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West Bengal Assembly Election 2021: Who Will Come Out On Top?

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After the Election Commission of India announced the dates for election in four states; Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and one Union Territory Puducherry, the states are in election mode now. Soon opinion polls are to follow gauging the public mood in all these elections-bound states.

The public will be eying the high-profile contest between Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, but then the contest in Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Puducherry also will be interesting because of many changed political dynamics. I intend to give a preview of the possible scenarios of each state as of the date before the opinion polls rolled in. In this process, I am focussing on West Bengal first.

Modi’s popularity could be one deciding factor in the West Bengal elections.

Frankly, West Bengal polity is at a crossroad now. Ask anyone about the possible result of the upcoming assembly poll, you will get a general answer that it’s very tough to call. The reasons are cited in many. For example, a recent survey finds that Narendra Modi’s popularity is 74% among West Bengal’s people.

That means West Bengal is one of the states where Narendra Modi enjoys huge popularity. On the other hand, Mamata Banerjee perhaps the tallest political person in West Bengal politics in the modern days. She’s known as a street fighter and even her extreme rivals admire her fighting spirit. So, who will win the upcoming election?

The Changes Of Political Dynamics

The 2016 assembly poll perhaps changed the political dynamics in West Bengal politics. The main opposition Left parties did a cardinal mistake in that assembly election allying with their national rival Congress. Incompatible alliances never yield good results, rather harm the larger parties. In the 2019 general election in Uttar Pradesh, SP and BSP made an alliance that is incompatible in nature because of their rival vote banks. The result is that BJP easily won 62 seats.

But then the dominant SP reduced to number three party retaining just five seats (in 2014 SP had 5 seats and BSP had 0 seats, whereas BSP won 10 seats and became a larger party than SP. In the 2018 Telangana Assembly election also there was an incompatible alliance between TDP and Congress. The result is that TDP was decimated and TRS got a fantastic mandate and Congress being a lesser partner of the alliance benefitted from getting more seats than TDP. There is a lot of examples that an incompatible alliance always helps the incumbent party and leads to the main opposition party suffers electoral losses.

Left and Congress are rivals in Kerala but allies in West Bengal. Alliance never works arithmetically rather chemistry is required. Thus, the idea that vote shares would add up is wrong. As there’s no other alternative, the disgruntled vote banks of the Left and Congress preferred the possible victor which was TMC then. It secured around 45% vote share, an increase of 6% despite five years of incumbency.

On the other hand, the Left Front was reduced to the number 3 party from the main opposition getting just 26 seats, and their junior partner Congress became the number-2 party getting 44 seats. Interestingly Congress just secured a 12.25% vote share with an increase of 3.16% vote share than that of the 2011 assembly election vote share,  whereas the Left front had secured a 19.75% vote share (14% vote share down from 2011 vote share) which is 7.5% more vote share than its junior partner Congress yet got 18 seats less than Congress.

That’s the result of an incompatible alliance. This made the Left front no more a player to challenge TMC. At the same time, BJP also increased its vote share up to 10.16% an increase of 6.1% vote share than that of in 2011 assembly elections.

That became a turning point for West Bengal polity. Point to be remembered that BJP got just 2.09% less vote share than Congress in the 2016 assembly election and technically 1.02% more vote share of Congress’s 2011 assembly election vote share. As the left front is moving downward, Congress’s vote share just increased 3% thanks to some left vote bank, BJP sensed it an opportunity to be the number-2 party of West Bengal.

Will people See The BJP As An Alternative?

Because of Narendra Modi’s popularity, some people of Bengal also hoped that BJP perhaps maybe a credible alternative to TMC. BJP focussed on West Bengal and the result is visible in the 2019 general election, where BJP got an astounding 40.64% vote share compared to TMC’s 43.69% vote share. Congress and left were reduced to around 5% vote share each making them non-players in the West Bengal polity. Therefore, in the upcoming 2021 assembly election, TMC and BJP are the main rivals and their contest would be fierce.

