The more confrontationist the BJP, the easier it will be for Mamata to self-correct and get rid of bad elements
The battle for Bengal is now slowly but surely turning into an egoistic sabre-rattling between BJP’s miracle maker and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Trinamool Congress leader and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Even when the tide is in its favour with the recent 18-seat haul in the Lok Sabha and the mass-engineered defections of TMC councillors, the BJP seems to be relentless in its attack and has decided that confrontation can be the only rule of engagement till it storms the Vidhan Sabha. The elections may be over but the conquest of Bengal isn’t. While this does nothing much to an already hurt Mamata — she is no stranger to either being battered electorally or picking up the pieces again — it only shows the “change-maker” BJP as giving into the same temperamental churlishness and naked aggression that it accuses its opponent of. So although Didi had in all grace decided to honour democratic conventions and attend the Prime Minister’s oath-taking ceremony, the latter was in no mood to be surprised by her gesture or let her claim the moral high ground. Almost overnight, Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah invited families of the State’s workers allegedly killed in political violence. That provoked Mamata’s U-turn and she stayed away. Frankly, this politicisation of gesturalism by the BJP is also a pale imitation of Mamata’s own playbook. The BJP should realise that it could easily become hostage to Bengal’s existing political tropes and risk the freshness of its appeal. Modi’s open dare to Mamata during campaigning, claiming that 40 TMC MLAs would cross over after the polls, left no doubt in anybody’s mind that the BJP would undercut TMC with all that has come to define Bengal politics — control by money power, intimidation, coercion, violence and fear.
Truth be told, the BJP is treading the same path that Mamata has inherited from a well-entrenched machinery of the Left’s 34-year stint. Ironically, for all her struggle against the communist regime, she realised that her street agitations were no longer reaching the desired end till she coopted the Leftist strategies as her own. In effect, what changed in Bengal was ideology and its face but not the ritual and grammar through which it would be practised. That’s why the cadres of the defunct Left and Congress have moved en bloc with the next favourable trade winds so easily. But the real warning bell for Didi is the fact that for all her matriarchal outreach and grassroots intensity, Bengal’s voters have been accumulating anxieties about the expression of her power. The slow pace of industrialisation has made Bengal’s youth a happy shopping ground as hired operatives rather than stakeholders in a Rising India, with Modi being its ombudsman. The BJP has made inroads through polarisation, feeding on latent emotions among residents of a State that has seen two Partitions in history, and is trying to drive a wedge along religious lines. But it is Mamata, by bending backwards to Muslim votebanks, who has raised eyebrows about the need to do so in a State that is anyway attuned to cultural syncretism. But she still has hope if she self-corrects. She can stir up the popular pulse, still has the traditional and aspirational Kolkata in her grip (and the metropolis has a hold of the popular psyche) and match Modi measure for measure. In a way, the Lok Sabha results have also given her the pretext to rid herself of sordid elements, which she was compelled to retain for support base management. They turned to be a systemic drag instead. In a wake-up call, she has even clipped the wings of her own nephew, Abhishek Banerjee, and is completely recasting her team. No doubt, the BJP’s vote share has risen dramatically from 17 to 40 per cent, snapping up the Left and Congress pies. But the TMC has also grown from 39 to 43 per cent. This is a realistic testament to her iron-fisted implementation of welfarism and drive. Now only if she backs social development with aggressive economic development and creating jobs. And if Modi can spin a belief in the tea-seller’s ability to rise to the top, so can the slum-born Mamata, who was written off in the 2006 Assembly election but bounced back in 2009. And she is as great a story-teller of victimhood, one that the BJP is now foisting on her.
Courtesy: The Pioneer