In an election campaign that has been marked by vitriolic exchanges across all Indian states, the happenings in Bengal can still be considered the most dramatic and even diabolic. The way the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) has targeted the BJP makes it clear that the saffron party has indeed become a major force to reckon with in a state where it has had historical difficulty in making inroads.
The West Bengal poll results would be the most eagerly awaited as the exchanges between the TMC and the BJP have carried an extra edge. Last time around, the BJP created personal history by opening its account by winning two seats out of the 42 Parliamentary constituencies in the state.
Since then, it is said, the BJP has been steadily rising, and its performances in the 2016 state elections and local civic polls have been pretty impressive. So much so, the Left parties, the traditional political behemoths in the state, are now said to be in a situation where they have to pick up the crumbs left behind by the TMC and the BJP.
The BJP has been systematic in its approach, and was never in a hurry in the eastern zone, say longtime political watchers. It began earnestly in the late 1990s, and it went about its task with the sincerity of a monk, says a Bengali journalist. "It created party structures and also began working for the scheduled castes and tribals' welfare, and this helped the party to establish a grassroots network across the state."
People were cut up with the rampant trade unionism of the 1970s and the 80s and also the Left wing goondaism. The BJP tapped into this groundswell of displeasure for Left politics, and also began to build upon the traditions of Bengal. "While Navratri and Durga puja were always well known and widely celebrated, the quintessential Bengali culture and functions have a unique flavour, but Communism did not impart any pride to local customs," says the journalist. The rise of the BJP is undoing this damage.
The 27% Muslim population has mostly sided with the Left then and the TMC now. These two formations, to retain the minority vote, have transgressed quite a few lines. The government ban on the immersion of idols during Durga Puja because it coincided with Muharram is an egregious case in point. This showed that Mamata would go to any distance to appease the Muslims.
Apart from appealing to the Bengali pride in the traditions of the land, the BJP also began to make politically smart strategic moves. It never hid its Hindu roots and it was also not averse to take on the TMC goons on the streets — the place where much of Bengal's politics happens. It also went about exposing the TMC's duplicity in the chit funds scams with relentless gusto.
With the Left dislodged from power since 2011, there is also plenty of discontent brewing among its cadre. The BJP tapped into it and has been slowly drawing its folks to its fold. To win the support of the ideologically committed Left cadre is a major task, but that is what the BJP has managed to pull off in a few places. Its candidate in Malda North is a former CPI-M MLA from Habibpur, Khagen Murmu. This is seen as a major political coup in the State.
The Left fears that many of its cadre have voted/would vote for the BJP because that is the only way they could stop the TMC in its tracks. The TMC also understands this reality and that is why it is going after the BJP folks. The animosity with which Mamata has been attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally is reflective of how much of a threat that the BJP is for the TMC.
The BJP of course has a long way to go before it can feel totally confident about its prospects in Bengal. But it has done all the hard work. Some analysts say that the BJP stands to get a happy surprise in the state. If indeed it happens, the efforts of over two decades would have come to fruition finally.