The BJP has won nearly half the Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal -- 18 out of 42 -- whereas Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress bagged 22 – 12 less than its 2014 tally. This is contrary to my report, Mamata and Muslims will thwart BJP in West Bengal, published in this newspaper’s May 12, 2019 issue. Hence I owe my editors and readers and explanation.
I had not foreseen that the very communists who had kept the Hindu Right at bay for decades would vote almost en masse for BJP just to spite Trinamool-Mamata which evicted them from power in 2011. The communist volte face upset my calculations. Because of communists, Mamata and Muslims could not stop the BJP’s march in Bengal. There were random warnings that the Left was aiding and abetting Hindutva forces but I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have because I never imagined that Reds who we have grown up admiring for their values and commitment would so suddenly and shamelessly kiss their ideology goodbye and jump into bed with the BJP.
The statistics say it all. In 2014, the vote share of Trinamool, Left, Congress and BJP was 39.77, 29.93, 9.68 and 17.02 per cent respectively. This time it’s 43.29, 7.47, 5.61 and 40.23. While Trinamool’s vote share has actually increased, the BJP’s shot up dramatically thanks to the ominous slide in the Left’s from 29.93 to 7.47 per cent. Clearly a hell of a lot of communists and some Congressmen shifted their allegiance to the BJP resulting in victory in as many as 18 seats upsetting many calculations, including mine.
The irony is inescapable. It was Bengal’s communists who had aborted the Hindu Right in the 1950s. And now in 2019 communists are responsible for its rebirth.
The Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS), which metamorphosed into the BJP, was fathered in 1951 by none other than a Bengali Brahmin, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, as the political arm of the RSS. For the newborn BJS, the rivers of blood and mountains of corpses in post-Partition Bengal were like manna from heaven. Little wonder then that the first Lok Sabha (1952) had two BJS MPs from Bengal; Mookerjee won in Kolkata and Durga Charan Banerjee in Jhargram, while Hindu Mahasabha's Nirmal Chatterjee was elected from Hooghly. Moreover, nine BJS MLAs got elected.
Thereafter, the Hindu Right was totally upstaged by the Communists who won over the sea of Hindu refugees pouring into Bengal from East Pakistan. Smart handling of refugee politics by Reds ensured that the BJS or Hindu Mahasabha didn't win a single Lok Sabha or state legislative assembly seat in Bengal for 25 years! For a quarter of a century — no less — Hindu refugees and West Bengal Hindus shunned Hindutva forces, reducing them to pariahs in the liberal-secular milieu.
After the Emergency, BJS's Bijoy Mondal won from Bankura on a Janata Party ticket in the 1977 Lok Sabha polls. Then there was a drought for 21 years, which ended in 1998 when Tapan Sikdar won from Dum Dum on a BJP ticket. In subsequent parliamentary polls, the BJP has bagged one or two seats. Until the votes were counted on May 23, 2019, it had two MPs. In 1977, two BJS MLAs were also elected as Janata Party candidates. West Bengal got its first BJP MLA only in 2000. In 2016, there were three BJP MLAs representing a miniscule 1.1 per cent in the 294-strong legislature.
How did the Hindutva forces lose the plot in Bengal despite perfect conditions for their brand of politics? The communists proved to be their undoing. Hindu refugees did not succumb to the charms of the BJS which specialised in Muslim and Pakistan-bashing. Instead, they fell for the CPI which genuinely fought for their rehabilitation in Bengal, bitterly opposing Congress CM B C Roy’s plans to pack them off to Dandakaranya or the Andamans. The communists split in 1964 but both factions fought for the refugees’ right to security and equality essential for restarting life afresh with dignity. They also gave them a world view, firing their imagination with stories about revolutionary China, Russia, Cuba and Vietnam. Instead of kirtans, they encouraged songs like “We shall overcome…”.
While the Hindu Right stuttered, deft handling of refugee politics swept the CPM to power in Bengal in 1967 in alliance with the Bangla Congress. Called the United Front, it won again in 1969. The Basu-led Left Front finally triumphed in 1977 and ruled until 2011, when it was trounced by Trinamool. The BJP thought that after the Left’s debacle, Bengalis would repose their faith in it. But the electorate quietly switched its allegiance to Trinamool, leaving the BJP fuming.
Clearly, those who had once purged Bengal of right-wing forces, have now cleared the decks for its grand re-entry. Former West Bengal chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya, ailing and a recluse, had apparently sensed what comrades were up to. Writing in the party mouthpiece, Ganashakti, as recently as on May 5, he asked: “Is it a good idea to jump from the TMC frying pan into the BJP fire?”
There is no doubt that communist betrayal is the biggest reason for the BJP bursting on the Bengal scene. The unprecedented transfer of Left votes to the BJP’s kitty has reshaped the state’s politics. The situation could have been averted if Mamata had given the Left some political space instead of trying to rule over every inch under the sun. But that’s as they say is another story.
(The author is a prize-winning investigative journalist and commentator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)