The Indian state of West Bengal is known for its great composite culture, enthralling literature, and prodigious values
The Indian state of West Bengal is known for its great composite culture, enthralling literature, and prodigious values. As a result, it has produced innumerable stalwarts in different fields, notably the great social reformers Raja Rammohan Roy and Swami Vivekananda and three Noble laureates Rabindranath Tagore, Amartya Sen, and Abhijit Banerjee.
But on the other hand, its electoral politics has equally been highly worth noticing. Presently the Battle of Bengal 2021 is drawing the nation’s attention because of the blame games and war of words between the ruling and the opposition parties which is turning into an aggressive battle where the Trinamool Congress (TMC) is trying to retain power whereas the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to subvert TMC’s reign in Bengal.
As per media reports, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee during her election campaign opened a new page from history when she attacked the turncoats from her party who ditched her and joined the BJP, by reminding people about the 1757 Battle of Plassey and the conspiracy and betrayal of army commander Mir Jafar that led to the defeat of Siraj-ud-Daula, the French-backed Nawab of Bengal, by the forces of the British East India Company, and which ultimately led to the British domination of eastern India, and then slowly the rest of India.
While Bengal’s history has many reasons to quote Tagore’s “where the head is held high,” it surely bows down its head with shame when Mir Jafar is put in the minds of people. Banerjee vehemently and vociferously warned the people that there are some Mir Jafar’s among them who are betraying the Bengal as Jafar did in the Battle of Plassey. Though Banerjee is considered to be a courageous fighter, her mention of the Battle of Plassey raises some questions before the people: Has she accepted her defeat as Mir Jafar’s betrayal resulted in Siraj-Ud-Daula’s defeat and she has already sensed the BJP’s era in Bengal? Or Is she intentionally insinuating to draw the attention of the people towards the economic policies of the British, which she is perhaps comparing with the BJP?
According to contemporary historians, in the first decade of the British rule in Bengal, they exploited local traders, merchants, and peasants and forced them to pay huge taxes. They have further aid that it was because of the British revenue policies Bengal witnessed the great famine in 1770 which killed nearly 10 million people.
It is noteworthy that Banerjee and other opposition parties have always accused BJP of supporting crony capitalism and privatisation for economic growth that unleashed nationwide agitation of farmers. The Opposition has further highlighted that how its privatization policies led to the growth of unemployment and weakened the public sector.
However, the BJP has changed the political discourse of West Bengal by highlighting and raising the emotional issues. The NRC(National Register of Citizens)-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) and NPR (National Register of Citizens) and religious slogans can, therefore, be seen as BJP’s strategy.
These issues have been raised by the Union Home Minister Amit Shah while addressing a rally before flagging off the fourth of the five Poribortan Yatras, or change campaigns. Hitting out at Banerjee’s refusal to deliver a speech at an event of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's birth anniversary when people chanted Jai Shri Ram, he said, “the West Bengal chief minister will chant Jai Shri Ram before the assembly elections are over in the state” and termed her developmental model as "destruction model," while commending the developmental model of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Shah said earlier that the economy under the current state government has declined, which was dismissed by veteran TMC leader Saugata Roy who claimed that Bengal’s GDP had grown by 53 percent, during TMC’s regime and the highest by any Indian state during that time period. According to the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, West Bengal’s GSDP has grown from 4.2 percent in 2012-13 to 9.1 percent in 2017-18. However, according to NSS Employment and Unemployment survey reports unemployment rates increased from 2.7 to 3.8 in a rural area and 4.8 to 6.5 in urban areas between the periods of 2011 to 2018. Therefore, in the economic sphere, the TMC regime displayed a better economic growth compared to the communist regime. However, it failed to generate employment in the state.
As a matter of fact, before every election, one witness blame game, passing the buck, and leaders changing flanks. It has become a normal phenomenon. However, the tall local leaders from the TMC joining hands with the BJP is another edge for BJP to find ways to subvert the ruling party.
The most recent name is the veteran leader from TMC, who is likely to join the BJP, is Dinesh Trivedi. Trivedi has resigned as a Rajya Sabha member. Moreover, the BJP’s aggressive campaign with its Hindutva agenda has helped the party to improve its vote share in West Bengal from 10 percent in 2016 to 40 percent in 2019 while the Left Front vote share collapsed from 27 percent to 7.5 percent.
In the current changing political dynamics in West Bengal, the entry of Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui’s Indian Secular Front (ISF), an influential cleric of the shrine of Furfura Sharif in West Bengal’s Hooghly district, is set to upset the political equations in West Bengal. This is assuredly going to provide an edge to the BJP to emerge as the strongest alternative to Banerjee’s TMC.
Political parties often claim their victory before the elections but it is too early to judge which way the battle of Bengal turns out to be - is it going to be TMC’s Battle of Plassey or BJP’s Battle of Bengal?
(The writer is an educationist and faculty member of King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The views are personal. He tweets at @asiframeez and can be contacted at email@example.com)