The voters of West Bengal have a hard task ahead of them in the coming assembly elections. Politics in that state, which in the past several decades has never established a high standard, is at an all time low. Under communist rule, democracy had been more or less been violently hijacked, with the electoral process highly compromised. A disillusioned electorate and Mamata Banerjee’s even more belligerent response to the Left’s booth capturing techniques brought about a change. Unfortunately, the quality of politics had, by then, descended to such a level that it almost entirely hampered any attempts at good governance. After the Left, the TMC cadres adopted the ‘cut’ culture that has transformed government into nothing less than a mafia run organisation. The Chief Minister long ago gave up any pretence of being anything but a temperamental and vindictive Don, who would brook no opposition.
Only a cadre based party like the BJP, on a high based on Prime Minister Modi’s popularity, could have breached Banerjee’s personal fiefdom. Having dented her image of invulnerability by winning an unprecedented eighteen seats in the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP’s sights are set on the chief minister’s chair. It has used all its well-honed techniques, particularly that of exploiting the adversaries’ internal differences. Now, as the elections approach, the defections have begun – in the manner that Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka were managed in the not so distant past. The resignation by senior leader Suvendu Adhikari indicates that the TMC’s centre now fails to hold – Mamata Banerjee’s ways have finally alienated even her closest lieutenants.
The TMC Chief will, of course, make it about Bengali identity – how the ‘outsiders’ are attempting to take control. She has managed to turn the state’s bureaucracy into almost her personal entourage – the stand-off against the Centre on the issue of Kolkata’s Police Commissioner may be recalled in this regard. There have to be strong incentives being provided for bureaucrats to jeopardise their future careers by challenging the Centre! On its part, the BJP has not refrained from using the Governor as an active participant in the contest.
The final battle, of course, will involve ensuring free and fair voting. The BJP has demanded that extra muscle be deployed to thwart the traditional booth-capturing Bengal’s parties are so well-versed in. There is not just enough space for all – the TMC, BJP, Left and the Congress, which means the latter two might just be rendered bystanders. Even so, a straight fight between TMC and BJP will require further polarisation and the ongoing defections will play a big role in that.