In general, I use to scrutinize the demographic data of a polity to analyze which party is standing at which position on a particular election. If that is followed then TMC would stand very tall as the Muslim population is nearly 27% in West Bengal and usually considered that Muslims are anti-BJP.

But I am afraid that the 2021 West Bengal assembly election is not about vote bank politics. The election is also not about corruption, price hike, performance, livelihood, or other general issues. The election is about the survival of individual people. The polity became very violent and people are afraid of life and property too.

Although it started during the Long left rule but escalated to a very high level during the last decade. As per my sources, people in rural and even urban areas are frightened of the dominating local political strongmen. Such dominating groups are in each street and each ward. These people (irrespective of party line) extort the common people and threaten of consequences of violating their dictate.

Removing violent TMC cadres and strongmen could be the shot in the arm Mamata Banerjee’s party needs.

It’s also not a Hindu-Muslim issue. In Muslim-dominated areas, the dominant local heavyweight is also a Muslim which threatens the fellow Muslims of the area they represent.

Narendra Modi’s popularity or Mamata Banerjee’s high stature in Bengal polity is good for debate and discussions but then elections are always won or lost in election booths. That means the booth numbers will decide who will win.

At present, there are two types of voters. One type is that they have to vote as per the dictate of the local strongman (irrespective of parties). The second type is the silent rebellion of the public. It’s always said that don’t frighten a person to an extent that the person stops fearing. For such a rebellious public, an alternative is available. As the campaign progresses, a lot of violence is also possible, and thus public mood either will change or become more determined. That will decide who will win the upcoming election.

Let me refer to an article published in the New Indian Express’ written by Sajjan Kumar, titled ‘How Trinamool is losing narrative to BJP’. He visited the length and breadth of the state and found the silent slogan ‘Prothame Ram, Pore Bam’ (First BJP, then Left). Then he again went on to explain how BJP able to win the left base in West Bengal in his next article, ‘How BJP turned West Bengal’s Left support base in their favor.

The above two articles and the exodus of TMC leaders to BJP show that BJP is perhaps in an advantageous position. Even the political common sense says that when people say both rivals are at fifty-fifty chance, then it mostly goes against the incumbent party. So as of now, I would say that BJP is likely to win the 2021 West Bengal election.

Emotion And The West Bengal Polity

However, there are some caveats. West Bengal is an emotional polity too. In the 2019 general election, BJP couldn’t win a single seat in the last phase of the election because of vandalism of the ‘Vidyasagar statue’ during Amit Shah’s rally. Had the vandalism hadn’t occurred, BJP would have won another 4-5 seats! Thus, BJP has to be very careful that in no case it hurt the Bengali sentiment in any way.

Then BJP’s accommodation of TMC quitters must be on a merit basis. Many TMC leaders are facing huge anti-incumbency. Mamata Banerjee as such isn’t suffering any anti-incumbency and like Narendra Modi’, she is also a popular choice for Chief Minister. It’s the TMC ground-level leaders who actually vitiated the TMC’s prospects. If BJP accommodates such unpopular TMC leaders, then people of those areas would prefer TMC over BJP. Because they have problems with the local politicians and not with Mamata Banerjee.

On the other hand, Mamata Banerjee needs to realize the situation. Too much dependence on the Muslim vote bank won’t work this time. Muslim population in Bengal at present doesn’t worry about BJP or Hindu-Muslim politics or even CAA, Temple-Mosque, etc. They want to get free from the atrocities of the local strongman who also belongs to their community. It’s the question of survival. If they don’t find any BJP strongman, then they will opt for a Left strongman.

Mamata Banerjee needs to go through the sentiment of booth-level politics and if required remove those unpopular local cadres. She also has to ensure that no more violence is there because she is blamed for all this violence as most of the violence is the handiwork of TMC cadres. TMC cadres must be sensitized that they can’t get the public votes simply threatening this time.

In conclusion, I would say that Mamata Banerjee isn’t easy to beat for BJP as she’s a fighter. However, at present BJP is a bit ahead. For Congress and Left? I think they are struggling for survival as they are not at all visible in the present polity of West Bengal.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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