BJP's defeat in West Bengal Assembly elections

Six issues to ensure the BJP’s defeat in West Bengal

Politics
Reading Time: 11 minutes

Ever since winning 18 out of a total of 42 seats in West Bengal during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been propagating that it will topple incumbent Chief Minister Mamata Bandopadhyay’s Trinamool Congress (TMC)-led government in the 2021 assembly elections. Though the mainstream media houses and a wide array of hired influencers have been amplifying this narrative as well, in reality, the path to power in Bengal may not be a cakewalk for the BJP, despite Bandopadhyay’s faux passes and ignominious blunders. Still, many anti-fascists are in a disarrayed situation, unable to comprehend how to ensure the BJP’s defeat in West Bengal. 

In a quagmire, the Congress party and its foe-turned-ally Communist Party of India (Marxist) {CPI (M)}-led Left Front, which ruled the state from 1977 to 2011, helped the BJP grow exponentially in different pockets of the state, capitalising upon the anti-incumbency waves. The waning of the Congress-Left Front in West Bengal aided the BJP, but it doesn’t guarantee a smooth victory for it. One can guarantee the BJP’s defeat in West Bengal if a set of issues are used to brickbat the saffron outfit and its parental body Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).  

What are the crucial issues that can guarantee the BJP’s defeat in West Bengal?

There are six major points that can ensure the BJP’s defeat in West Bengal. In case these issues are utilised correctly by the opponents, the saffron camp’s juggernaut can be resisted, for the time being, however, such an electoral victory against the BJP in West Bengal can’t be a fool-proof one. The BJP may lose the election but will exist as an object of peril for the people.

The question of unemployment

Unemployment is a perennial issue that has plagued West Bengal since 1947. Though Bandopadhyay promised employment before coming to power by defeating the 34-year-long CPI(M)-led Left Front’s regime in 2011, the situation worsened under her. In this article, you may read how corruption has jeopardised the future of the youths who look up to government employment.

Since 2011, there has been a dry spell in the employment sector. Bandopadhyay’s tall promises didn’t materialise and the distress of the unemployed turned into vociferous frustration, which helped the BJP to set up shop in the state.

However, the question is whether the BJP can use the issue of unemployment to defeat the TMC in the West Bengal Assembly elections 2021? Or can the issue of unemployment boomerang to cause the BJP’s defeat in West Bengal?

During his 2014 Lok Sabha election campaigning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised 20jobs annually for five years, ie, 100jobs by 2019. However, forget reaching anywhere close, the unemployment situation worsened under Modi’s rule along with the drastic fall in the GDP. India’s unemployment shot up a 45-year-high to 6.1% in the financial year (FY) 2017-18, due to policies like demonetisation and the roll-out of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which caused major economic disruptions.  

However, this wasn’t enough. The unemployment situation worsened further in the FY 2018-19 and later in the FY 2019-20. In comparison to the national average, West Bengal fared better in terms of unemployment. While during the FY 2019-20, the gross national unemployment rate was 7.63%, West Bengal’s unemployment rate was 6.36%. Out of this, while West Bengal’s average rural unemployment was 5.95%, the national average was 7.07%, and while West Bengal’s average urban unemployment was 7.28%, it was 8.83% for pan-India.

Modi emphasised on selling pakodas (oil-fried snacks) than creating jobs. Moreover, the Modi regime has stopped filling vacancies of the major public sector undertakings (PSUs) like the Indian Railways. With further privatisation of all PSUs and discarding the government’s responsibility as an “employment generator and provider”, the Modi regime has been asking the private sector to play that role.

Rather than employment generation and providing income opportunities to the people during the severe demand crisis that paralysed the Indian economy since the FY 2017-18, the Modi regime has focused only on providing benefits to big corporate houses. This aggravated the demand crisis as the government focused on meeting the supply-side issues, which intensified the unemployment crisis manifold.

After deciding to distribute 7.5m job cards to the unemployed youths in West Bengal, the BJP withdrew the offer as it feared that the Party will be held accountable by the enraged youths. The BJP has been utilising the forums by different aggrieved sections of unemployed youths, including those who have qualified for the Teachers Eligibility Test but are yet to get recruitment in schools. But it’s not telling the young and aspirant job seekers of West Bengal that under its rule, Tripura’s unemployment has shot up to 28.16% in the FY 2019-20.

