The election campaign for 2019 is reaching its final lap. The unmistakable undercurrent is for Narendra Modi. I am observing the campaign from West Bengal, one of the most difficult states in terms of electioneering and voting. People across the state are connecting to Modi. The vast electorate, especially in small town West Bengal, is clear on the narrative of national security; the need to have an uncompromising security policy for India, the need to oppose those who call for India’s disintegration or are ambivalent when India’s sovereignty is challenged and borders are violated.
This is an emotion that motley groups of “limousine liberals” who are now peregrinating across West Bengal, will scarcely understand or recognise.It is clear that the ordinary Bengali sees in Modi an alternative. He is making them think and look for alternatives. To the middle class Bengali, Modi is intriguing; they see his hard work, they appreciate his one-pointed focus on development, and they feel he does the right thing by resolutely focusing on his goal of pushing India ahead. Even those who are opposed to his politics, grudgingly admit his commitment to India’s vikas.
There is also a section, the generation that dutifully voted the Left and retains a mild nostalgia for the “Jyoti-babu” era, now looks to Modi, and finds him interesting and inspiring in certain respects. His commitment to India’s growth and his unrelenting attack on Mamata Banerjee’s nepotistic tendencies impress them.
There is something interesting happening in West Bengal. Though the state has now outdone Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in poll violence, one sees, for the first time, the ordinary voters protesting and resisting any attempts by lumpens of the ruling party to snatch away their democratic right and voice. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) seems to be rattled. Internal feuds, uncertain electoral prospects, the rise in Modi’s popularity, the tenaciousness of the BJP’s workers on the ground, the huge turnout that Modi’s public meetings attracts is unsettling the ruling TMC. Mamata Banerjee’s public utterances are increasingly getting intemperate, attendance in her public meetings are thinning and there is a clear sense that the ordinary voter is fatigued with the intrusiveness of the party, the rampant syndicatism and the brazen attempt by the ruling party to control and regulate their daily lives that has begun irking them.
Observers who are occasional visitors to West Bengal, who especially come during elections, have no actual sense and understanding of the political climate of the state. They cannot understand the extent to which the ruling TMC goes to ensure that opposition politics does not have space in the state. Attacks on opposition activists, especially those belonging to the BJP, the politics of fear and hate, the politics that displays disdain for religious sentiments of the Hindus, the politics that tolerates no other view, dominate the public sphere of the state today. In a sense, West Bengal, especially the hinterlands, is fast turning into a fascist gulag in which you are safe and free as long as you toe the line of the ruling dispensation.
Essentially a party that grew out of the anti-Leftism, the TMC is not bound by ideology and does not comprise workers and cadres trained and guided by a larger ideological orientation and direction. Once in power, party satraps divided the state among themselves, each fiercely protecting their turf and zones. The Left parties could not recover from the shock of defeat, while a large section of the lumpens that it patronised and also kept on leash, switched over to the TMC, where there was no brakes as long as you professed allegiance to “Didi”. Political intolerance, brazen nepotism, factional feuds and an overwhelming atmosphere of fear at all levels are the expressions of TMC rule. Modi symbolises the hope of being liberated from this asphyxiating state of being.
Anirban Ganguly is Director, Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, Member of Policy Research Department, BJP and National Co-Convener of Library and Documentation Department, BJP