Deliberate lies and innuendos mark PM’s campaign in Bengal, but is it worth it?

Must the PM stoop to conquer ? He and the BJP pulled out all stops to ensure Mamata Banerjee loses in Nandigram. But even if she does but her party forms the government, she will still be CM

Deliberate lies and innuendos mark  PM’s campaign in Bengal, but is it worth it?

S N M Abdi

Narendra Modi has put the world on the back burner to lead the BJP’s poll battle in West Bengal where an unprecedented eight-phase assembly elections are on. For the Sangh Parivar, Bengal appears to be the last frontier - though Kerala would definitely prove to be an even harder nut to crack. Modi has therefore reserved all his time and energy to crush the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamul Congress in power since 2011 to fulfil the BJP-RSS dream.

Modi’s strategy to topple Banerjee includes psychological warfare along with money power and collusive central agencies and Election Commission. Two instances of Modi’s psych ops stand out. One, his announcement on the day of polling in Nandigram where Banerjee is contesting from, that Banerjee has conceded defeat in Nandigram and is going to file her nomination from another seat to get elected. Two, his declaration that Muslims have deserted Banerjee sealing the fate of the Trinamul and paving the way for the BJP’s spectacular victory. Both announcements, it turns out, are nothing but disinformation and misinformation – call it what you will.

There are conflicting reports from Nandigram. It’s a fact that Banerjee was holed up in a single polling booth for three hours on election day instead of touring the constituency comprising 350-plus booths. And after polling hours, she threatened to take the Election Commission to court. Neither augur well for her. On the other hand, the BJP’s back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that its candidate in Nandigram, Suvendu Adhikari who recently crossed over from Trinamul, will win only if he gets 80 percent of the Hindu votes cast - which is a tall order! Moreover, the CPM has fielded Meenakshi Mukherjee who will dent the BJP’s Hindu vote-bank helping Banerjee in the polarised showdown.

The Chief Minister might ultimately scrape through by a narrow margin. But even in the worst-case scenario from her perspective – realisation of an impending defeat in the Nandigram contest – why on earth will she fight from another seat as Modi has ludicrously claimed? As PM, Modi should not peddle narratives that undermine the sanctity of the high constitutional office he holds. The hat he dons as BJP leader and star campaigner should not be at the cost of standards he must adhere to as PM.

Even if Banerjee is convinced that Adhikari has beaten her hollow in Nandigram, she won’t commit the blunder of fighting from another seat as that would amount to conceding defeat long before the results are announced on May 2. Throwing in the towel would demoralise the Trinamul rank and file and give the BJP an upper hand in the remaining phases of polling. Would any politician do that – let alone Banerjee who has been long enough in the business to know what’s good for her and the party she heads.

Didi’s goal is to defeat the BJP which is after her blood. If she loses in Nandigram but the Trinamul scores over the BJP winning enough seats to form the government, she would still be sworn in as CM! She would then contest a byelection and win. Modi would have done exactly that if he was in her shoes. Yet he deliberately rustled up the patently false script of Banerjee contesting from another seat to browbeat the Trinamul belittling the office of the PM. Such tactics don’t win respect; they invite only scorn and contempt.

Subsequently, Modi announced that Muslims have dumped Banerjee – another big fat lie. He made the preposterous claim after Banerjee appealed to Muslim voters to not allow their votes to get split among different political parties. Importantly, she had also urged Hindus and Muslims to vote unitedly in the same speech. Modi interpreted Banerjee telling Muslims to vote en bloc as proof of Muslims ditching her. He also said that had he made a similar appeal to Hindus, the EC would have been flooded with complaints. His remark was like a dog-whistle! The poll watchdog promptly demanded Banerjee’s explanation for alleged communal canvassing. Accused of gratifying Modi, the EC show-caused Adhikari too for referring to Banerjee as “Begum” and accusing her of creating a “mini-Pakistan”.

But the fact remains that Muslims are solidly behind the Trinamul. Muslims are Trinamul’s most loyal constituents for obvious reasons – they see Banerjee as the lone bulwark against the BJP. They will vote en masse for Trinamul to keep the BJP at bay. They can’t afford to waste their vote as it’s a question of their survival. The Indian Secular Front floated by Muslim cleric Abbas Siddiqui - who Banerjee publicly accuses of taking money from the BJP to split Muslim votes – might harvest some Muslim votes in Furfura Sharif in Hooghly district where Siddiqui is based.

The biggest proof of Banerjee’s popularity among Muslims is the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s retreat from the election fray after Asaduddin Owaisi’s threats in January-February to “change the face of Bengal politics” for ever. Owaisi’s talks with Siddiqui flopped with the latter deciding to enter into an alliance with the CPI(M) and Congress Party rather than becoming an AIMIM franchisee. After making a splash in Bihar and announcing grand plans for West Bengal, the AIMIM is ultimately contesting only seven seats in West Bengal as a face-saver. Owaisi, who is nobody’s fool, decided to cut his losses after realising that Bengal’s Muslim prefer Banerjee to him.

A politician of Modi’s stature resorting to lies and falsehoods shows that West Bengal is not a low-hanging fruit for a powerful party like the BJP. Banerjee is no push-over. As things stand today, a BJP victory is among the probable outcome but then history will record the BJP’s path to electoral triumph strewn with lies circulated by the PM, no less, to win by any means fair or foul.

(The author is an award-winning investigative journalist and commentator. Views are personal)

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