If this utmost negligence of the BJP in generating employment opportunities for the youth, especially those from the scheduled castes (SCs), scheduled tribes (STs) and other backward classes (OBCs) is highlighted by all major anti-BJP players, be it the TMC or the CPI(M)-Congress alliance, then it will jeopardise the Party’s prospects. The BJP is in no position to answer questions on unemployment, which is a weak spot where the political opponents must hammer hard.

Young voters form a major bloc within the total 83.29m voters. The unemployment crisis in West Bengal is a bigger issue for them than Hindu nationalism and Hindutva hate-mongering. If they realise that the BJP won’t provide them employment opportunities, especially government jobs, but will push them towards a dark and dead alley, they will play a major role in ensuring the BJP’s defeat in West Bengal.

The economic crisis

While it’s true that the BJP has been trying hard to contest the 2021 West Bengal Assembly election by playing the communal, Islamophobic card by identifying itself as a party that cares for the ‘Hindu society’, the intensified economic crisis has marred its gameplan. The incessant rise in fuel prices, the spiking of cooking gas prices and the drastic contraction of the economy under Modi’s rule can provide enough ammunition to the proactive Opposition to bring forth the BJP’s defeat in West Bengal. 

When Modi became the prime minister, the Indian GDP grew, despite a global shock, at 7.41%, which increased to 8.26% in the FY 2016-17. But from FY 2017-18, it started contracting due to the demonetisation exercise, the GST roll-out and the unapologetic corporate appeasement policies. Now, after falling incessantly over years, the Indian GDP growth fell to 4.18% in the FY 2019-20, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country.  

In such a situation, as unemployment staggers at 7% in February 2021, the GDP for the FY 2020-21 is expected to contract by 7.7%, while fuel prices race upwards, resulting in a massive rise in the price of foodstuffs, it’s ridiculous when the BJP claims that it will ensure the rapid growth of West Bengal.  

When the Party couldn’t control inflation in the states ruled by it when it couldn’t employ the people in the states like Uttar Pradesh, how can it resolve West Bengal’s faltering economy? Which capitalists are willing to invest in labour-intensive industries at present when they can multiply their money in the stock market ‘bubbles’? 

Rather than opening industries, under the Modi regime, more factories have closed in West Bengal. The PSUs like Burn Standard Co Ltd, the Hindustan Cables, etc, have been closed. Through the merger of the PSU banks, the Modi regime ended the existence of banks like the Allahabad Bank and the United Bank of India, which were two prominent Kolkata-based banks. 

Along with this, the Modi regime’s fast-paced privatisation of PSUs like Air India, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, Steel Authority of India Limited, Shipping Corporation of India, Life Insurance Corporation of India, etc, threatens the very economic security of India. The Modi regime has liberalised all sectors of the economy to allow the big corporate capital to kill the PSUs. 

To warranty the BJP’s defeat in West Bengal, the jeopardised state of the economy must be used in galore by the anti-BJP forces.

The farmers’ crisis

West Bengal is a predominantly agrarian state, which, despite having only 2.7% of India’s geographical area, supports nearly 8% of India’s food requirement. According to the Government of West Bengal, 96% of West Bengal’s 7.12m farm families are small and marginal farmers. Due to the land reform measures taken intermittently by the erstwhile Left Front regime, the big landholdings were gradually reduced and now the average agricultural landholding in the state is 0.77 hectares.

The Modi regime’s contentious agriculture laws have triggered a massive farmers’ movement in Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and western parts of Uttar Pradesh. This has mobilised millions of farmers all over India and the protests have started in nearly 15 states, according to Bharatiya Kisan Union (Krantikari) [BKU-Krantikari] Punjab unit’s general secretary Surjit Singh Phul. The farmers have called these legislations “pro-corporate” laws that will rob them of their freedom to cultivate and ultimately render them landless.  

