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Opinion | As BJP gains ground in Bengal, Mamata must act responsibly

With the BJP having demolished the AITC’s claim of invincibility in 2019, the latter seems to have entered a phase of political haemorrhaging with mass defection of its leaders and workers to the former

editorials Updated: May 29, 2019 20:53 IST

Hindustan Times
Trinamool Congress supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at a rally, South 24 Parganas, 2019
Trinamool Congress supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at a rally, South 24 Parganas, 2019(ANI file photo)
         

During the course of the Lok Sabha election campaign, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee often referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as “Expiry PM” to suggest that he was about to lose power. As irony would have it, it is the Bharatia Janata Party (BJP), which can use the expiry prefix for Ms Banerjee now. The All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) has lost 12 Lok Sabha seats between 2014 and 2019, and the BJP, with 18 seats, a gain of 16, is only three percentage points behind the AITC in terms of vote share.

Even though assembly elections in West Bengal are only due in 2021, the existing political culture in the state, where political activity is symptomatic with complete local domination aided by a nexus of money and muscle to deny even basic democratic space to the opposition, is likely to keep both society and politics in a state of flux.

When Ms Banerjee ousted the 34-year-old Left government in the state in 2011, there was large scale violence against Left activists. This was also accompanied by a defection of grass root level workers of the Left to the AITC. After the BJP pulled off a surprise victory in the Tripura elections, nearly one-third of the seats in the West Bengal panchayat elections held in 2018 did not even see a contest (read opposition was not allowed to file nominations) in the state. It was this subversion of democracy which provided a big boost to the BJP in the state.

With the BJP having demolished the AITC’s claim of invincibility in 2019, the latter seems to have entered a phase of political haemorrhaging with mass defection of its leaders and workers to the former.

Can Ms Banerjee stage a fightback? Will she become a lame duck chief minister like her predecessor, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, was between 2009 and 2011? Will the Left continue to stay with the BJP to settle scores with the AITC, or will its leadership argue for an alliance with the AITC in the name of defending secularism? These are questions which cannot be answered today.

However, there is a much bigger responsibility which Ms Banerjee, as the current chief minister, must deliver on. Leaders of the BJP are openly celebrating the party’s gains in the state as Hindu consolidation. Thirty per cent of the state’s population is Muslim. The government must do everything it can to prevent any serious communal clash in the state.

First Published: May 29, 2019 19:32 IST

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