The high-stakes battle in West Bengal 2021
West Bengal seems to be garnering disproportionate attention in the upcoming assembly elections, though there are three other states (Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam) and a Union Territory (Puducherry), which are also poll-bound. What explains the focus on only Bengal?
To answer this, we have to take a closer look at the battle for Bengal. Recently, news channels played a clip of an elderly woman from North 24 Parganas on a loop. Showing her injured face, she says in the clip, “I was beaten by those people. I kept denying it, but they kept on beating me. I am unable to breathe now. My whole body is in great pain.” The old lady’s trauma was palpable. Who had done this?
To answer this, her son Gopal Majumdar is seen in the next shot, himself injured. He says, “They were 10–12 people. They started beating me as soon as they arrived. When my mother came out of the house on the hearing commotion, they also started beating her. Other people in the house were also beaten. The reason? I am a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) worker. Those who came to beat us were Trinamool Congress (TMC) people.” The reporter asks, “Did you recognise someone?” Gopal answers that it was too dark for him to see anyone. But his answer was enough for tensions to erupt.
The BJP put up posters of the elderly lady’s injured face all over the state with the caption — “Isn’t she the daughter of Bengal?” Mamata Banerjee, who describes herself as the daughter of Bengal, had said a few days ago that only Bengalis would rule Bengal, not outsiders. The poster was a rebuttal to this.
News channels were delighted. This footage had high traction and enough to sustain several high-decibel debates among party spokesmen. Then came the TMC with a claim that the woman sustained her injuries due to domestic violence and had nothing to do with politics. The police were also in agreement. Family members were all over the media giving out sound bytes. Two people claiming to be her grandson and daughter-in-law asserted that this was a case of domestic violence. The BJP was trying to project itself as gender-sensitive while the TMC sought to establish that the elderly lady and her son were egged on by the saffron party to make the allegations.
As for the local police force, the BJP has already claimed that it is acting as an agent of the state government. The TMC counters the charge by suggesting that the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax department are all caged parrots of the Centre.
Let us recall the case of the Kolkata police commissioner, Rajiv Kumar. Following an attack on the convoy and vehicle of BJP’s national president JP Nadda, the Union home ministry had recalled three Indian Police Service (IPS) officers from the Bengal cadre. This was a controversial decision, but the fight did not end here. Recently, ED issued a summons to the sister-in-law and wife of chief minister (CM) Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee, a Member of Parliament from Diamond Harbour. The TMC sees this as vendetta politics.
New controversies spring up every day in Bangabhumi, all of which provide much grist to the political mill. This will continue for the next few weeks. The BJP is going all out to win this election and the CM is fighting tooth and nail to ensure that she does not concede an inch. Both sides seem evenly matched. No one seems above fabricating news. In all the bitterness and competition, facts have fallen by the wayside.
Indians love theatrics. But the political drama playing out in Bengal has crossed even our somewhat elastic limits. This is why Bengal is the cynosure of all eyes. The other states are no less important but the battles in these states are much less dramatic. However, even in the other three states, substantive issues are not being discussed. Rather, it is the usual mudslinging. Photos of top BJP leaders dining with farmers or Dalits have made headlines. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has been pictured doing push-ups in Tamil Nadu. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has been photographed in close conversation with women tea workers in Assam. Will any of this bring about an improvement in the condition of farmers? Will Dalits become part of the mainstream? Will Assamese women in the tea gardens get better working conditions? Will push-ups better the plight of the malnourished and dispossessed?
In West Bengal, one TMC slogan is “Khela Hobe” (game on). The BJP picked it up and ran with it. Now the Congress and Left activists are repeating this. The game is truly on. But it will be just a game if it is stripped of all morality. It becomes a mockery of the people’s aspirations. But that is the way things are going at the moment.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan The views expressed are personal