Sunday, March 23, 2014

'Vote Bank Politics' has come here to stay in West Bengal

A news item in 'Ei Samay' the Bengali paper of the TOI Group (Read here) says, the assessment of the West Bengal State Intelligence Bureau indicates, the #BJP will pay a decisive role in 9 out of 42 constituencies of West Bengal in the Lok-Sabha Elections 2014. This is a significant development for Bengal - where BJP has been an almost non-existent party.

According to another report, Mamata Banerjee herself has cautioned her party-workers about the rise of BJP in the state (click here to read). She, of course, refers to BJP as "communal forces" - which is the fashionable political euphemism for the Saffron party.

Historically, West Bengal has, arguably, voted largely on 'secular' lines. Cast also had little role to play in Bengal politics. (Perhaps, an influence of Communism and literacy - also a reflection of society). Equally the Bengali Muslim has, traditionally, been influenced more by political - rather than religious - considerations. All this seemed to change perceptively in the last Lok Sabha elections - when a sizeable chunk of the "Muslim Vote" moved en-masse to the Trinamool Congress. Since then, political parties - have started looking at them as a distinct "vote-bank" - quite similar to what happens in other parts of the country. So, what has changed ?

First, it is the influx of across the border in districts adjacent to Bangladesh. They have brought with them a culture and mind-set, which is very different from the traditional Bengali Muslim community who have been well integrated into the society over nearly 2 centuries. Political parties have indulged them as low hanging electoral fruit - legitimizing their illegal migration and allowed them to spread their tentacles across the community, often by exercising both money and muscle power. 

While the eastern districts of the state have seen infiltration from Bangladesh, the western borders have seen influx from other neighbouring states of Bihar and Jharkhand - who have themselves been afflicted by economic plight.

Simultaneously, as industry has shrunk in the state - trading has been the life-line. The business averse mentality of Bengalis is well known. Therefore, it's no surprise that the dominant trading community are "Non-Bengali", to use a pet term. In a surprising statistics, published a few years back showed nearly 60% of the population of the greater Calcutta and Howrah areas in of "non-Bengali" origin.

In this backdrop - dismissing BJP as a "communal party" - will only contribute towards greater polarisation of the people - which will over a longer term upset the electoral and social dynamics of the state. After that, the answer to that eternal question - which / who came first - the chicken or the egg - will only be of academic interest.

But, it seems "vote bank" politics has finally arrived and come to stay in Bengal. Sad - but true and, probably also, unavoidable.

(Also read: Is Eastern India an important developing Hindu Vote-Bank ?)