Why is the battle for Bengal turning so vicious and bloody? The PM must share part of the blame

It was for the Prime Minister to lead by example, exercise restraint and be dignified. But he continues to contest polls like a street fighter. But he may have finally met his match

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Left) and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (Right).
Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Left) and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (Right).

NHS Bureau

Bengal has turned into a battleground of words, nerves and in the literal sense. Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee have accused each other of triggering a blood bath in the state. Mamata Banerjee described the central security forces firing outside a polling booth as “genocide” while PM Modi blamed her and her party for encouraging their supporters to attack central forces trying to conduct ‘’free and fair election’’.

The role of the supposedly neutral umpire in elections, Election Commission of India, too has come under attack. The West Bengal chief minister is repeatedly blaming the EC for working at Home Minister Amit Shah’s behest. The EC's decision to slap a 24 hour campaign ban on Mamata Banerjee also raised eyebrows. It is perhaps unprecedented because no sitting chief minister has ever been banned from campaigning before. The EC, however, is seen to have been far more lenient against main BJP leaders, who publicly justified the firing by central security forces in Cooch Behar. That possibly was not deemed instigation enough by the EC.

Well, the situation is certainly grim in Bengal. If this kind of a verbal duel continues between Mamata and Modi, the remaining rounds of polling in Bengal will surely be vitiated and may turn more violent. Is there any hope of better sense prevailing? There seems to be no hope at all of Bengal election process cooling down now. The responsibility squarely lies upon Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Being the PM, a national leader and heading the Executive, the onus was on him to lead by example and exercise much more restraint. But he campaigns in elections like a street fighter and as if he is still in the opposition. It is no holds barred for him when it comes to secure votes and winning elections. But he seems to have met his match in Mamata Banerjee, who too is as feisty a street fighter as any. She seems to have tripped Modi’ s game of polarization in Bengal.

PM Modi’s usual game of polarising voters and mobilising Hindu votes in favour of the BJP is not working to the extent the Prime Minister would like, it seems. The Hindus of Bengal are divided along several parties. The hardcore is, of course, with the BJP. But a large section are also supportive of Mamata Banerjee. She in turn has counter polarized Bengali voters projecting the Modi-Shah-central forces-Election Commission combine's ‘onslaught’ as an attack on Bengal, Bengali culture and Bengali identity. Mamata’s tactics of projecting herself as the saviour of Bengal and Bengali culture and ethos has a big chunk of both Bengali Hindus and Bengali Muslims rallying round her. Besides, a good number of loyal Left and liberal Hindu sections are also voting for the Left and Congress alliance in Bengal.

There is clearly a three-way divide in Bengal between the BJP, the TMC and the Left-Congress alliance. Besides, the more the Modi-Shah-central security forces-Election Commission combine turn their aggression against Mamata Banerjee, the more it helps consolidate her supporters around Trinamool Congress. The failure of the BJP to prop up a player like Asaduddin Owasi unlike in Bihar to divide Bengali Muslim votes is also playing out in her favour.

The Hindu division and the Muslim consolidation is certainly bad news for both Modi and the BJP which have put their prestige on stake to wrest Bengal by any means. Modi is now forced to increasingly go for more and more polarization to win over Hindu constituency. It is driving Mamata to hit back with more Bengali and Muslim polarization. So, Bengal elections have turned into a hot no holds barred electoral battle wherein both Modi and Mamata are unwilling to bend. It has turned into a game of one-upmanship.

Fingers must be crossed till May 2, when votes finally get counted after a long election, which seems to have been unnecessary.

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Published: 14 Apr 2021, 12:13 PM