Voters in West Bengal have rejected religion-based politics
The issues that matter to new generation rationalist Bengali Hindus are good education, intellectual freedom, good job opportunities and better life
The most important lesson from the results of the West Bengal Assembly election is that the state is not prepared to accept religion-based politics. The state would rather suffer inadequate economic development, lack of industry, large unemployment and extortion than surrender to a political rule compromised on religion.
The BJP tried to oversell Hindutva in a state which generally maintained a secular identity for over 70 years. Economic well-being of the people is very important to the general public of West Bengal, but not at the cost of their secular sentiments.
The repeated campaign thrust on West Bengal by top national-level BJP leaders, Union ministers led by the Prime Minister himself, and state chief ministers to try and cash in on the state’s majority Hindu sentiment to grab power seems to have been viewed with serious suspicion by a good majority of secular Hindus. BJP read the 2019 parliamentary election results, which gave the party as many as 18 seats out of 42, wrong.
Those who voted for BJP were not suddenly enamoured by its Hindutva. They voted for it as they found no improvement of their lot under TMC, which allegedly surrendered its local control to ‘syndicates’, cut-money operators, unregulated chit fund promoters and ‘tolabaji’ or extortion.
The BJP did try to exploit these sentiments during the last poll campaign, but its key focus on Hindutva seemed to have unnerved many of its supporters during the last Lok Sabha polls. If the BJP had been able to maintain its 2019 parliamentary election gains in West Bengal, it would have secured at least 125 assembly seats. As such, the BJP has clearly yielded ground to the TMC in the assembly election.
Unlike those in most of the northern, western and central parts of India, educated Hindus in the eastern state of West Bengal are more like rationalists. They follow a different culture and thought process. Their rationalist approach is based more on reason, logic and knowledge than on strong religious belief or emotional response.
Unfortunately, BJP’s Hindi-heartland leaders do not quite understand these sentiments.
Religion never got much weightage in West Bengal politics despite the fact that a large portion of the state’s population entered the Indian province as refugees from former East Pakistan or East Bengal to save their life in the face of well-engineered murderous attacks from politically supported Muslim ultras before and after the partition of India in 1947.
That was over seven decades ago. New generation rationalist Bengali Hindus are least interested in looking back to the past. More than religion, what matters to them are good education, intellectual freedom, good job opportunities and better life.
Lastly, politically hyperactive West Bengal rarely witnessed a peaceful election. Now that the election is over and TMC is back in power, one hopes that retaliatory political attacks will be contained. TMC’s third consecutive state election victory makes it only the second political entity, after the Left Front, to rule West Bengal for more than two terms at a stretch. Since India’s independence, West Bengal has been governed by a total of eight chief ministers, of whom CPM’s Jyoti Basu ruled for 23 years, making him the country's longest serving CM. Now, Mamata Banerjee is set to become the second longest serving CM in the state.
Views are personal