Battleground Bengal

Competitive politics between Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the BJP is all too evident in West Bengal with Home Minister Amit Shah accusing the ruling party of regionalism. This has been preceded by an exit of leaders from the TMC to the saffron fold. While such developments may not be surprising in the run-up to the state elections, the delay on the part of the senior TMC leadership in addressing the concerns of the party rank and file on this count is even more surprising. In 2011, during the UPA’s rule, Mamata had played a smart card by picking a non-Bengali settled in Kolkata, Dinesh Trivedi, a former Congress and Janata Dal leader, as her replacement as the Union Railway Minister after she quit to become the Chief Minister. Her party needs to introspect and dispel all doubts about its inclusive character.

The BJP, buoyed by its tally in West Bengal in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, also needs to tread with care. The state government held its ground and refused to send IPS officers on Central deputation after the recent assault on BJP chief JP Nadda near Kolkata. The party has levelled charges of political vendetta unleashed by the TMC, accusing it of registering false FIRs against its workers. The BJP’s stance on the CAA and the minorities, especially the illegal immigrants, is also bound to create insecurities. The party lays claim to the legacy of Syama Prasad Mookerjee, but it has a long way to go in West Bengal, starting with rebutting the charge of being a party of outsiders. The party is also not left with too many allies in the NDA, a factor that should prompt it to tone down its rhetoric.

West Bengal has a history of poll violence. Political parties would do well to desist from pandering to parochial sentiments and insist instead on a blueprint for the economic development of the state. The withdrawal of the Tatas from the Singur plant did not serve to send the right message. Economic inclusiveness is as important as social inclusiveness to prevent sectarianism from coming to the fore.

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