants its own daughter’ – campaigns by the TMC have become immensely popular and have created a positive resonance. The photo of smiling Didi looks at you from the billboards, wherever you go in Kolkata, or in Bengal.
Mamata Banerjee – with a fractured heel bone, but an unbreakable spirit – remains the tallest leader in Bengal, by a mile, from any party. The BJP hasn’t been able to dent her popularity, her image and her trust-worthiness. Neither the BJP has been able to place a suitable leader to challenge her. Narendra Modi – sometimes placed as Dada by the BJP – won’t become the Chief Minister of Bengal. Leaders like Swapan Dasgupta or Dilip Ghosh or Suvendhu Adhikari or Mukul Roy or Babul Supriyo cannot come even close to the overwhelming popularity Didi enjoys, as the most preferred leader for the Chief Minister’s post, in Bengal.
In Didi’s rallies, one still hears the revolutionary songs of struggle and idealism – Laraai, Hamla and Heyi samhalo dhan ho – where she joins in with clapping, while stirring the crowd with passion, enthusiasm, energy and joy.
Mamata Banerjee has repeatedly said that defeating the BJP in Bengal is necessary to defeat the BJP at the national level. She is right. India faces the ominous push by the BJP to make India, a one-party state, and two simultaneous neo-colonies of the Hindutva National Order and the Neoliberal World Order.
Bengal, as a ground of resistance against both, cannot possibly be lost, before the big battle of 2024.
(Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee or Didi – even with a fracture – is poised well to outrun her opponents and secure the gold medal)
In an article published by The Wire in 2017, I had written a dramatic line: ‘If Bengal falls, India will fall.’
Now it’s time; Bengal has arrived at the crossroad of destiny. The test and the challenge are upon us. The people will have to choose between two distinct paths: one of Bengaltattva and the other of Hindutva.
But this election is not all about Bengal. The psychological ripple from the election-splash will spread all over India. The result will either enthuse or demoralize the opposition in the country.
It will signal whether India can return as a sovereign democratic state, following the ideals of the Constitution, with full control of its own socio-economic and foreign policies, as an independent Asian nation and a proud leader of the Global South, or sink further, and even more catastrophically, as a theocratic neoliberal vassal state, run ruthlessly and exploitatively, by a tiny group of comprador elites – in politics, media and business – aligned to the Empire.
So the election is not just about the soul of Bengal, it is about the soul of India. It’s about democracy, constitution, freedom, sovereignty and honor.
I am finishing this essay after the first three phases of the Bengal Election have been completed, and will publish this third and the final part of the series, before the last five phases are over, where the pro-Bengal secular parties are better placed than the BJP.
But from 8 – 29th April, a lot can happen, or can be engineered to happen: mainly, riots and killings, aimed to spark communalism, polarization and nationalism. So things can tilt marginally, but they won’t move away drastically, from the overall verdict that has become well pronounced, after the first three phases of the election.
The BJP has struggled to find local people from all the Assembly Segments to fill the role of booth workers. The Election Commission – that Didi often says is controlled by the Home Minister Amit Shah – has changed the rules, and has allowed the BJP to bring people from outside the local areas, to fill its requirement of booth workers.
It has been alleged that the CRPF has intimidated the people in certain booths to vote for the BJP, whose workers also tried to prevent some villagers from voting. Mamata Banerjee said that ‘BJP-CRPF’ has come to the state and is following the instructions of Amit Shah. She instructed the people by saying, ‘If the central forces create trouble anywhere, women must gherao them while other group goes to vote.’
The instances of CRPF allegedly helping the BJP have occurred in various places, while most of the Assembly segments have witnessed high-percentage voting – in the range of 80-85% – because the people are firmly determined to vote in such a critical election with unprecedented consequences.
EVMs have also been found in a private car of a BJP leader in Assam and outside the house of a TMC leader in Bengal. This has added a lot of fresh fuel to the debates about the sanctity of the election process.
