The coming Panchayat polls
The coming panchayat polls in West Bengal will, in all likelihood, see a battle royal between the TMC and the BJP. The latter, buoyed up by its recent electoral victories in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur, has already made its intentions clear at its just concluded National Executive meeting at Bhubaneswar. The message is dang nach Osten or drive to the east. However, Amit Shah and Narendra Modi are likely to find more than a match in Mamata Banerjee who has, in the little over six years that she has been in power, changed the face of rural Bengal through one innovative scheme after another.
Not just the minorities, but the scheduled castes and tribes and the other backward classes, she has done something for all of them and not just promised to bring them prosperity in some indeterminate future despite all her government’s financial constraints. Will the mature rural electorate in West Bengal prefer the bird in the bush instead of the one in hand? Seems unlikely. Besides, some other ingredients that contribute to the victory of the BJP in other States, especially those in the Hindi belt, are absent here. There are no strong caste feelings and equations, playing the communal card brings far less dividend in West Bengal than in the neighbouring Hindi-speaking States.
Undoubtedly, West Bengal has felt a strong saffron presence in recent times but, as the Kanthi South Assembly bye-election result has shown beyond doubt, the Lotus has still to go many many miles more before it can overtake the Jora Ghas Phool, if at all. The State’s misfortune is that several political parties, traditionally against the BJP, are trying to put the TMC in the same bracket with the BJP. These parties are ceaselessly talking about a Mamata-Modi got up game where there is none. The BJP today considers Mamata a far stronger and more formidable opponent than, say, Naveen Patnayak or Siddaramaiah or Chandrasekhar Rao.
Recently, the people of this State saw an unknown junior functionary of a saffron outfit declare an audacious award of Rs 11 lakh for anyone beheading the West Bengal Chief Minister. The saffron party has perfunctorily condemned the threat and claimed that the person was expelled some time ago, but there is not a full-throated and vehement rejection of the politics of murder preached by one who was until recently, very much a karyakarta. The people of West Bengal know which forces the saffron brigade symbolizes.