Home Minister Amit Shah was bent on winning Bengal this time. He not only held rallies there, but also used Central government agencies to strengthen his party’s position. Even the Election Commission attracted criticism the way things panned out. In the end of course, his efforts came to nothing. Mamata Banerjee retained power with two-thirds majority, proving yet again that Bengali hearts were with her, and only with her. This time, she was also actively helped by Narendra Modi. Usually Modi oratory impresses crowds. In Bengal, however, his tactics proved counter-productive mainly because his tone and phraseology suggested that he was mocking Bengali sentiments.
The way he chanted ‘Didi-o-Didi’ probably was good theatrics as he delivered the speeches. But the phrase and his style of repeating it had contrarian effects. Certainly, Bengalis were not amused. Ever outspoken, Trinamool leader Mahua Moitra used the Bengali phrase ‘rock-er chhele’ to underline Modi’s tactical mistake. The term means streetside loafers sitting on a wall and teasing passing ladies. A headline in The Telegraph summed it up neatly. Spread across five columns, it read: “Looks like PM, speaks ‘comment mara’ boy.” The general public also seemed unimpressed by Modi taking things down to street level. A typical comment was: “Covid case 1.15 lakh a day. In Chhattisgarh 22 jawans martyred. Meanwhile Modi: Dido-o-Didi.”
To BJP’s Bengal chief Dilip Ghosh belongs the credit for the most stupid remark of the season. He had seen Mamata Banerjee limping with a bandaged foot after a car door had slammed against her leg with sufficient force to injure a bone. Referring to that, Ghosh told her to wear Bermuda shorts if she wanted “to show her legs.” Such uncivilised minds somehow go up the ladder in the BJP, harming the party without its leaders realising it. The adverse impact of the Bermuda comment was immediately visible for those who had eyes to see.
Women’s rights activists took objection and recalled similar remarks by Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat two months earlier. He had targeted girls wearing ripped jeans which, he said, set a bad example to others. Some BJP activists themselves objected to Ghosh’s “toxic masculinity”. One social worker said: “These leaders never take the gender factor into account. The Bermuda comment impacted urban women. But the tone of Didi-o-Didi violated the progressive spirit of Bengal.” Even RSS leaders said they did not support such comments. One was frank enough to say that the “party paid the price for such comments”.
In Bengal, the party paid the price for ignoring regional sentiments, too. It’s all very well to talk about the unifying appeal of religion and how Hindutva would bring all under one roof of faith. But in life things don’t work out that smoothly. As sociologist Prasanta Roy put it: Not all Hindus could fit into one lot, much as BJP might have strategised. “There is a degree of Hinduness in each one of us. A section is rational and calculative. They take an informed decision.”
Politics in India has put one reality beyond challenge. That reality is: There are emotional pulls that override ideological commitments. Neither the BJP nor the Congress has made an impact in Tamil Nadu because “Tamilness” is the predominant emotion there. M K Stalin got crowned because his calling card is Dravida and nothing else. In Dravida South, Aryan BJP will always remain an outsider.
That is why the BJP is virtually non-existent in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. Karnataka stands out as an exception for the time being because the state has no Congress or Leftist leader who commands across-the-board respect. The lesson to learn here is that the local aspirations of people in their limited localities cannot be ignored for the sake of a larger viewpoint that looks at the country and the world from an ideological angle. Ideology could be put above individuals in Stalin’s Russia and Mao Zedong’s China. And we know what happened to that Russia and that China. Individual lives matter and so do individual aspiration.
Only when the state takes these into account will it progress. Because the state is not an abstract entity as in the textbooks; it is a living entity where every citizen has a stake. And every citizen in every ideology is driven by emotions and aspirations that are fundamentally human. Self-respect, some comforts, family ties, a sense of safety — these are the basic human needs whether we are Indians or Japanese or Anglo-Saxons or Polynesians. Whoever makes these possible wins.