From the various reliable inputs from first three phases, I have come to conclude that there is no big wave in this election. There is no grass-root demand for change / poriborton. The BJP has done much worse than expected, especially in the constituencies they had done well in 2019. And Didi is definitely winning at Nandigram.
However, there are several strong undercurrents which vary in different regions and in different assembly segments whose final effect is impossible to decipher. Several seats can potentially offer unexpected surprises in the final tally.
But the dominant sense is of silence, that I interpret – rightly or wrongly – as the silence of quiet resolve: to do exactly what is required, as calmly as possible, to stop the charge – and the potential carnage – of Hindutva in Bengal.
I will also mention that the exit polls – which will flood your screens after the last phase – cannot be trusted. In 2016 Assembly Election, a close fight was predicted. But it proved to be an no contest. The TMC did much better than anticipated, and secured over two-third majority.
So by considering everything, I will take the plunge and make predictions about the various scenarios – starting from the most likely to the least likely – which may transpire on May 2, and thereafter.
AITC / TMC will win comfortably, and go beyond the danger of getting its government destabilized by the BJP through horse-trading and engineered defections.
For this to happen the TMC has to win at least 160-180 seats out of 294; which is also most likely to occur. Mamata Banerjee is already alerting voters about the possible ‘traitors’ who might get bought by the BJP after the election. So she is asking for ‘more than 200 seats’ to make it impossible for the BJP to use ‘their money power’.
Contrary to all the media hysteria, the BJP won’t do well as expected. The BJP’s average margin of fall in Bengal from the General to the Assembly elections in the recent decade or so, is about 33%. That means its vote share will naturally come down from 40.2% to about 27%.
But it might also witness a sharper drop – ranging downwards towards minus 22% – in line with the other states where the BJP’s vote share have fallen off the cliff in the Assembly Elections. In that case, the BJP will finish between 27% to 18% of the total vote share.
So the BJP’s seats will around 60 or less.
Sanjukta Morcha (Left-Congress-ISF) will do better than expected, and might as well pip the BJP, to become the main opposition alliance in Bengal. So it exceeds 60 seats.
This will be the ideal situation for Bengal. It will retain the space of resistance against the central regime. This will provide the much required boost for the opposition in India, and will help to galvanize the forces before 2024.
AITC / TMC clearly wins, but stays within the range of 150-160 seats; thereby also becoming vulnerable to be toppled in the coming months or a year, through defections.
The BJP doesn’t drop a lot of vote share and secures a sizeable number of seats to emerge as the main opposition party in Bengal.
Modi-Shah’s BJP has no respect for people’s verdict; so it will engineer defections – by hook or by crook – to come to power in Bengal.
(The Sangh Parivar has been wrongly placing Bengal as its ‘spiritual home’ / ‘Hindutva origin’ / ‘root of Hindu nationalism’. It’s a devious misinterpretation of history; either due to ignorance / misunderstanding or as a ploy to infiltrate Bengal by calling it the ‘natural homeland’ of an ideology that Bengal has opposed, despised and rejected.
But one of the several goals to capture Bengal is to add to the tally of the Rajya Sabha seats which are required to change the constitution, and establish the Hindutva Rashtra – masquerading as the Hindu Rashtra – supplemented by the Central Vista makeover in New Delhi and the inauguration of a new Parliament in 2024, and to coincide with RSS’s centenary in 2025)
But in this scenario, the BJP doesn’t get enough seats to come close to the striking distance and fails to successfully engineer the number of defections required. So it stays well under 100 seats, but keeps the TMC government on a razor’s edge.
Sanjukta Morcha (Left-Congress-ISF) gains, but doesn’t gain enough, and finishes third in seats and in vote share.
This will establish that Bengal has truly swerved to the right; 2019 wasn’t a fluke or an aberration or a rigged election; Hindutva has really succeeded to snatch away a lot of ground from Bengaltattva; and is here to stay for a long time.
The chance of having a Chief Minister of Bengal from Sanyukta Morcha (Congress-Left-ISF) is actually higher than from the BJP.
