Brand Mamata, Bengali pride neutralised BJP

Mamata Banerjee at a presser at her Kalighat residence on Monday

KOLKATA: The Trinamool Congress’ spectacular win in the West Bengal polls could be a case study of how a party could prevent massive consolidation of Hindu votes in a state having a 30% Muslim population.
The ruling Trinamool worked on various caste, sub-caste and linguistic groups and also nursed the Bengali sub-nationalism sentiment against BJP’s majoritarian approach to counter-polarize Hindu votes. The BJP strategy worked in pockets but could not give it the push to attain the magic number.
Sociologist and Presidency University’s former head of sociology and political science departments Prasanta Roy said not all Hindus could fit into one lot, much as BJP might have strategized. “There is a degree of Hinduness in each one of us. A section of them is rational and calculative. Not all are Hindus at all costs. They saw everything and took an informed decision,” he said.
Roy pointed to the fact that even CM Mamata Banerjee ensured she recited slokas at her meetings and visited temples in Nandigram. “Perhaps she knew that she needed to reach a certain section of voters to ensure they did not vote against her. Even Indira Gandhi had visited Belur Math on her visits here. It is not new as a trend but certainly new for the chief minister, whose rise till now has been largely secular,” he said.
Contrary to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls when BJP took away the majority of SC/ST votes, Trinamool this time won 36 SC seats and BJP 32. Trinamool also had an edge over BJP in seats reserved for STs, winning nine such seats against the latter’s seven. The BJP lost Hemtabad seat having a substantial Rajbanshi presence, but picked up many seats in Adivasi-dominated Jhargram and West Midnapore.
Yet, there are instances of blatant polarization on religious lines. Two seats in Murshidabad are examples. Trinamool’s Idris Ali won Bhagabangola seat that has a huge Muslim presence by a margin of 1,06,008 votes. BJP’s Subrata Maitra won Hindu-dominated Behrampore seat, defeating three-time Congress MLA Manoj Chakraborty and Trinamool’s Naru Gopal Mukherjee.
Polarisation also worked in BJP’s favour in Ranaghat of Nadia and Bongaon subdivision of North 24 Parganas but wasn’t strong enough in other parts of Bengal.
Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, an expert in social and political history of South Asia and director of New Zealand India Research Institute, said Trinamool managed to juxtapose brand Mamata against BJP’s time-tested pan-India Hindu consolidation. “Mamata Banerjee, despite all her mistakes, is still an identifiable brand, one that is very Bengali in nature. Ordinary citizens feel comforted to be associated with her,” he said.
It was a matter of Bengalis’ self-respect or “asmita”,’ said Trinamool MP and key strategist Saugata Roy. “We pitched it as a fight between outsiders and Bengal’s own daughter. After all, all the people that BJP brought in were from outside and this touched a chord with the people. They weren’t going to vote for outsiders,” he added.
Former CEO of Prasar Bharati and political commentator Jawhar Sircar felt the TMC played to its character. “The TMC simply projected itself as an aggressive party that alone could combat BJP’s aggressive politics. If 75 per cent of 27% of Muslim votes went largely (not all) to TMC, then also it may account for 20% of total votes — or even less. The remaining 28% of total votes that TMC got was almost totally from Hindus, while the 38% that BJP got was all Hindu votes,” argued Sircar.

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