In the heart of Nagerbazaar, a lively, crowded residential and shopping district in Dum Dum Lok Sabha constituency, stands a big hoarding on one of Bengal’s tallest reformists — Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar. The slogan at the bottom states, “amader gorbo’’ — our pride.
Similar hoardings have been put up across the constituency in which the BJP fancied its chances.
In the end, the BJP candidate from Dum Dum, Shamik Bhattacharya, lost by 52,000 votes to sitting MP Saugata Roy of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the most closely contested election in the nine seats in Bengal that went to the polls in the last phase on May 19. The results now out, and analysis of performance going on, BJP workers say the perception that the party was responsible for vandalising the Vidyasagar statue, at a college named after the 19th century educationist-writer-philosopher following clashes between BJP and TMC supporters during a roadshow by party chief Amit Shah on May 14, has cost the party.
The TMC swept all these nine seats — and barring Dum Dum, all by margins varying between 1 lakh and nearly 3 lakh.
Rupak Sheel (41), who works at a stationary shop and is a Nagerbazaar resident, said, “There was a BJP wave here. But the party lost steam at the last minute.”
Residents and shop owners across Nagerbazaar expressed the same sentiment. Rajendra Bose, 75, was a toddler when his family came — “because of the riots” — as refugees from then East Pakistan (Bangladesh) following Partition. A timber merchant in Nagerbazaar, Bose said he voted for BJP, and “many more people would have voted for the party had it not been for that (statue vandalism) incident”.
A BJP worker in Goalbagan agreed that the incident left an impact. “Bengali sentiment was hurt. Voters turned around at the last minute and decided to vote for Bengali pride — and the TMC,” this worker said.
Not far from Nagerbazaar, in Lake Town, under Barasaat constituency, district TMC Chhatra Parishad (students’ union) president Rupali Dey, 29, said, “Of course we received huge traction from the incident. Bengalis were very upset. This area has professionals and you can’t influence their vote, but when we organised a protest march in Lake Town, hundreds joined us – they weren’t just TMC supporters; they were local residents. They didn’t come because of us (TMC), they came because of Vidyasagar.’’
TMC’s Kakoli Ghoshdastidar defeated BJP’s Mrinal Kanti Debnath by more than 1 lakh votes in Barasat
Meeting workers from across the constituency at Goalabagan BJP office in Barasat, Shamik Bhattacharya said Dum Dum has traditionally been at the forefront of heralding a shift in Bengal’s political landscape. “When Saugata Roy overthrew years of Left dominance here in 2009, no one had any clue about such an upset,” he said. Ever since, Dum Dum, traditionally a Left stronghold, has switched over to the TMC.
A similar “silent change” was taking shape this time as well, Bhattacharya added.
TMC MP Saugata Roy also agreed that the incident had its impact, although not in Dum Dum. “We have gained in Kolkata city because of it, but not in my constituency,’’ he maintained.
Political analyst and assistant professor of Political Science at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Maidul Islam noted that while BJP gained everywhere else in West Bengal, and made extensive inroads – “even in a constituency like Hooghly, which was one of TMC’s strongest bastions, BJP’s Locket Chatterjee won” — all seats in the last phase after the vandalism incident went to the TMC. “There is a strong sentiment of Bengali nationalism, and this is what the TMC managed to cash in on at the last minute,” he said.
BJP’s Bhattacharya had an advice for his party: “There were two kinds of vote this time — ‘yes Mamata’ vote, and ‘no Mamata’ vote. There was an anti-Mamata wave. If we had capitalised more on this we could have swept Bengal and won up to 28 seats. But the leadership has to understand that things like loudly proclaiming ‘Jai Siya Ram’ is not going to work here (in Bengal) — you can’t go to Barabazar (which houses Kolkata’s largest Hindi-speaking population) and decide that is how the whole of Bengal is. Bengal is different; Bengalis are different.”