If TMC falls short of the magic figure of 147, the secular pro-Bengal parties will unite to keep the BJP away from power. A senior journalist informed me – during a chat at a café – that few names have already been floated in case of an ‘emergency’. And a consensus candidate – either from the TMC or the Sanjukta Morcha – will be found to replace Mamata Banerjee as the Chief Minister of Bengal.
If this comes to pass, it will also mean that the BJP would have won at least 100-120 seats, which is in the realm of most improbable, going by the current realities.
In this scenario, Hindutva will grow more powerful. The hope of reducing the BJP to under 15% vote share in Bengal will be dashed. There will be increased polarization and social tensions. All the main secular parties – TMC, Congress and the Left – will need to come together next time around to defeat the BJP.
This will also mark a period of severe political instability in the state. There will be increased distrust and factionalism. A constant ‘behind the scene’ war will be going on, which will adversely affect the quality of governance and overall development work.
This unpleasant scenario will drastically hurt the prospects of the opposition parties in 2024 General Election.
The chances of the BJP crossing 147 seats is most improbable – fantastical – but not impossible. When the vote share can jump from 10.2% to 40.2%, anything can happen; that too in a time when ‘reason, sense and logic’ are losing out to the ‘absurd, senseless and unreal’.
But the BJP won’t cross the line this time. No way can the party improve upon his 2019 performance under the changed circumstances. If they do, many won’t accept the result; and there will be chances of mass protest, social unrest and even anarchy.
People have become well aware of the partisan behavior of the Election Commission of India (ECI). Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Yadav has alleged recently in a tweet, ‘In Bihar elections, ECI itself rigged elections & results partnering with the bureaucracy on behest of BJP & JDU.’
India is no longer a honest democracy; and there are doubts whether it is a democracy at all. Hence, ‘all eyes on the EVMs’ is also a growing feeling in Bengal; the long election in 8 phases will require super-vigilance from the secular parties.
There is also a nagging premonition that is stalking a lot of people, after witnessing all the fake news, fake polls, staged TV debates and biased national-level ‘ground reports’ which are claiming a sure-shot victory for the BJP in Bengal. This could just be a strategy to influence the self-hating / self-loathing undecided Bengal / Bengali voters to swing towards the proclaimed ‘winners’. Or more ominously, this could be the ‘predictive programming’ before the EVM surprise.
The Election Commission mustn’t fail to uphold the integrity of the process, and the results must reflect the actual will of the people. It is unfortunate, this actually needs to be said and hoped for; but one also knows, nothing can be taken for granted anymore. But Bengal won’t accept a fantastical result that easily; there will be consequences.
So a straight-forward BJP victory promises to unleash a period of chaos, horror and shock in Bengal. It is not going to be pretty.
(Will Bengal and Kolkata remain like before or change irrevocably after May 2 2021?)
Narendra Modi promises a harvest of mangoes, but sows seeds of cactus. More Modi succeeds, more India fails. More power is acquired by Modi, more powerless the regime becomes to do any good.
We have witnessed the above phenomenon from 2014, and mainly from 2016.
Hence, one can assert with confidence, the Hindutva-IMF-Oligarchy coterie is not equipped to usher in ‘Sonar Bangla’, or the Fourth Great Surge in Bengal’s history.
History teaches us that during the previous Three Surges in Bengal, there was societal harmony, without which no collective progress can happen. It was a time of relative peace, when the rulers weren’t at any major wars with powerful external enemies, neither they were at war, with their own people. An atmosphere of tolerance, openness and pluralism was in the air. Culture was allowed to flourish; there was spiritual vitality. Wealth was created and distributed, not hoarded by a tiny group of elites. When that started to happen, Bengal became weak, got raided and became colonized; and lost her honor and her freedom.
In a fair fight, Bengaltattva – with its eight luminous aspects – cannot be blown away by Hindutva. What took over a thousand years to develop cannot crumble due to a sudden gust of money, muscle and propaganda. Many have joined the BJP due to financial rewards, and not necessarily because they have been thoroughly convinced by the Hindutva narrative. There is considerable hollow support for the BJP in certain spheres; but meager genuine belief.
