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Banking on Bangaliana: Decoding Mamata's Strategy to Break into BJP's Vote Bank for 2021 Bengal Polls

1 month ago 10

Nine years ago, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee shook Kolkata’s iconic 31, Alimuddin Street that housed the state Communist Party of India(Marxist) office: popularly known as Muzaffar Ahmed Bhawan.

History was created by the Trinamool Congress (TMC) with its victory and the end of the 34-year rule of the Left Front government in Bengal in the 2011 assembly polls. At the time, Mamata differentiated her party from the Left with a catchy slogan – "Amra-Ora (Us vs Them)."

While the rallying cry was gaining momentum, the TMC chief dropped another political slogan – "Hoy Ebar, Noy Never (It's now or never to dethrone the leftists)." From those lines in 2011 to "BJP Sorkar, Aar Nei Dorkar (We don’t want the BJP government anymore)" in recent years – Mamata throughout her political career has always maintained herself as a "gully girl of Bengal".

Her political speeches never end without references to Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekananda, Matribhumi (motherland), Jonmobhumi (birthplace), Amra Bangali (we are Bengali). And so, Mamata delivered another masterstroke when she coined "Maa, Mati, Manush (Mother, motherland and people)" to encapsulate the vision of the TMC: “A government of the people, for the people, and by the people."

The slogan not only turned out to be Mamata’s knockout punch, but it also instantly gave the TMC maximum resonance in projecting itself as protector of Bengal from "Ora (them or outsiders)".

Looking back at June 14, 2019 (a few days after the Lok Sabha poll results which saw the BJP’s deep inroads in Bengal by winning 18 seats), Mamata for the first time played the Bengali card after her party suffered a setback.

Then, she had said those living in the state will have to learn to speak Bengali. “Bengal will not tolerate conspiracy, humiliation and insult from outsiders. Bengal will show the path in future. When I go to Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, I speak in their language. There is nothing wrong in speaking in their language. If someone is living in Bengal, he or she should learn Bengali,” Mamata had told TMC workers at Kanchrapara in North 24 Parganas district (the place which is known as a strong bastion of BJP leader Arjun Singh and Mukul Roy, who were once with the Trinamool).

A month later, on July 21, 2019, during a Shahid Diwas rally at Kolkata's Dharmatala, a similar approach of was seen from Mamata as lakhs of residents who attended the rally were stirred when eminent singer Pratul Mukhopadhyay sung the famous "Aami Banglai Gaan Gaai, Aami Banglar Gaan Gaai, Aami Banglai Dekhi Sopno, Aami Banglai Bandhi Sur (I sing in Bengali, I sing songs of Bengal, I dream in Bengali, I make music in Bengali)" on Mamata’s request to project the TMC as the Bangaliana face of Bengal.

This year too, during a Shahid Diwas virtual rally, she intensified her attack on the BJP and termed its leaders "outsiders".

While hinting at Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, Mamata said, “We will not allow Gujarat to run Bengal. Bengal can take care of itself. We don’t need BJP outsiders to take care of Bengal. Those who are insulting Bengal, will have to pay a heavy price for it. A handful of faceless people who don’t have any ideology are trying to terrorise the people across the country because they are in power at the Centre. They are trying to gag our voice through terror.”

This consistent effort of Mamata to keep her party’s Bangaliana strategy against "outsider BJP" hasn't gone unnoticed among analysts who feel that in recent years she is trying to open a new front (apart from non-Bengali Hindu and Muslim vote share) to polarise Bengali vote to some extent to derail the BJP’s game plan ahead of the assembly polls in 2021.

Speaking to News18.com, political expert Kapil Thakur said, “Here you have to understand what Mamata Banerjee meant by saying that Gujarat will not run Bengal. You also have to look deep inside why she is projecting the BJP as ‘outsiders’. The reason is BJP-ruled states are not governed by the local leaders. It is actually run by the ‘Gujarat lobby’, BJP’s think tank in Nagpur. I am sure you understood what exactly I mean. For any decision, the BJP ruled state leaders/chief ministers need to get it approved from the ‘Gujarat lobby’ or the BJP’s think tank in Nagpur. The same is going to happen here in Bengal if the BJP comes to power. Do you think the local leaders can afford to take their decisions keeping these two lobbies in the dark? This is exactly the area which Mamata Banerjee is highlighting nowadays in political rallies. She meant to say to the people that if they vote for the BJP then they will be commanded by outsiders in Gujarat and in Nagpur. These lobbies are deploying puppets in BJP-ruled states but the actual command will be in the hand of outsiders.”

