could be on the threshold of a new chapter in its post-independence political history with the coming
polls likely to throw up a new political polarisation between the opposition BJP and the ruling Trinamool Congress, pushing the Left Front and Congress further into the margins.
The polarisation about which analysts have been speaking about in more clear-cut terms, particularly after the collapse of the seat-sharing talks between the Congress and the Left Front, could on a shallow reading seem abrupt, but to the more discerning observers it is the culmination of a process latent in the history of the state and long-term efforts to create a narrative for the political right wing.
With large streams of Hindu refugees arriving in West Bengal from East Pakistan after partition, and their numbers only getting bolstered during the Bangladesh War of Independence in 1971, Bengal was always a fertile ground for the Hindu right wing forces to spread their influence.
But the emergence of the Left parties, led by the Communist Party of India, and later the CPI-M, and their success in establishing their sway over the refugees spoiled the chances of the Hindutva forces to take wing.
The situation remained somewhat similar during the 34-year rule of the Left Front, but changed once the Trinamool came to power in 2011.
The decision of the Mamata Banerjee government to give monthly allowances to Imams and Muazzins created deep resentment among the Hindu middle-class against the government’s “selective benevolence” and created fissures in the society.
It was here that the RSS and other Sangh Parivar organisations stepped in and increased their footprint in the eastern state.
In 2015, the RSS disclosed before the media here that the number of its ‘shakas’ had doubled in West Bengal over the previous three years. Last year it said the membership strength in Bengal was one of the highest in the country.
The Banerjee government’s decision to halt the Durga Puja immersion on the day of the Muslim religious occasion of Muharram as a precautionary measure to prevent any breach of peace was exploited by the BJP and Parivar to raise a shrill cry against the government’s “anti-Puja stance”.
Soon after, the city and the districts were witness to grand Ram Navami rallies – many of them displaying tridents, swords and spears. Then followed the Hanuman Jayanti rallies.
The high-voltage observation of religious occasions, some of them till then not very popular in Bengal, gave a push to religious polarisation, that got further accentuated as the state saw a series of communal disturbances in places like Asansol, Kharagpur, Basirhat and Dhulagarh.
The BJP started making inroads, capitalising on the people’s deep disenchantment with the LF.
On the other hand, the BJP’s growth suited Banerjee, as the saffron party started chipping at the LF and Congress votebank, and drawing their leaders and supporters who wanted protection from the violence let loose on them allegedly by goons backed by the Trinamool. In the process, the opposition votes got divided.
There was, however, a temporary stop in the Left and Congress cadres gravitating to the BJP during the 2016 assembly polls, when the LF and the two parties entered into a tie-up.
But as the alliance came a cropper, the BJP’s pull increased and since then it has been coming up as the main challenger to the Trinamool Congress in a series of assembly and parliamentary by-polls and last year’s Panchayat elections.
A very significant happening since the 2016 assembly polls was the BJP’s success in roping in Mamata Banerjee’s close lieutenant Mukul Roy. A man highly-rated for his organisational skills and credited with having played a stellar role in ensuring the Trinamool’s stunning electoral successes, Roy was also a champion in causing defections from other parties.
He used the same skills after joining the BJP, where he has been made coordinator of the party’s election management committee.
Trinamool MPs Saumitra Khan and Anupam Hazra, the party’s four-time legislator Arjun Singh, Congress MLA Dulal Bar, Khagen Murmu of CPI-M, and Bharati Ghosh – a retired IPS officer once close to Mamata Banerjee – are among those who have crossed over to the saffron camp at Roy’s behest.
Khan, Hazra, Singh, Murmu and Ghosh have been nominated by the BJP to contest the Lok Sabha polls.
“Roy now is the one who is heard by our national leadership. In candidate selection, he has offset the other frontline state leaders. Apart from Roy’s chosen candidates, the RSS has had a considerable say in pushing the case of some of the candidates,” a BJP source said.
Roy’s prime backer is said to be Kailash Vijayvargiya, the party general secretary in charge of Bengal.
RSS pracharak Arvind Menon, the co-incharge for the state, and the party’s joint general secretary (organisation) Shiv Prakash are the other key men.
“The key decisions are now being mostly taken by these four leaders and then communicated to others,” the source said.
Bengal, with its 42 seats, has the third largest share in Lok Sabha after Uttar Pradesh (80) and Maharashtra (48).
The BJP, which had bagged 71 seats in UP in 2014, is unlikely to repeat the success following the formation of the BSP-SP alliance.
On the contrary, the party had won only two seats in Bengal five years back.
Having made considerable inroads in the state now, and with the Congress and LF rather weak, the BJP has high hopes from Bengal.
According to political analyst Bimal Shankar Nanda, the direct fight with the BJP in most of the constituencies, has the potential of making the Trinamool vulnerable in upto 23-24 seats.
In that way, the political battle for Delhi can be won or lost in Bengal.