Going by all that I have mentioned in this third part of the essay, I sincerely feel, the reign of deception won’t eclipse Bengal this time around.
However, even if the BJP gets pushed down to the third position, by a combination of gains by the TMC and the Congress-Left-ISF coalition, even then, the secular democratic forces – along with the civil society – will have to begin the necessary work to recover minds from the haunting of Hindutva. A lot people need to be exorcised from the collective possession, and their humane souls need to be set free.
The election results – if truly free and fair – will reveal the actual level of penetration of the Hindutva narrative and how much self-loathing it has managed to insert in the Bengali minds who still think West Bengal as ‘Waste Bengal’, without knowing that only 6 states contribute over 52% of India’s total GDP, and West Bengal – that is actually experiencing more inward migration, than outward – is one of them.
They are the same people who are consuming the daily diet of BJP’s IT cell propaganda, and are prepared to culturally transform themselves into ‘Hindustani Bengalis’, and get willfully converted by the preachers and the missionaries of ‘Hindi-Hindustan-Hindutva’.
Narratives about religion, caste, false victimhood, manufactured threats, delusional fears, existential crisis, jingoistic nationalism, fake news and misplaced priorities need to be countered effectively on a face-to-face basis. The amnesia about Bengaltattva must be overcome. This is the prime challenge ahead. To remind people about themselves, and who they really are.
Time is also right for Bengal to take off to the next level during the era of the new Asian Century. It is the ideal moment to start dreaming of the Fourth Great Surge in Bengal’s history.
But we need to raise ourselves for it; better our knowledge, live our values, improve our conduct and sharpen our performance.
Many crucial issues need to be solved. The unconscionable inequalities in income and in opportunities, and the lack of basic infrastructure, which plague our people and their lives, even after seven decades of Independence, must be sincerely addressed with utmost urgency. There has to be greater representation from the Namashudras and other communities in the political and public life. It is also imperative to introduce a new way of doing politics that abjures violence, arrogance, elitism and corruption that has miffed so many of our rural folks. The widening fault-lines need to be lessened so that they cannot be exploited by the ‘outsiders’, who have arrived to conquer, but not to serve.
The Fourth Great Surge can only be dreamt of, planned and executed by those who are deeply moved and inspired by Bengaltattva. The next government of Bengal along with the members of the civil society can start taking the first steps towards socio-economic revitalization and cultural rejuvenation, while identifying the definitive goals to pursue as a common collective.
The best way to galvanize and unite people is to offer something more: a dream to dream about and a vision that will inspire. Great things can be done together; we need to believe in this, once again.
I am convinced that Bengaltattva will win on 2 May 2021, and Hindutva will be defeated. However, it will only be the first victory, in the initial battle, of a long war ahead.
We should prepare for the long haul, and for the General Election of 2024, when the cyclical chance to liberate India will revolve back into position.
We cannot afford to fail that time. Even then, it will take several years, to heal from the crippling damage caused by the reign of deception, and put India back on the path of peace, progress and prosperity, with a better mind, a deeper soul, a truer character, a greater vision and a brighter destiny.
(This concludes the exclusive 17000 word essay in three parts. Thank you for reading)
(The author gives permission to any publication that wishes to re-publish / translate this essay or any part of it. However, the original online publisher has to be mentioned, and a link to this essay has to be provided)
Devdan Chaudhuri is the author of the novel ‘Anatomy of Life’ published by Picador India. He writes short stories, opinion pieces and essays on politics and culture which have appeared in various publications. Apart from fiction and non-fiction, he also writes poetry. His poems have featured in ‘Modern English Poetry by Younger Indians’ published by Sahitya Akademi, India’s National Academy of Letters. He is also one of the contributing editors of The Punch Magazine: India’s monthly online magazine of Art, Culture and Literature. He lives in Kolkata.