The polling for General Elections 2019 in West Bengal was anything but peaceful. Trinamool Congress (TMC), the political party in power in the state, led by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, was confident about a landslide victory in the state right till the day of counting. However, the election result in the state did not live up to TMC’s expectations.
In the General Elections of 2014, TMC won 34 seats in the state, receiving 39.05% of the votes. However, in the Lok Sabha Elections of 2019, even though their vote share increased to 43.3%, the number of seats won by them went down to 22. Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) vote share went up from 17% to 40.3%, and they won 18 seats as compared to 2014’s two. The Left Front and Congress received 7% and 5.7% of votes, and the latter won two constituencies.
The rise of the right wing in West Bengal is neither sudden now surprising. In the last eight years, since the TMC came to power in the state, the right wing started growing slowly but significantly. This growth fast tracked after the BJP came to power in the country in 2014. There was a massive surge in the number of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) shakhas and schools. Communal violence in the state also saw a sudden rise, as reported by NewsClick earlier.
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The absence of large-scale communal violence had been a prominent and a positive characteristic of the 34 years of Communist Regime in West Bengal, ever since the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPIM) came to power in the state in 1977. It is frequently noted that after the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992, when the rest of the country failed to keep peace, the CPI(M)-led Left Front Government managed to accomplish this feat.
After the BJP came to power in the Centre in 2014, the number of communal violence incidents in West Bengal went up from 16 in 2014, to 58 in 2017. Even though the information from the government is only available till 2017, it is enough to point out to a shocking rise in the number. The rise of the right wing in Bengal is a result of a plan, long in the making by BJP, that has benefitted from the sectarian and strong-arm politics of the Mamata Banerjee led state government.
The 17th Lok Sabha elections in Bengal was a close fight between the BJP and the TMC, and the difference between their vote shares was only 3.3%. This situation will continue to get worse; as the right wing continues to grow in the state benefiting from Mamata Banerjee’s divisive and abrasive brand of politics.
However, the events following the election results, don't seemingly look too good for the TMC. Since the results have been declared, several TMC MLAs and numerous councillors from all over Bengal have joined the BJP. On May 24, just one day after the declaration of election results, TMC MLAs Subhranshu Roy and Tusharkanti Bhattacharjee, along with 50-60 councillors from Kanchrapara, Halisahar and Naihati municipalities joined the BJP in Delhi.
Subhranshu Roy is the son of former TMC leader Mukul Roy, who had formally joined BJP in November, 2017. Subhranshu was recently suspended by the TMC, for alleged anti-party activities. CPI(M) MLA Devendra Roy also joined BJP on the same day.
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Later, on Wednesday, May 29, TMC MLA Monirul Islam also joined the BJP in New Delhi, along with other TMC leaders like Gadadhar Hazra, Mohammed Asif Iqbal and Nimal Das in the presence of BJP National General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya. BJP leader Mukul Roy has claimed that his party is in communication with more than 100 Trinamool Congress leaders, as reported by NDTV.
The Trinamool Congress has downplayed this defection by calling it a “temporary phase" and a "minor crisis". In an official statement, the TMC said that the people of West Bengal are firmly with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Irrespective of what the leaders say, this weakening of the TMC is directly proportional to the BJP gaining more strength in the state. The assembly election results in West Bengal in 2011 was followed by vicious attacks on the Left leaders and workers. Numerous CPI(M) workers were killed by TMC goons, and the violence increased to the point where the ordinary voter grew scared of associating himself/herself with the party. TMC used violence and killings to emerge as the only prominent political force against BJP in the state.
However, as the Left fights for resurgence in Bengal, the TMC continues to pave way for the BJP in the state with its brand of politics. TMC has been accused of sowing the seeds of polarisation in the state with its decision to award stipends to maulvis soon after coming to power, with ordinary people interpreting the move as an indulgence in minority appeasement.