Now, for months, the BJP has been showing that the farmers of Haryana and Punjab are agitating as they are afraid of losing the minimum support price (MSP) for crops, which the West Bengal farmers don’t get. They are showing the West Bengal farmers’ relative quietness regarding the farm laws as a sign of the “unpopularity” of the “northern farmers’ movement”. 

But the concerns regarding the contentious farm laws, as raised by organisations like the BKU-Krantikari, are valid for West Bengal farmers as well. According to Phul, if the farmers of Haryana and Punjab are getting the MSP, then why the farmers of West Bengal or Bihar shouldn’t get it. Phul, in an interview to this publication, said it will be better if the farmers of West Bengal join the solidarity movement against the farm laws by carrying out agitations at the village, block and district levels against the three laws.

The state has a rich heritage of farmers’ movement against corporate aggression, which was the principal catalyst in bringing down the three-decade-long Left Front regime. If the political opponents of the Modi regime, including Bandopadhyay’s TMC, can cajole the farmers to join the struggle to save their land from corporate aggression, then it will hasten the BJP’s defeat in West Bengal.  

All that is needed is a series of farmers’ movement against the BJP at the block, district and state level, including demonstrations outside the party offices and residences of all BJP leaders from village level upwards. By forcing the BJP’s local forces to take a stand against the farm laws, the farmers of West Bengal can sustain their movements like that of the farmers of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

Citizenship issue

The Modi regime enacted the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA 2019) with a promise of citizenship to the non-Muslim victims of partition, especially the Namasudra—the second-largest of West Bengal’s SC groups—and other communities. The Matuas, a Namasudra sect, have supported the BJP en masse in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The community, which is crucial in 42 Assembly constituencies of West Bengal, is quite disenchanted by the BJP’s betrayal as it has understood why the CAA 2019 can’t help them apply for Indian citizenship. 

In December 2003, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, in which Bandopadhyay’s TMC was a constituent, passed a draconian law, the CAA 2003. This law put to question the citizenship of those who can’t present legacy documents of 1948 to prove their presence in India and conform to the citizenship norms as per Article 6(B) of the Indian Constitution or conform to the provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955. As most of the victims of partition from Bangladesh neither qualify for citizenship under Article 6(B) nor under the Act of 1955, therefore, their citizenship has been in limbo and none of the major parliamentary parties took interest in their case.

The BJP, by covering up its notorious role in drafting and enacting the CAA 2003 to disenfranchise those who can’t prove their citizenship through the excessively complicated procedure, promised the Matuas and the broad masses of the Namasudra victims of partition that it will provide them with a right to apply for Indian citizenship. However, when the CAA 2019 was enacted, it showed no such opportunity is available for the Matuas and the Namasudras, as well as the broad masses of non-Muslim victims of partition who have been living in the Indian soil since time immemorial.

To avoid getting caught, the Modi regime has been dilly-dallying publicising the Rules of the CAA 2019. This couldn’t help the Modi regime or the BJP in West Bengal in the long run. Thousands of Matuas carried out protest demonstrations against the BJP. They questioned what’s the reason for the delay and why the BJP leaders are uttering contradictory words on providing citizenship through the CAA 2019. 

Now, by shedding the utopian assertion of “we all are citizens” or “those who vote are natural citizens”, the opponents of the BJP, especially the TMC, which has a good organisational presence in the Matua-dominant constituencies, should start intensive campaigning demanding unconditional citizenship rights for all Indian people. This will eventually push the BJP to the backfoot as any simple analysis of the CAA 2019 shows that the law can’t do any justice to those refugees who came to India without a passport or visa or who didn’t register themselves with the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO).  

Brainwashed by intense Hindutva radicalisation, a section of the victims of partition do believe that the CAA 2019 will provide them citizenship and not throw them under the bus. The opposition must focus on weaning away the Matuas and the Namasudras from the BJP’s fold by de-radicalising them and by properly intensifying the campaigns around an unconditional citizenship law.

The demand for an unconditional citizenship law will push the BJP to retreat as its Brahminical prejudices can’t allow to offer equal citizenship rights to the OBCs, STs or ostracised SC communities like the Namasudras and the Matuas. The more this demand will be amplified the more will be the chances of the BJP’s defeat in West Bengal.

