Modi vs Mamata: India’s battle for glory

Modi vs Mamata-3India’s soul is at stake. Bengalis will be voting this year, 2021 in a highly charged and divisive election. At its heart… this is a struggle for supremacy between two conflicting visions of India: Hindutva versus Secularism.

By Nazarul Islam

The similarities between Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee are uncanny. They share sharp political smarts, wear their heroic arrogance on their sleeve, don’t like naysayers and fully control their respective political parties.

West Bengal’s history, awaits its crucial trial. India’s scholars and journalists have voiced that a change at the societal level is almost in effect—provided that the BJP manages to form the government, in Bengal.

Have the Bhadrolok finally embraced Hindutva? Or, does the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) rise in the state reflect the dominance of anti-Bhadrolok sentiments among the rural masses? Is Bengal’s ‘party society’ finally breaking down? What triggered the rise of ‘subaltern Hindutva’?

These are some of the questions dominating the intellectual discourse around the Bengal Assembly elections 2021, which has already been pegged by the national and international media as a watershed election in the history of Bengal – often described as India’s cultural capital.

India’s soul is at stake. Bengalis will be voting this year, 2021 in a highly charged and divisive election. At its heart… this is a struggle for supremacy between two conflicting visions of India: Hindutva versus Secularism.

What became evident from the recent intellectual discussion around Bengal at the national level is the general perception of the state as one of the last bastions of secular and liberal socio-religious practices where a rise of the subaltern with the slogans of Hindutva had endangered the secular-liberal atmosphere patronized by the Bhadrolok.

Power and office is their strength. While Banerjee allows nephew “bhaipo” Abhishek Banerjee a small power share, Modi has his doppelganger Amit Shah. Both Modi and Mamata can get riled up quickly.

Mamata Banerjee likes to portray herself as a street fighter in “hawai chappals” (rubber slippers) who has repeatedly shed blood on the street in her ascent to the Writers building in Kolkata.

Modi on the other hand is extremely conscious of his attire and often dons expensive jamavar shawls. The long flowing white beard he currently sports has set off much political buzz if has he cultivated it for the Bengal elections, in a nod to the greatest son of Bengal — Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore.

The Late C R Irani, editor in The Statesman, once had shared how Banerjee visited his home for Diwali festivities in Kolkata. Seeing the genteel bhadralok elite, Mamata grabbed two pedas (sweet dish) and forced one in the startled Irani’s mouth, popped the other one inside her mouth, then said “….there I ate, now let me go Baba. I am a common person, I don’t belong here” and rushed out. Modi on the other hand has reveled in the company of the Bengali elite.

With the battle for Bengal just weeks away it will be Modi (the BJP still does not have a CM face) squaring off against Bengal ki Beti (Bengal’s daughter) Banerjee. Modi is expected to address a record number of rallies in Bengal and the TMC is totally banking on Banerjee to pull off the David versus Goliath battle.

The BJP is armed with the biggest war chest but makes huge missteps like Babul Supriyo’s retort to Bengal ki Beti as “Beti is paraya dhan” (daughter gets married off eventually) with a photograph of Amit Shah. It did not go over well in Bengal and got Supriya a sharp rap on the knuckles from Shah.

Ask the TMC leadership and they equate Banerjee with “Durga and “Kali” the feminine energy fighting alone to save her citadel. If — and it is a big if — Banerjee manages to win, she will be the pre-eminent leader in the opposition, a real contender for leading it, a woman leader who single-handedly saw off the Pax BJP of Modi and Shah.

I would have gone into a SWAT analysis of Modi and Banerjee’s governance which is equally idiosyncratic with teachable moments like the demonetization disaster of the BJP government but, governance gets you no votes in India.

The personality of the leader and following does. And, Modi and Shah have tapped a rich vein of majority disaffection in West Bengal. They portray Banerjee as a minority appeaser.

But, despite the effort, the BJP has taken on board nearly 19 TMC defectors including the minister Suvendu Adhikari. If you take in to account earlier TMC defector Mukul Roy then the Bengal BJP team looks like Banerjee team B.

Banerjee fights best as the underdog as she did in her epic struggle with the Left.

Here is a reliable assessment of West Bengal Assembly Elections Opinion Poll: Mamata Banerjee is set to return as the chief minister for the third consecutive term with a comfortable majority of 157 seats, 9 more than what is required to form the government in the 294-member Assembly of West Bengal. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on the other hand, will increase its tally by about 100 seats but would still fall short of majority, according to an opinion poll conducted by Times Now-C Voter.

The Trinamool Congress is predicted to get 42.2 per cent vote share and 157 seats, 57 less than what it had got in 2016. The BJP, the key challenger to TMC, is expected to get 37.5 per cent vote share and 107 seats, up by 104 seats from 2016, when it had got just 3. In the previous assembly elections, the saffron party’s vote share was just 10.16 per cent whereas the TMC had the largest vote share of nearly 45 per cent (44.91 to be precise).

The Third Front of Congress and Left is predicted to get just 33 seats, down by 43 than what it had got in 2016.

There are, however, 89 seats where the vote difference margin is very thin and polls suggest that even a 1.5 per cent vote shift can push the election results either side. Of these 89 seats, the TMC is leading on 42 seats while the BJP is ahead on 36 and Congress-Left has an edge on 11 seats.

The numbers predicted by the opinion poll suggest a setback for the BJP and Home Minister Amit Shah who have been claiming that the saffron party would form the next government in Bengal by winning over 200 seats.

The BJP and the TMC have been at odds with each other over a number of issues ever since the former came to power at the Centre in 2014. While Mamata Banerjee has held the BJP responsible for sowing seeds of communal disharmony, the BJP has accused her of Muslim appeasement and being anti-Hindu.

Eight-phase election in Bengal will begin from March 27 and end on April 29. The counting of votes and results will be declared on May 2.

Modi is self-centric, hence always makes it about himself and his own persecution he faces, despite being one of the most powerful PM’s India has had.

Curiously, the ideology-agnostic election strategist Prashant Kishor who came to the limelight managing Modi’s 2014 campaign before an epic fallout with Shah is helming Banerjee’s campaign.

And, as a very sharp leader from Maharashtra currently keeping a very sharp eye on the eight phase Bengal election (another record) points out — Modi and Mamata live and breathe politics 24/7.

He says “look at the deployment of the CBI and ED against Banerjee but she’s indomitable…still standing and fighting.” Bengal, as it has many times, will again tell India what to think.

For Trinamul to lose Bengal to the BJP will mean a shadow cast much wider. It will have a huge psychological impact beyond Bengal. It will put a question on the viability of putting up a challenge to the BJP. Many others will come under pressure or get demoralized…. That’s the battle we are fighting.”

That said, Kishor was certain Trinamul would retain power under Mamata.

“The only way the BJP could have won was if Trinamul had collapsed. That has not happened. The BJP was hoping Trinamul would come apart, but they did not contend with Didi and what she means.”

Expanding on the claim, Kishor added: “This BJP is a formidable force in Bengal today but there is no way they are going to win, absolutely not. For the BJP to win, they need at least 44 per cent of the vote, which means they will have to substantially up their Lok Sabha numbers.

“Barring a few small-state exceptions like Haryana and Tripura, the BJP’s Assembly vote share has always been lower than what they secure in Lok Sabha elections.

The BJP has an uphill task; I can tell you they are not winning this one.


About the Author

Nazarul IslamThe Bengal-born writer Nazarul Islam is a senior educationist based in USA. He writes for Sindh Courier and the newspapers of Bangladesh, India and America. He is author of a recently published book ‘Chasing Hope’ – a compilation of his 119 articles.




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