There is a perception that fishy Bengalis have a natural inclination towards the left. It would be a good debate whether the habit of eating fish curry (macher jhol) with rice (bhat) has any influence on Bengalis’ socio-political perception or not.
West Bengal has a record of longest serving Left political parties that won in 7 consecutive democratic elections.
In 2011, after an uninterrupted rule for 34 years, the Left Front government was overthrown by Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress with the alliance with CONG. However, there were some rumors that BJP and RSS also gave a moral support to Trinamool Congress.
During the Left Front regime, the larger social identities were key characteristics of Bengal’s politics. To counter, TMC started identity politics and it became one of the key strategies to win the election in 2011.
This shift led to a new socio-political perspective into the life of fishy Bengalis.
Everyone is interested in what’s new. Few people are interested in what’s better
Till 2014 Lok Sabha election, this new political narrative was in favor of Mamata Banerjee led TMC. Just before the Lok Sabha election in 2014, nationwide BJP came up with a new narrative that politics is not just domestic: external enemies are also supposedly threatening the nation, economically and geopolitically, and a populist agenda aims to overcome these threats and put the national interests of ‘the people’ first. Thus, religion, ethnicity and immigration play a role in all four cases. With these political propositions, BJP and its alliance NDA secured majority of the seats to win the Lok Sabha election and formed the Government.
After BJP came to power at the center, the saffron party started smelling that there is something really fishy in Bengal’s politics. Since, TMC had deserted the identity politics plank, the BJP used it to its advantage.
BJP/RSS have grown at an exponential rate in Bengal. In 2019 Lok Sabha election, BJP secured 41% of vote share and bagged 18 out of 42 seats in West Bengal. This overwhelming success helped BJP to emerge as the principal opposition party of the TMC.
The irony here is that, the seeds of identity politics were already sowed by the present ruling party TMC and it’s leader Mamata Banerjee, actually benefited the BJP now and they emerge as one of the biggest political rivals of TMC.
Everything was looking very certain as both of these two political rivals are getting more and more time and space in the media (both social and traditional) and also in the political mind of Bengal’s people. All other parties mainly Left and CONG looked like fish out of the water in Bengal politics.
However on the national level, class politics has been made relevant in Indian politics again by a string of decisions taken by BJP-led central government, which has severely affected a large section of the marginal group of people in our country.
The unplanned and poorly managed lockdown by the Central government forced lakhs of migrant workers back to their home from other states and cities on foot with their children in tow. In the state like West Bengal where unemployment is one of the major concerns of the last decade, lakhs of people who were working as migrant workers across different states in our country came back to their home mostly by their own arrangements. There was very limited support from the State government of West Bengal for this section of distressed people. Situation became worse due to the super cyclone Amphan.
Although both the Central and State Governments announced few welfare schemes for the people who are really in a big big trouble. But due to massive leakages and poor implementation there were very limited benefits transferred to the needful people. Instead of monitoring whether the benefit is effectively delivered to the targeted group of people, both BJP and TMC were more concerned and were busy showcasing their schemes to get political dividend in the coming assembly election in 2021.
During this crisis, youth & student wings of different Left parties not only stepped up with their social networking but also played active roles in the relief programmes launched by the parent left political parties. The pandemic-infused labor distress provided Left parties an opportunity to renew their contacts with people, which they had somewhat lost due to the growing influence of identity politics and market economy.
Along with the job loss due to pandemic, price rise, imposition of new farm and labor laws, move to privatize public services such as railways, wage cuts among others added to the woes of weaker sections of the people in the country as well as the state. The bread and butter issues arising from the Centre’s crony capitalism did appeal to the farmers and workers. The loss of millions of jobs during the pandemic and the Centre’s and state’s silence on creation of job opportunities are causing concern to the youths, who are seeing an uncertain future for them. In these challenging situations, the Left started warming up and stretched its political willingness to stay and work with people who are anxiously living with the pain of having less and less.
There were continuous protests organized by the left parties since September in different districts of Bengal against the farm laws brought in by the BJP led Central Government. They also started organizing people on issues like job opportunity, wage cut and other major economic issues like rise in price of essential goods and commodities, fuel price, privatization of the bank and insurance sector against both the State and Central Government. These organized protests and a different version of political narrative away from identity based welfare politics and party switching, are drawing good attention of the crowds and majority of them are the young people across gender and social identity.
Two big fish, Left political parties and CONG along with other new political parties started realizing that they are not completely out of the water.
A Sunday well-spent brings a week of content
While there were a good amount of crowds organized by the Left and CONG to protest against issues related to common peoples existence and rights, BJP and TMC was busy to establish their binary political narrative of rivalry between themselves.
It was Sunday February 28th, when people across different districts of west Bengal flooded the Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata for the joint rally organized by Left Front, Congress and new political party ISF. According to different media reports there were around 10 lakhs of people gathered at this political rally where Left Front with its alliance partners CONG and ISF constituted the “Sanjkut Morcha ” to fight the TMC and BJP. Sanjukta Morcha broke into the electoral fray of the state assembly elections which was so far being projected as a fight between the TMC and BJP.
On the very next Sunday in March 7th, BJP also organized a rally on the Brigade Parade Ground. In Spite of star power on stage, two key factors were the prime minister himself and Mithun Chakraborty popularly known as ” Mithun Da” who formally joined the BJP. In his speech the prime minister emphasized on the “Double Engine Development” model (same party government at both central and state level).
A group of educated youngsters as candidates and frontline election campaigners, bundled with new trendy ideas on social media and street campaigns like use of parody songs, flash mobs, Left’s and Sanjukta Morcha are attracting lots of attention among the people of Bengal.
No one can predict the future with any degree of certainty
Being rational individuals, our general tendency is trying to predict future outcomes so that we can manage uncertainty.
There are already a string of opinion polls, majority of them validate the two party rivalry story and predict a neck to neck fight between TMC and BJP. If you believe what you read and listen to in the social and traditional media , you’d think that everyone has already made up their mind about whom to vote in the coming election.
Let’s try to look at it from a different perspective and try to understand the readiness of two major political parties and the coalition Sunjukta Morcha to win this election.
For TMC, it’s really a do or die situation. They have to win this election to continue their political existence. Recent trend of the Party switching from TMC to BJP is one of the most alarming indications for Mamata Banerjee lead TMC. If they are not able to manage the number of seats required to come back to the power, then there is a probability that most of the leaders and party workers may switch to the party that will come to the power. Hence, it’s a a very crucial moment for the party and its supremo.
Being in the power of the central government BJP always has a national outlook. To them Left parties are their arch rivals. BJP wouldn’t mind becoming the main opposition party by marginalizing the Left and CONG.
And finally the Left and their allies, it’s the opportunity to prove their relevance and acceptance in the politics of Bengal and India also (as most of the Leftist leaning minds across the country are also watching them very closely after the success of Left in Bihar election).
To conclude, we can say that when you assume that nothing will change, you are predicting the future just as surely as when you assume that something will change.
Hence, remember Peter’s Law: The unexpected always happens.
It’s really very fishy!!
*Sujoy Ghosh is a Trend Watcher ( Economy and Politics and holds a masters degree in Economics
Kindly note that the point of views expressed in the article are entirely the author’s personal views. IPD takes no responsibility for the same.