The issue of corruption

The BJP has been calling the government of Bandopadhyay“Pishi-BhaiporSarkar”, which means the government of the paternal aunt and her nephew, to attack the growing clout of Abhishek Banerjee, Bandopadhyay’s nephew. Moreover, the BJP has been accusing the TMC—quite rightly so—of being complicit in several scams, including the infamous chit-fund scam, the Narada sting operations, etc. It’s promising the people of West Bengal a corruption-free reign.

But what’s the BJP’s record in providing relief from corruption? How are other states ruled by it are faring?

According to the “India Corruption Survey 2019 Report” by Transparency International India, five out of the top eight corrupt states were BJP-ruled. West Bengal didn’t figure in that list despite rampant corruption at different levels. The BJP’s rule didn’t change things in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, etc.

The BJP has been accusing the TMC of being a party of gangsters, extortionists, criminals and corrupt politicians. It claims a holier-than-thou status. However, due to the lack of an organically-grown organisation, the BJP uses its money power and muscle power to poach leaders from the TMC and other organisations like the Congress and the CPI(M)-led Left Front. By merely poaching leaders from other parties, especially those like Subhendu Adhikari or Mukul Roy, accused in several scams, the BJP increased its tally in the outgoing Assembly from three to 29 seats.  

Now, when the people, who loath the TMC for housing these leaders for years, were looking to vote for the BJP to weed them away, the presence of these very leaders in the BJP turned them away from the Party. Many anti-TMC votes of the BJP, which wasn’t generated merely by Islamophobia or for the demand of citizenship, can now switch to the Congress party-Left Front camp.

If the issue of corruption is highlighted repeatedly and with the clear indication of how the BJP shamelessly inducted the corrupt TMC defectors and gave them clean chit from investigations, then it will be a jolt for the BJP. The more one can create a narrative around the fact that the BJP has become a washing machine in West Bengal and is providing immunity to the TMC’s criminals and scamsters, it will help to guarantee the BJP’s defeat in West Bengal.

The ‘non-Bengali’ BJP

The BJP is a party of Hindi and Gujarati speakers. In West Bengal, these communities have patronised the RSS’s operations since time immemorial. Now, despite the BJP trying to gain a pan-Bengal identity, it neither has organic local leaders who can connect well with the sentiments of the various people of West Bengal, especially the Bengali-speaking people.

Driven by north Indian culture and Gujarati non-meat-consuming food habits, the BJP-RSS combo has launched a plethora of campaigns to convert the Bengali Hindus, the tribals and different SC communities into a “pure Hindu vote bank”, which will vote only for the party irrespective of the political and economic situation.

To counter this trend and to ensure the BJP’s defeat in West Bengal, it’s imperative to build up a cultural resistance to the Hindutva aggression by highlighting how the Bengali and other indigenous people of the Banga will be turned into slaves of the Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan juggernaut. The love for one’s language, identity and the de-radicalisation of the toxified minds can take forward the cause of BJP’s defeat in West Bengal, in case the goal is taken up seriously.

Is the BJP’s defeat in West Bengal an achievable goal?

There are several doubts and questions about the outcome of the 2021 West Bengal. Despite being anti-fascists, many have lost the hope that the BJP can be resisted, at least. This lack of confidence is caused by the BJP’s ability to captivate the audience by using optics that support its vision.

Though the BJP and the RSS are trying to utilise the communal polarisation scheme to garner votes, the discussions on unemployment, falling economy, rising prices, the lies regarding the CAA 2019 and the induction of corrupt and scamsters at crucial positions will corner the Party during the 2021 West Bengal assembly election.

It’s imperative to ensure the BJP’s defeat in West Bengal. Only by launching a strong anti-BJP movement, the withering opponents can preserve themselves, stop the BJP from changing the Constitution in 2014 and show the way to other states of the country. In case the BJP’s threat is taken seriously and both the TMC and the Congress party-Left Front alliance turns their spearheads against the BJP with utmost seriousness, then the latter will find it difficult to breathe in the tough turf of West Bengal.

An avid reader and a merciless political analyst. When not writing then either reading something, debating something or sipping espresso with a dash of cream. Street photographer. Tweets as @la_muckraker

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