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Explained: As Bengal elections loom, how to read RJD and SP support to Mamata

West Bengal Assembly elections: What specific outcomes can be expected from two regional parties from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh offering their involvement in the elections in West Bengal?

Written by Santanu Chowdhury , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata |
Updated: March 16, 2021 12:34:24 pm
Tejashwi Yadav, Mamata BanerjeeTejashwi Yadav with Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata. (Express Photo)

The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Samajwadi Party (SP) on Monday (March 1) extended their support to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her party Trinamool Congress in her fight against the BJP in the West Bengal Assembly elections.

RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav met Banerjee at Nabanna, the state secretariat in Kolkata, and urged his supporters in Bengal to back the TMC in the elections. SP chief Akhilesh Yadav held a press conference in Uttar Pradesh to announce his party’s support to the TMC.

What specific outcomes can be expected from two regional parties from Bihar and UP offering their involvement in the elections in West Bengal?

Coalition of regional parties against BJP

By throwing their weight behind the TMC, the two regional players, RJD and SP, both of which have the BJP as the main rival in their own states, are signalling a coalition of regional political forces against the hegemony of the saffron national party. While the next general elections are still a very long way away, such signalling keeps alive the possibility of a political third front emerging ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

The RJD, which under the young Tejashwi did very well to reach within striking distance of power in last year’s Assembly elections in Bihar, will be very happy if it can contribute to keeping the BJP from capturing neighbouring West Bengal. It will deal a blow to the reputation of the BJP as a relentless vote-winning machine, and can be expected to boost the morale of the RJD cadre.

The electoral test for Akhilesh looms much closer, with Assembly elections perhaps less than a year away now. The BJP had swept aside all other parties in 2017, winning 312 out of the 403 seats in the UP House, reducing the SP to a mere 54 seats. The need for a similar morale booster that might help dent the BJP’s reputation for invincibility, is more urgent for the SP. Also, an outreach to Banerjee can be expected to resonate with Bengali voters in UP, whose support the SP will find helpful next year.

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TMC outreach to non-Bengali voters

An estimated 45 lakh Hindi-speaking voters, mainly from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, live in Bengal. Voters from both these states are usually wooed by the BJP, the dominant party of the Hindi heartland. In its attempt to defeat Banerjee, the BJP is counting on these votes to a large extent.

The TMC outreach to the Hindi-speaking constituency, through patronage of festivals such as Chhath Puja etc., is intended to build bonds that it hopes might translate into votes on polling day. Support and endorsement of the RJD and SP may be a force multiplier in this effort. The TMC would expect to find concrete dividends from the initiatives of Tejashwi and Akhilesh in the jute mill regions of Hooghly, the industrial belts of Barrackpore, Howrah, Durgapur, and Asansol, and all other places bordering Bihar and Jharkhand where Hindi-speaking voters are in significant numbers.

Effort to nuance insider-outsider dichotomy

After a large number of central BJP leaders began campaigning for the party in Bengal, the TMC had branded them as “outsiders”.

While this did put pressure on the BJP that is heavily dependent on its national leaders for election strategy and campaigning, the outsider jibe did not go down well with people from other states who are living in Bengal. This was not lost on the BJP either.

The TMC seeking the support and backing of two leaders of the Hindi heartland may be understood as an effort on its part to ensure that the non-Bengali vote in Bengal does not shift entirely to the BJP.

Setback for Left-Congress-ISF alliance

The RJD’s absence from the rally at the Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata on Sunday made it clear that it had decided not to enter into the alliance with the Left-Congress and Fufura Sharif cleric Abbas Siddiqui’s new party. This was significant — because the Left and Congress were in alliance with the RJD in Bihar last year.

How the third pole of the election battle will influence the ultimate outcome will depend on a range of factors, but the RJD choosing the TMC over its Bihar allies could work out to the advantage of the ruling party in its fight against the BJP.

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