Two days before the results of the Lok Sabha elections, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced stipends to purohits in crematoriums. Going by the Lok Sabha election trends in the state — where the BJP is leading in 17 of the 42 seats, up from the two it won in 2014 – the stipend move, Banerjee’s attempt to counter the spread of Hindutva in her state, may have come too late for Trinamool Congress.
With Banerjee’s party only leading in 25 seats (down from the 34 the party won in 2014), her “biyallishe biyallish (42 of 42)” war cry now sounds almost as empty as Congress’s promise of NYAY.
So what explains the BJP’s rise in West Bengal, a state which was once the citadel of the Left and where the Trinamool Congress scripted a new politics in 2011 with her “ma, mati, manush” call?
The big story of West Bengal this election season is how Banerjee may have failed to come up with an answer to the BJP. A party with little base in the state, the BJP managed to make inroads, riding on the perception that the Trinamool and Banerjee stood for appeasement politics. The party also played some smart politics while selecting candidates, using the strategising skills of not just party president Amit Shah and general secretary Kailash Vijayvargya but also of Banerjee’s one-time number two Mukul Roy. Roy, who has maintained a low profile since leaving the party of which he was a founder-member, is the big winner in Bengal. Without even contesting.
This could also be the end of the road for the Left – so far, the party isn’t leading in any of the seats – that is yet to open its account in leads — and the Congress (the party looks set to lose both seats in its once fortress Maldah). Of the two seats over which the Left-Congress alliance in the state fell through, one, Raiganj, where the Congress fielded former Union minister Deepa Dasmunshi against sitting MP Md Salim, is now headed the BJP’s way.
Trinamool would heave a sigh of relief if its South Bengal strongholds in Kolkata and around, where party stalwarts such as Sudip Bandopadhyay, Dinesh Trivedi and Sougata Roy are contesting, escape the BJP onslaught.
But the party, whose chief was until yesterday being talked of as among the prime ministerial contenders, has little to feel complacent about.
With West Bengal heading for Assembly polls in about two years, what do the Lok Sabha results mean for the Trinamool Congress? If the leads are anything to go by, this battle has been a semi-final of sorts for the Trinamool Congress ahead of the 2021 Assembly elections in the state and the party has emerged substantially scathed.