West Bengal is not Kerala. BJP was naive to expect peace after TMC victory
TThe Ministry of the Interior has request West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar for a report on the law and order situation in the state, which witnessed violence following the Trinamool Congress victory in the Assembly elections . He had earlier research state government report but received no response. Several houses and shops belonging to workers and leaders of the Bharatiya Janata party were reportedly attacked, so much so that the governor advised Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, shortly after the swearing-in ceremony, to deal with urgency of the issue of violence raging after the election in Bengal. .
Ideally, one of the first things Mamata Banerjee should have done after taking charge of the state is to forget and forgive the immediate past and fight against the biggest adversary, the Covid-19 pandemic. But his first decision, as claimed by Governor Dhankar, was to do not send any report about violence to him. This clearly indicates his preference for adopting a confrontationist stance against the Center. And the BJP should have seen it coming, given the acrimonious election, which has become an unfortunate norm in Indian politics.
A number of the BJP candidates who contested this election were new faces and were not fully geared towards the particular “Bengal political culture”. It was therefore naive of them to expect a peaceful situation after the election in West Bengal. Many of them quickly returned to the safety and comfort of their homes in Delhi or elsewhere. Some of them are active on social media and condemned the continued violence in places that were their constituencies about a week ago.
They should have stayed behind and provided their constituents and supporters with protection and security. It is not too late, even now, for these “parachuted leaders” to rush to their constituencies and be among the people. But many of them seem content to hold dharnas outside West Bengal and monopolize the limelight.
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The culture of political violence in Bengal
West Bengal is used to dealing with authority issues in politics through muscle strength and violence. The pre-Partition riots, the Noakhali incident and post-independence violence are some of the spots in Bengal’s past. Before the Left Front seized Bengal for more than three decades from the 1977 Assembly election, the Congress Party was the victim of extreme violence at the hands of the Communist Party.
Organized attacks on the landlord class, congressional leaders and workers in the late 1960s and 1970s prompted even then Chief Minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray to leave the capital of Kolkata (then Calcutta), thus ceding political space to the Marxists. The central leadership of Congress welcomed him into the Union Cabinet. The party did not retaliate and did not come to the rescue of its workers. As a result, the Communists practically had a free run in Bengal, which they ruled for the next 34 years without interruption.
What followed was a repeat of history with parties changing positions. This time it was the turn of the Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee to take to the streets and do to the Communists what they did in Congress. Nandigram has become a battleground, politically and literally. Nandigram was the scene of violent clashes during the agitation to block the establishment of a chemical hub. In 2008, the CPM decision was beaten and the TMC tasted one of its first electoral victories. Mamata Banerjee, who cut her teeth in politics in Nandigram, led the street fight and came to power in 2011. Ironically, the same Nandigram rejected her this time, electing BJP candidate Suvendu Adhikari, who until last year was the deputy of TMC.
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But West Bengal is not Kerala
The violence in Bengal is reminiscent of the violent clashes and revenge killings between CPM and RSS cadres that rocked Kerala a few years ago. In the 1970s, a large number of CPM executives started to gravitate to RSS. CPM feared that an exodus would strengthen the political base of the BJP in Kerala. The battles launched, the bombings and the counter-murders have become a daily routine. Ironically, the ideological anchorages of senseless violence have not yielded political dividends for either the CPM or the BJP.
Unlike the situation in Kerala, the violence in West Bengal does not appear to have an ideological basis as the TMC does not profess strong political dogma like the Communist Party or the BJP. It started out as an alternative to Congress, which left political space for the PMO in the face of extreme violence. Mamata Banerjee, who ousted the CPM, would like to see the back of the BJP and not give the party political space in the state using violence as a strategy.
It might not work for her this time around, as BJP seems to be just as strong in any tricks she could consider. As a cadre-based party with a strong base of support from affiliated organizations and a charismatic leader in Narendra Modi, the BJP is far superior in political management. Furthermore, for a party that has grown from three seats in the State Assembly (2016) to 77 seats in five years (2021), dislodging the TMC is only a matter of time, a difficult task but not impossible.
All political parties, especially the TMC, must reign in their cadre and immediately end the cycle of violence in West Bengal.
West Bengal, as a border state, has many more milestones to reach than just adding to the list of poverty stricken states. Mamata Banerjee will have to change its attitude towards the Union government, as will the Center towards West Bengal to maintain the spirit of cooperative federalism.
Seshadri Chari is the former editor of “Organizer”. Opinions are personal.
(Edited by Prashant Dixit)
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