The BJP’s Bengal offensive | HT Editorial
With home minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s second most powerful leader and organiser par excellence, Amit Shah, visiting West Bengal over the weekend, the battle for the state has truly begun. Elections are scheduled for early summer next year. This is the one eastern state where the BJP was unable to make deep inroads till 2019. This is despite the fact that the founder of the BJP’s earlier avatar, Bharatiya Jana Sangh, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee was from the state; it is despite the fact that the state was witness to Partition and remains demographically mixed with a substantial Muslim population — often a ripe enough basis for the BJP to make a splash. But the three-decade long rule of the Left and then the decade-old regime of Mamata Banerjee kept the party on the fringes.
But not anymore. The 2019 election result — the BJP won 18 of the 42 seats in the state, emerging as the clear opposition to Ms Banerjee — provided momentum to the party. It is now relying on a set of tested techniques to expand its hold. It is banking on anti-incumbency against Trinamool — and, remember, the BJP has proved to be an effective challenger to governments in various states. It is banking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity. It is relying on identity politics — stoking the resentment of Hindus against what it alleges to be Ms Banerjee’s “politics of appeasement” and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act to win over those Hindu voters with links east of the border. It is banking on a set of defectors from the Trinamool who are deeply rooted in the state — from Mukul Roy to now Suvendu Adhikari. And it is leveraging its careful micro-caste politics within a state where various sub-castes have often felt underrepresented.
All of this is happening at a time when Ms Banerjee is on the defensive. Her control of the State apparatus and her organisational machine give her an advantage. But her reliance on political consultant Prashant Kishor has antagonised older leaders; her governance, especially the handling of Cyclone Amphan, has raised questions; and she is struggling to retain both her Muslim base while assuring Hindus that she is also committed to their interests. Ms Banerjee is a political fighter and cannot be underestimated, but the Trinamool has reason to be concerned about 2021.