The hottest contest in India’s ongoing state elections is underway in West Bengal. Prime Minister Mamata Banerjee of the regional Trinamool Parliamentary Party has undertaken former aide Suvendu Adhikari at the Nandigram Constituency. A strong local leader, Adikari, switched loyalty before polls and went into exile at BJP. Can he take on the reconstructable Ms. Banerjee in her territory? Last week I traveled to West Bengal and found out how Mr. Banerjee, who is seeking power for the third consecutive term, is fighting her life battle with the resurrected BJP.
On a hot afternoon, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is working with the crowd at an campaign conference about 160 km (99 miles) south of Kolkata, the eastern city of West Bengal.
“You gave her the opportunity to work for 10 years. Give us a chance now,” says Modi. The woman in question is Mamata Banerjee, the fire brand leader of the Trinamool Congress (TMC), a regional political party that has ruled the state for 10 years.
Now a folk orator, Modi slips into the deeply accented Bengali language, which is much of the entertainment of many in the crowd. He fires a broadside cannon at Ms. Banerjee, well known as her sister, Monica, invented by “Didi” or her supporters in Bengal.
“Didi, Mama Taddy. You say we are outsiders, but no one considers the land of Bengal to be outsiders,” says Modi. “No one here is an outsider.”
Mr. Banerjee assembled the challenge from Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as one between insiders (Bengali) and outsiders (BJP, which runs a federal government that speaks mainly Hindi). I did.
The 66-year-old leader uses the emotions of innate and federalists at the same time. The “others” of the powerful federal party are based on India’s disputed federalist politics, said Dwai Payan Batacharya, a professor of political science at the University of Javaharar Nehru. Mr Banerjee also accused the Hindu nationalist party of trying to bring “narrow, discriminatory and split politics to Bengal.”
Rhetoric aside, the battle in West Bengal, where voting is staggered over eight stages and four weeks, will be fierce. (Voting results will not be announced until May 2, along with four other states, including neighboring Assam.) This is also India’s most important state election in recent years.
West Bengal, a state of 92 million people, has never been dominated by Mr. Modi’s party.
Ms. Banerjee came to power in 2011 after dismissing the Communist-led government that had ruled the state for 34 years. Since then, she has ruled uninterruptedly, and her party now holds 211 of the 295 seats in the leaving state legislature. The TMC is loosely structured and is not a particularly disciplined party. It has no ideological foundation. Like most regional political parties in India, it relies on the worship of the personality of a charismatic leader, whose supporters also call her the “Goddess of Fire.”
In the final parliamentary elections in 2016, BJP won only three seats. In a 2019 parliamentary poll, 18 out of 42 state seats and 40% of the general vote were won and the gauntlets were abandoned. Banerjee’s party was badly hurt, dropping 12 seats from the 2014 vote to 22 seats.
“It was Mr. Banerjee’s call for awakening,” says political commentator Rajat Ray. “2021 is her existential battle.”
BJP’s victory in West Bengal will be a big boost to the party. Modi continues to be India’s most popular leader, but his party is struggling to win state elections. Also, the victory of the Hindu Nationalist Party in a state where one-third of voters are Islamic is very symbolic. It will also almost eliminate the hope that most of India’s shabby opposition will take over Mr. Modi’s well-fueled and well-funded party in the 2024 general election.
“This election is a war for democracy in India. If the BJP wins, the main Hindu politics will finally reach Bengal. This is the true last fort,” said Banerjee’s campaign. Supporting political strategist Prasant Kishore says.
If Mr. Banerjee wins, she would have defeated the powerful incumbent National Party and is likely to emerge as a national leader. She could also emerge as a consensus opposition leader in the fight against BJP. Other opposition leaders couldn’t tell a successful story to Modi, and if she wins, Banerjee will answer, according to Nylanjan Sarker, a senior visiting scholar at the Center for Policy Research in Delhi. May become.
It may not be easy. Everywhere I travel in West Bengal, I complain that I have to bribe local TMC leaders and workers to access the welfare system. The problem in West Bengal that one critic told me was “government politics.”
People also talk about violence against political rivals and the arrogance of TMC workers. Dampat Lam Agarwal, who heads the state’s economic sector at BJP, said the more serious fatigue was “attacked and persecuted” and “criminalized politics.”
Still, most people don’t seem to have a grudge against Mr. Banerjee, who is personally perceived as a clean and empathetic leader. Ten years of domination may have ended the feeling of well-being around her, but her larger image remains, and the public’s anger at her has been curtailed.One commentator does it “Anti-incidentity paradox”..
“I’m angry with local leaders and parties,” Kishore admits. But he says, Mr. Banerjee “holds her image as the girl next door, Didi.”
“Her image helps mitigate anti-bankruptcy. She is not hated, and her party has not collapsed despite BJP’s attempts.”
Also, in the last 18 months, Ms. Banerjee has sought to reclaim lost land.
More than 7 million people reportedly called the helpline she set up to record people’s complaints. Since December, approximately 30 million people have taken advantage of an initiative called the “Government at the Front Door” to facilitate the provision of 12 welfare schemes. The government claims that public dissatisfaction with more than 10,000 community-related plans has been resolved through nearby programs. Rural roads are being restored on the scaffolding of the war.
Lots of welfare programs-bicycles and scholarships for students, cash transfers for female students to continue education and health insurance-guaranteeed that Mr. Banerjee’s popular appeal was intact. She is still popular with female voters. About 17% of her candidates in this election are women.
In its bid to grow exponentially and take on Mr. Banerjee, BJP was free to poach from its West Bengal rivals. Of the 282 candidates submitted to the poll, more than 45 are North Korean defectors. Thirty-four of them are from Banerjee’s party only, most of them dissatisfied local leaders who have been denied tickets. BJP’s organization remains eerie and lacks a compelling local leader to take on Mr. Banerjee. Beyond TMC’s criticism, many say the party has no cohesive story and a “golden Bengal” promise. It believes they are primarily leveraging the support of voters who are angry with TMC, including those belonging to the lower caste clutches.
The battle in West Bengal is very bipolar, even though the sick Communists have allied with Islamic clergy and the weakened parliament keeps votes away from the main contestants. To win the state, the party must win 45% of the popularity polls in such contests.
Most people believe that it will be a close-knit election. Even her protection sister, Diddy, has been forced to change her image. The Kolkata skyline is adorned with a sign of Mr. Banerjee’s smile, describing her as “Bangla May” or Bengal’s daughter. It is an appeal from a woman who says she is surrounded by outsiders.
“It’s about telling voters that she needs your help in this crucial battle,” says Kishore.
This work was originally released on March 27th and has been updated to reflect the latest news developments.