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BJP’s rise in West Bengal: Did Mamata Banerjee underestimate the saffron sentiment?

While Mamata Banerjee has fought her entire life against the communist powers in the state, the BJP has risen to become her “unlikely” opponent

May 20, 2019 / 05:35 PM IST
Image: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri

Image: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri

Most exit polls predict that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is going to make significant inroads into West Bengal in the Lok Sabha elections 2019, if not outnumber the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the state.

According to the India Today-Axis My India exit poll, the BJP is expected to secure as many as 23 out of 42 seats in the state. The growth is especially noteworthy because the saffron party had won only two seats in the 2014 elections, when a Modi wave had swept the entire nation.

Today's Chanakya (18), Times Now VMR (11) and Republic-Jan Ki Baat (18-26) have projected similar results in favour of BJP in the state. News18-IPSOS seems to be an exception and has predicted that the BJP will get 3-5 seats and TMC will even better its position in the state with 36-38 seats.

West Bengal, which has a long tradition of keeping its political environment secular, is witnessing the rise of multiple groups and organisations that promise to work for the interest of the Hindu majority in the state. As a result, for the first time, elections were fought along communal lines.

BJP Bengal President Dilip Ghosh wanted 40-year-old Samir Naskar in the party, especially for his booth management skills. It is interesting to note that Naskar earlier used to do the same from the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which is a polar opposite of the BJP in terms of political ideology. Naskar was arrested in April for trying to stop a Muslim meeting in Pratapnagar, South 24 Parganas.


“Today, Hindus are supporting the BJP because of Mamata’s policy to appease the Muslims,” Naskar told The Hindu.

Naskar may be one of the several so-called left liberals who have shifted favour to the Narendra Modi-led party on the issue of "Hindutva".

The BJP has often accused the West Bengal chief minister of appeasing the minority sentiment and, thus, unfairly treating the Hindu majority. Banerjee, on the other hand, stresses on maintaining the secular environment in the state.

Mamata’s alleged “minority appeasement” has been the main issue in the BJP’s campaigning in West Bengal, if not the only one.

According to a local BJP leader in North 24 Parganas, development was not an issue this election. The party has been banking on the propaganda that promotes the “TMC means Muslim, BJP means Hindu” theory.

“This thought has entered everyone’s heads. Now it doesn’t matter if we make roads or we don’t make roads,” he told Scroll.

In Birbhum, Achintya Mal, who belongs to a Scheduled Caste group, explains why his village supports the BJP.

“We don’t like Mamata [Banerjee]. She only looks after Muslims, not Hindus. She even reads the namaz,” he told the publication.

Anjana and Debaprasad Mukherjee, a retired couple in Mamata’s fort Bhowanipore, have voted for the BJP even though they are satisfied with the Kolkata Municipal Corporation’s performance. They are not at all happy with Banerjee’s alleged favour for the Muslim population.

“Can a policeman ever ask a Muslim rider to wear a helmet?” Mukherjee told Scroll. “They are scared to even enter a Muslim neighbourhood.”

A recent article in The Times of India credits Banerjee for the rise of BJP in West Bengal. It says Banerjee was so busy trying to eliminate the Congress and the CPI(M) in the state that she made space for the saffron party.

“If Mamata had allowed political space for CPM and Congress to flourish in their limited pockets, it would have helped in splitting the anti-incumbency vote, allowing Trinamool to retain its dominance in the state,” the article clarifies.

CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury earlier said it was TMC which had facilitated the BJP-RSS to gain ground in West Bengal. And former West Bengal CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee echoed Yechury’s claim.

Bhattacharjee said both the TMC and the BJP had created a communal environment in the state. While he emphasised that people would have to take opportunistic “chowkidaars” off power, he wondered if it would be smart to choose the BJP over Mamata Banerjee’s party.

“Is it intelligent to jump from TMC’s frying pan to BJP’s fire?” Bhattacharjee told Ganashakti, the CPI(M) mouthpiece.


Mamata Banerjee, meanwhile, has dismissed poll-predictions in favour of the BJP. She has called it “gossip” and a game plan “to manipulate or replace thousands of EVMs”.

Nevertheless, if the actual results are even close to what the exit polls suggest, she has every reason to be worried as her chair will be at stake in 2021. While she has fought her entire life against the communist powers in the state, it is the “unlikely” opponent in the form of BJP that she should be concerned about right now.
Sounak Mukherjee Chief Sub Editor, Moneycontrol

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