As the campaign builds up in West Bengal for what’s going to be one of the fiercest electoral contests in its history, events in the State appear to be unfolding in a manner the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would like them to.
While the local BJP leaders have, all along, been accusing the ruling Trinamool Congress of unleashing violence on its political opponents, the attack on the convoy of its national president J.P. Nadda in South 24 Parganas on Thursday has transformed their long-standing allegation into an election issue and — according to political observers — stands to polarise the electorate in this Trinamool-controlled district. Assembly elections are due early next year.
“[Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief] Mamata Banerjee has lost her magic with the people, her utterances are now met with ridicule. People wait for the next funny statement from her. She now heads a crumbling government and a disintegrating party,” Jay Prakash Majumdar, vice-president of State BJP, told The Hindu.
“It escapes me how a seasoned and shrewd leader like her can make one mistake after another. Communal polarisation is her gift to West Bengal. Before she came to power, people here never voted on the basis of religion,” Mr. Majumdar said.
“Then other mistakes, like trying to prevent national-level BJP leaders from landing in Bengal to address rallies during the 2019 elections, or refusing permission to the BJP to take out processions. Then, her inability to check corruption in the government, not to speak of her damaging utterances from time to time. All this is helping the BJP in an unprecedented way,” he said.
Even those not aligned with any political party agree that Ms. Banerjee, 65, is under pressure this time. Unlike the fighter who frequently took to the streets to take on the government, she is herself in the government today, presiding over a cash-strapped State and facing anti-incumbency. Besides she has been running both single-handedly the government and the party, even as the pandemic has placed an additional burden on the administration.
Also read: J.P. Nadda’s convoy attacked in West Bengal
“There will certainly be greater pressure on her now [after the attack on Mr. Nadda’s convoy] to prove that her administration is non-partisan. The attack will also cause polarisation of voters in the area,” said election analyst Biswanath Chakraborty.
The BJP, while being her principal adversary, appears to be just one of her problems. Recently, Trinamool Congress heavyweight Suvendu Adhikari quit her government; and while it is not uncommon for members of her party to switch over to the BJP, no popular face from the BJP has joined the Trinamool.
It would, however, be imprudent to underestimate Ms. Banerjee. This month she launched a two-month-long ‘Government at your Doorstep’ outreach and also the Swasthya Sathi insurance scheme — so far the public response to both, particularly the latter, has been encouraging. Of the other outreaches launched over the last one year with great fanfare, Didi ke Bolo (Tell Didi) has met with some success while Banglar Gorbo Mamata, which projected her as Bengal’s pride, failed to take off due to the pandemic.
But while such popular schemes have seen her through in the past, they may still not be enough to take on the BJP, which is now a force to reckon with in West Bengal. A party that won only three of the 294 seats in the 2016 Assembly elections created history by winning 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2019. The attack on Mr. Nadda’s convoy has only made its case stronger.