On Sunday, May 2 the Trinamool Congress celebrated its landslide victory in the Bengal elections with pomp and vigour and why not? Its leader Mamata Banerjee has successfully managed to combat a party that has its tentacles in almost all parts of India. Her role as the strongest opposition to the Bharatiya Janata Patry is commendable, but even then some key questions are to be asked at the onset of this victory.
1. Did the Hindutva narrative work in Bengal?
Yes and no at the same time. The first erroneous assumption that most people make about Bengal is that somehow every single individual is the so-called “secular bhadralok”; this is untrue because the number of people who go-ahead to join forces with the no religion and no casteism group is often privileged and over time they have been able to garner enough social and economic capital to be able to be inconspicuous to the relevance of caste and religion to the people from different walks of life. Hence though the Hindutva narrative did not work for these people, it worked for those at the grassroots who did see the BJP as an alternative. Their significant rise in number from 3 seats in 2016 to 76 in 2021 is a witness to that. The seeds of polarization are already in place. This election has further deepened identity politics in Bengal. Further, the TMC’s decision to create distinctive cultural and linguistic identity added to it. The TMC decided to play by the soft-core Hindutva ideology to win back its Hindu vote which became extremely important because it was increasingly being alleged to be a party running on minority appeasement. It realised it is no longer possible to win elections on absolute secularism and it cannot let the BJP have monopoly over Hindutva. Hence both of the aforementioned points are a testament to the fact that the Hindutva narrative did build up in Bengal. The reason why the Hindutva narrative did not favour the BJP as much as it was supposed to is because of the regional chauvinism promoted by the TMC. From curating songs that resonate with words like “Bangla Nijer Meyeke Chaye” it made sure that it it was engraved in the minds of the people that the BJP were outsiders who only looked at Bengal as a golden hen. They actively sought to promote the regional identity of the Bengali people. This was a game-changer. But if we completely accept the fact that the BJP has been wiped off, it’s a wrong presumption. The ground-level workers of BJP have amplified ever since 2016 and the increase in the number of seats give them the incentive to fight harder. They are the only opposition in the heart of Bengal.
2. So what gives? Why does mysterious head-scratching ensue when the bhadralok cabal doesn’t succumb to the purported anti-incumbency wave resulting from the professed Green Gunda Raj?
The answer to this is multilayered and it must encompass all the aspects of how TMC went about its campaigning. Mamata Banerjee, from the very beginning of her career as a politician, has encompassed this people’s worker persona and even made sure that her slogans, attire and appearance resonate with it. She walked long distances with huge crowds following her because she wanted the people to feel that she is their acquaintance and not someone away from them. This gave her the empathetic mother figure tag. At a certain point in her rallies, she went ahead and apologized for the incumbencies of her party and pleaded for votes, this further amplified her popularity amongst people who now saw her as a human who could err and not some avatar of Lord Vishnu.
One of the most unique and remarkable aspects of her campaigning has been her appeal towards female voters. She painted this picture of male dominance clear enough for the women of Bengal to be able to visualize. Women voters did play a significant role because they probably speculated that it would be better to have a female leader who would reverberate and understand the problems that concern them which does not include within its ambit sectarian divisions. Whereas the BJP did not think that they should prioritize women voters, to that extent. In a few rallies, the Prime Minister’s remark of “Didi o didi” did not sit well with the people of Bengal who perceived it as derogatory. Thus Mamata Banerjee’s narrative as sole woman fighter was further strengthened in the eyes of the people by a few incautious and negligent comment. Bengal has always been cosmopolitan to some extent with a history of distaste for populist figures. The TMC knew this well and they decided to harp on it, they played with the “Bengal and Bengalis first” sentiment. They have been extremely successful in laying out the perceptible cultural differences between the people of Bengal and other parts of India and how they are the sole messiah when it comes to protecting Bengal culture. There is still a low monotone of temporal cohabitation and remitting secularism in the outskirts.
A sizeable amount of minority votes went to the TMC because people took a lesson from the Bihar elections. The minority sections realised their existence will be at stake if they divide the votes, hence this proved to be a turning point.
3. Will BJP be wiped from Bengal post this?
No. Analysing based on the recent trends, a lot of polarisation has already happened. Only time can corroborate if further polarisation would happen or not, but if the TMC continued to actively alienate its Hindi speaking Hindu population, then it would be very difficult to win them back. The TMC’s state-based nationalistic sentiment can only work to a certain extent. The BJP has managed to retain its role as an opposition and over time it may even amend itself to the likes of the people of Bengal to be a plausible alternative. Irrespective of whatever manipulation has happened with regards to the counting Suvendu Adhikari has been, able to create the narrative amongst BJP sympathizers that Adhikari has successfully managed to defeat a sitting chief minister and the BJP has now got the big face of TMC resistance, which they were lacking this time. Nonetheless, the TMC will now have to tread very carefully and move beyond identity politics to be relevant because now it has an opposition and not just any opposition but a one which is been recognised as having a strong network of “karyakartas” and is being supported by the Centre for at least two to three years for now.