‘Gorkha Voters Are Concerned About NRC In Bengal’

Deepa Thapa, 25, a Gorkha living in West Bengal, says none of the parties in fray has a spotless record in governance, be it healthcare or economy

I belong to a family of Gorkhas from Nepal who have shifted to India. My father shifted to India more than 20 years ago but most of our extended family is still in Pokhra, Our extended family gets worried whenever there is tension in Indo-Nepalese relations.

I have assured my relatives that I have always felt loved and safe here in India and personally I have never experienced any discrimination, but sometimes policy changes are so sudden and ambiguous that one doesn’t know who might get caught in it.

Frankly, Amit Shah might have said that Gorkhas didn’t really need to worry about NRC (National Register of Citizens), but as an individual I do worry about it. Whenever such news comes up, I read every detail about it in depth so that my family is never caught off-guard. I keep an eye on the statements made by our national leaders, because on crucial matters they have more say than local leaders. However, I give more importance to local leaders than those at the top.

Thapa is an HR professional in Kolkata

As about the demand for Gorkhaland, I am neutral in that regard. I can understand people who want it and I can also understand people who don’t want it. Maybe I would be able to take sides, be able to cross the bridge when we finally come to it.

Personally I think West Bengal electorate is caught between the devil and the deep sea, with no party being better than the other. I feel one should always vote keeping in mind which local representative of a party is doing better work. Before voting one must clearly figure out what their priorities are when it comes to governance and whether there is a likelihood of those priorities being met.

ALSO READ: ‘Bengal Muslims Will Choose Didi Over Owaisi’

Talking as a common individual, I feel both the BJP and TMC are doing little for the economy. West Bengal was anyway under the Left parties rule for so many years that it will take a long time to revive the state’s entrepreneurial spirit. So we need someone in the state who can lead from the front, especially in times like these when so many people are facing an uncertain future job or business-wise due to the raging coronavirus. I feel the pandemic could have been handled better by both the state and central government.

I also wish that India and Nepal’s relationship goes back to how it was in the past. Every time there is a slightest friction in the Indo- Nepalese relation, our Gorkha community here as well as relatives in Nepal get worried.

We Gorkhas are a tight-knit and loving community and so is India generally, and I hope whichever party comes to power, they ensure that their representatives, right from the local to the national level, communicate openly with people. And I would love to see representation from different ethnic backgrounds at the local level.

As Told To Yog Maya Singh

‘Centre Did Little To Help Businesses Amid Covid’

Biplob Basu, 34, a food entrepreneur, says small businesses suffered due to demonetisation, GST and there was little help during pandemic from the BJP-led government at the Centre

My story is one for the books. Both my parents are doctors but I pursued Hotel Management and chose to be a food entrepreneur. And it hasn’t been a smooth ride. The year I opened Petuk, a home-based eatery with a catering division in Kolkata was also the time when politics began over the palate. What you were eating and serving came under scanner.

People with no understanding of Bangla food, wanted to dictate what others should or should not eat. I would therefore prefer a government which is open-minded and understands plural cultures and cuisines.

There are other reasons too why I would choose Mamata Didi’s Trinamool over the BJP. My food venture had just about begun to break even in 2016 when the Centre announced demonetisation. It was taxing time as people queued before ATMs and eating out was not a priority. Just about when that phase was over, the GST (goods and services tax) was rolled out. My expenses (taxation) rose but not my earnings.

I was barely able to understand the nitty gritty of GST when rumours spread in Kolkata that many eateries were serving carcass meat. People in food business came under stress for two years (2018-19).

Biplob Basu is against mixing politic and palate

I waded through all this and stepping ahead of home-based catering, I opened a restaurant at Hazra (Kolkata) in 2018. A little over an year, and I managed to open another restaurant in Jadavpur in December 2019. And then the pandemic struck, strict lockdown was announced.

The new restaurant was at a rented property. I had to pay the rent, salaries of the staff, while there was no income. That broke my back. I am sure other MSMEs like me suffered a lot too, but Bengal also faced a cyclone (Amphan) during lockdown.

ALSO READ: ‘How I Turned The (Dining) Tables On Covid’

Even when the ‘Unlock’ began in phases, the business did not pick up. I was forced to shut one of the restaurant. I read about Central assistance to small and medium businesses so I went to apply for an MSME loan, only to realise that the process was lengthy and cumbersome, not beneficial for ventures like ours.

Now, with elections upon us, it is payback time. I want a party in power which understands that their decisions taken at the spur of the moment can adversely impact lives of people for years to come. I want a government that can create both a good social and business environment. I want a government that understands people as individuals and not a homogeneous groups with a single story. Clearly, my choice is the incumbent party. I am very happy with the way the Mamata government handled the pandemic.

There were strict checks at regular intervals to see if business units were following all due measures from face masks to hair masks, to regular sanitization of the premises to temperature checks. My entrepreneurship spirit is still alive and kicking and I will definitely steady myself up; all we need is a government that can put a spark into the hospitality sector again.

