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Tough for rightist party like BJP in largely Left-leaning Bengal
Nirendra Dev
Tough for rightist party like BJP in largely Left-leaning Bengal

The Left Front may be huffing and puffing but the BJP, desperate to make a mark in West Bengal, is realising that Bengali votes may be culturally and intellectually "essentially pro-Left".

West Bengal, where staggered assembly elections began on April 4, offers more than a Herculean challenge and jigsaw puzzle to the BJP and its politics of neo-nationalism, liberal economic policies and Hindutva slant, say those in the know of things.

Even as the saffron party's electoral fortune surged in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in Bengal, party leaders acknowledge that they are up against "basic ideological barriers" more than organisational weaknesses.

"The fact that Bengali voters and even others in the state remain pro-Left ideologically, culturally and intellectually makes things difficult for the BJP in West Bengal, unlike in Assam where the pro-Hindutva slant always had acceptance among upper caste Assamese," a Bharatiya Janata Party leader who did not want to be identified told IANS.

Thus, BJP managers believe that while the party is near a striking distance in Assam, the going would be tough in West Bengal despite an aggressive campaign against a limping Left and the ruling Trinamool Congress.

In Assam, upper caste Hindus relate to the Brahminical appeal of the RSS and the BJP unlike in West Bengal where, ironically, the upper caste Bengali 'Bhadrolok' has for decades been associated with Marxist politics.

One reason why Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee cornered what was once a solid Left vote bank and why she remains popular is that she never portrayed herself as anti-Left -- despite being the biggest political foe of the Marxists.

Trinamool MP and former union minister Sishir Adhikari explained to IANS: "During Marxist misrule when Singur and Nandigram happened, the people of Bengal saw us as genuine followers of Communist ideology. That was the turning point of Bengal politics."

This was when, he pointed out, Trinamool leaders started mocking CPI-M leaders as "pseudo followers" of Karl Marx.

"This actually helped the Trinamool to get votes. Slowly people in Maoist-hit areas developed courage and faith in democracy," he said.

Thus, when Mamata Banerjee played to the hilt her pro-farmers card against the failed industrialisation attempts of the Left, she appeared to the peopleas a more genuine political leader than the Marxists.

This also made easier the task of those Left cadres who decided to opt for 'Didi' -- Mamata Banerjee -- and her Trinamool Congress and abandon old-style Marxist politics.

The BJP's Asansol MP and union minister Babul Supriyo admitted that Didi's persona too helped defeat the Left.

"Didi's image as a pro-poor leader who wore rubber 'chappals' and a cotton sari actually challenged the Leftists' proletarian claims. But today, while 'Didi' still moves in chappals, her party colleagues are no less than 'crorepatis'," he said.

In sharp contrast, both in economic and social contexts, the BJP lacks the Left slant. So, despite campaigning aggressively, the apprehension in the BJP camp is that the party may not win many seats in West Bengal.

Indeed, there is acceptance that a higher vote share for the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls actually helped the CPI-M.

For instance, in Raiganj seat, CPI-M's Mohammed Salim defeated Deepa Dasmunshi of the Congress by just 1,634 votes even as BJP candidate Nimu Bhowmick polled over two lakh votes.

Sudip Bandyopadhyay, a long-time associate of Mamata Banerjee, has repeatedly underscored the importance of 'being Left' in West Bengal -- if one has to make a decisive mark.

"We understood from the very beginning that the Left Front could not be defeated in Bengal from a rightist platform. So despite the best attempts personally from Atal Bihari Vajpayee and strong opposition from the likes of the late Ajit Panja, the Trinamool quit the BJP-led NDA," he said.

The rest, as they say, is history -- or Didi's story. The BJP is beginning to understand this. 

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