“I think she got it right in understanding the BJP’s game plan of ‘one nation, one party’. In any democratic set up, this is a dangerous mindset and, therefore, I think that she is trying to make Bengalis understand to think twice before voting for the BJP. She is trying to mobilise Bengali Hindus besides others. This is a new trend in Bengal politics,” he added.

Many feel that the TMC intensified the 'Bengali card' strategy following Amit Shah’s Kolkata roadshow on May 14, 2019, during which the bust of educator and social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was vandalised.

Speaking to the News18.com, BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha said, “It is a fact that Mamata Banerjee is nowadays playing the Bengali Hindu card because she has realised that Muslims are no longer going to support her. Muslims have understood that they were cheated by her. You must have noticed that during the Shahid Diwas rally she didn’t mention ‘Allah’ or ‘Inshallah’ in her speech. She tried to project herself as a Bangaliana face of Bengal to secure the Hindu votes. But I would like to tell you that her Bengali political card is not going to work here in the 2021 assembly polls. The TMC won the 2011 elections due to the Muslim vote share, but now Muslims are coming to the BJP. Earlier, there were no Muslim units of the BJP in Bengal districts but now we have Muslim units. A lot of people from the Muslim community are joining the BJP because they felt that Mamata cheated them by wearing hijab and by saying ‘Inshallah’. Mamata Banerjee is frantically looking for a Muslim substitute to secure her chair but she will not succeed this time. It is due to the BJP’s pressure that she is now eyeing the Hindu vote share. Not only Bengali Hindus, she also tried to woo non-Bengali Hindus, tribals by speaking in Hindi during the Shahid Diwas rally. I never heard Mamata speaking in Hindi especially during a Shahid Diwas rally.”

In the 2016 assembly elections, the BJP’s vote share was 10.2 per cent and in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls it went up to 40.3 per cent. There was an increase of 30.1 percentage points in vote share mainly because of Hindus gravitating towards the BJP.

From the 2011 assembly polls to the 2016 ones, the Left Frontlost its vote share by 9.88 per cent and from the 2014 Lok Sabha polls to the 2019 ones its vote share further plummeted to nearly 16 per cent.

However, the Congress vote share from increased from 8.91 per cent to 12.3 per cent from the 2011 to the 2016 assembly elections, but it fell drastically in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls (9.6 per cent) while in the 2019 general elections the party managed to secure only 5 per cent votes.

Most of these votes which were once with the Left Front and Congress went to the BJP as there was no decline in the TMC vote share. In the 2011 assembly polls, the TMC’s vote share was 39 per cent which increased to 39.56 per cent in 2019. Similarly, in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the TMC’s vote share was 39.03 per cent, which grew to 43.3 per cent in 2019.

So there was no drop in the TMC’s vote share. The only thing that went in favour of the BJP was the Left and Congress votes.

Mamata knows well that any significant division in the Muslim vote share – a deciding factor in nearly 90 assembly segments out of the total 294 in the state – could jeopardise her mission "Ekush", or the 2021 polls.

Therefore, political experts feel that Mamata needs to tap nearly 30 per cent Hindu votes that went to the BJP (mainly from the Left Front and Congress) to form a TMC government again next year. Already both the BJP and TMC have started their ground-level preparations to take on each other in the crucial contest.

On July 21, 2020, a section of BJP MPs from Bengal met Amit Shah in New Delhi to plan "Mission Bengal", while Mamata held a virtual meeting the next evening with all her senior party leaders to decide the political moves to fight the state polls.

Party insiders said that Mamata will announce a massive organisational reshuffle on Thursday to strengthen her fortress and demolish the saffron brigade in Bengal.

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