360 Degree 15 Sep 2019 Action! Cut! BJP zoo ...

Action! Cut! BJP zooms into Bengal

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | SANJAY BASAK
Published Sep 15, 2019, 2:29 am IST
Updated Sep 15, 2019, 2:29 am IST
The BJP forces led by Union Home Minister Amit Shah now has its eye on 250 of the 295 Assembly berths in the 2021 battle royale.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.  (DC)
 West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. (DC)

“Mere dost picture abhi baki hain (My friends the film isn't over yet)” is a dialogue that became somewhat famous when megastar Shah Rukh Khan said in the blockbuster film, Om Shanti Om. Until that is, the superstar of Indian politics, Prime Minister Narendra Modi rattled out the same line while addressing a rally on the completion of his government's 100 days, hinting at the many more corrupt politicians who would be targeted for their dubious deals, both monetary and political.

And standing in the way as the mighty saffron forces prepare to invade the last remaining bastion of "secular politics" - West Bengal, is its chief minister Mamata Banerjee, hobbled and haunted by the Saradha scam, accusations of a cover-up, facilitated by former Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar, against whom the CBI has issued a Look Out Notice as it seeks custodial interrogation, to prevent him from leaving the country.

 

Kumar was heading the Special Investigation Team of West Bengal Police to probe the Rs 2,500 crore Saradha Ponzi scam case before CBI took over.

The preceding Narada scam and accusations of commissions being taken for each and every job allegedly by the TMC cadres were bad enough. But the Saradha scam - and Kumar, possibly implicating his political bosses - could become the tipping point for the BJP, which, during the 2019 general elections, had already breached the impregnable wall of Bengal by capturing 18 out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats. The BJP forces led by Union Home Minister and national president Amit Shah now has its eye on 250 of the 295 Assembly berths in the 2021 battle royale.

Bengal, a "bastion of secular politics, "ruled over the decades by United Front, Congress, Marxists and now TMC, has since the advent of the Modi brand of politics, begun to change. Swapan Dasgupta, BJP Rajya Sabha MP, who is spearheading the BJP's battle for Bengal, told this newspaper one of the main reasons for the change - Hindu Consolidation. "58% of Hindus voted for BJP while 70% Muslims voted for Trinamul," he said. Dasgupta, who knows Bengal like the back of his hand, said that the 2019 general elections saw a "substantial polarisation" in the state, arguing that till then, the "Hindu vote never existed in Bengal".

The power of Hindu consolidation was so overwhelming that even as BJP failed to give its agents 30 percent of the Lok Sabha seats, the party won 18 seats - a stupendous gain of 16 seats from the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Dasgupta had hit the bullseye. A visit to  Kolkata in the run-up to the Assembly polls clearly indicated that with the resurgence of the BJP, the anti-minority feeling was rapidly spreading in the capital of Bengal. Moving around in Kolkata, which has four Lok Sabha seats one could sense the simmering anti-minority sentiments. Housing societies in Bengal were averse to allow any Muslim tenant, a trend unheard of in this state.

Dasgupta says massive rigging during the last panchayat elections in the rural areas and rampant corruption were other reasons for BJP's gaining influence. The Lok Sabha results in the rural areas were apparently the outcome of the voters being prevented from casting their ballots during panchayat polls.  

Aware of the fault lines, Mamata Banerjee issued a warning to her party workers - "Stop taking cut money from government schemes or face jail."

But, like her hiring of poll strategist "outsider" Prashant Kishor it may be too little, too late.

Over the past few months, Mamata has toned down the rhetoric, not attacking Modi and BJP directly. A rapid rise in celebrating all Hindu festivals -  not just Durga Puja and Kali Puja, but everything from  Ganesh Chaturthi  to  armed rallies during the Ram Navami - just as it is in Muharram - is a signal, as a VHP leader said of a "religious awakening."  Even a Congress-Left Front-TMC combine may not be able to stop the saffron juggernaut.

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