As Told To Yog Maya Singh

‘We Will Choose Bengal’s Didi Over Muslim Owaisi’

Maulana Shahidul Qadri, 45, from Dhankheti, Metiaburj in Kolkata, says local issues hold key to assembly elections and therefore he will prefer Trinamool candidate than a divisive BJP or AIMIM

At a time when many people around the country have given in to the politics of division and polarity, people in Bengal are still standing united, strongly. We Bengalis form an opinion after a lot of deliberation and in-depth understanding and analysis of a matter, and thus one cannot divide us so easily.

As a Maulana and also as an Imam of the masjid at Dhankheti (Metiaburj), I tell people not to fall prey to the politics of hate; firqakaparasti wali baton me mat aaiye. We also tell people through editorials in various newspapers that we should not forget local issues while state elections are underway.

I wonder why BJP makes every election, right down to even the civic body elections, about national issues. Wasn’t our election system created and upgraded so that issues at every level could find adequate voice and be solved subsequently?

BJP might try bringing in the big guns for the elections, but Mamata Banerjee will once again become the CM. We have chosen to support Didi even over a Muslim candidate, AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi. It is not about Hindu-Muslim leaders, but rather on who as a leader has an understanding of local issues.

ALSO READ: Battle For Bengal Is The Election To Watch

The BJP-TMC face-off means everyday there’s some new statement from either side, but the electorate is noticing everything. The pandemic has shown us how important it is to have robust local leadership and we will keep focussing on that.

Bengal was a more peaceful place earlier, but now you hear news of BJP-TMC or BJP-Left clashes. I condemn incidents like attacks on JP Nadda; violence shouldn’t have any place in a democracy. We are Bengalis and Indians too, apart from being Hindus and Muslims.

Sometimes I wonder if like Assam, madarsa education will be banned in West Bengal as well! How will we then understand the basics of the faith we practise? There are many other ways in which the Muslim identity and the country’s Constitution and the institutions are being chipped away by the BJP but we have faith in both Mamata Didi and Allah.

NRC-CAA, Shaheen Bagh, illegal Bangladeshi immigrant, purportedly for whom the bill was brought in… was a burning issue just an year ago, do you hear as much of it during Bengal elections? Why? We can see through everything. The Prime Minister is not the leader of a party alone and not only of a particular party or community. He must take the whole country together and walk.

ALSO READ: It’s Bengal Trinamool Vs Outsider BJP

The first term of this government was all about sowing seeds of mistrust between communities that had been mostly living peacefully for so long. The second term was all about interpreting law in such a way that that hatred was normalised. Even though we respect the Ram Janmbhoomi verdict, it would have been nice if the bhoomi-poojan had been a calmer affair.

Triple talaq, Delhi riots, NRC and now the love jihad (which the Supreme Court has said doesn’t hold true because relationship between two consenting adults is their choice), I wonder when will all this stop and when will we begin focussing on issues that really matter for us as a country?

No leader is perfect, and Mamata Banerjee gets angered easily, but we feel ke unka dil saf hai aur hausla buland. She has our interests at heart. We hope in the coming years she will mature into a calmer leader and learn to strategize better, Bengal and the country can truly benefit from that.

The Battle For Bengal Is The Election To Watch

Of the four states where there will soon be assembly elections in April-May, West Bengal’s will be the most keenly watched. It is the state where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the biggest challenger to the incumbent All-India Trinamool Congress (AITC) government, which, led by chief minister Mamata Banerjee, is completing 10 years in power.

For several years, the eastern state has been a hard nut to crack for the BJP but in the last parliamentary polls, the party managed to win 18 member of parliament seats from Bengal, which was a feat considering that the party has traditionally managed to get no more than two MPs elected from the state. In the West Bengal assembly, the BJP currently has just 27 of the 294 seats (the AITC and its allies have 211).

The BJP’s formulaic approach to winning in the states – the party enjoys power in 18 of India’s 28 states – thus far has been a combination of caste and religion based politics. In the Hindi belt states as well as in the western states this has worked well. But in Bengal, caste politics and religious issues have mattered less in the past. That, however, could change. The Muslim population in Bengal has grown steadily and is estimated now at nearly 30% compared to the all-India proportion of a little more than 13%.

This has two implications. A larger proportion of Muslim voters has stood in the way of the Hindu nationalist-leaning BJP becoming popular in the state. But it has also created a sort of backlash among Hindu voters many of whom perceive Ms Banerjee’s government as being one that appeases the minority community. The BJP wants to turn that sort of backlash to an electoral advantage.

The BJP is also following a strategy that challenges Ms Banerjee’s government with charges of corruption, particularly against her nephew Abhisek Banerjee, who is an MP and a powerful member of her party. The party has also managed to chip away at the AITC by getting some of its prominent leaders such as former railway minister Dinesh Trivedi, former state ministers Subhendu Adhikary and Rajib Banerjee to defect to the BJP. Although these leaders have limited mass following in the state, their exits have triggered some dissension within Ms Banerjee’s party.

ALSO READ: It’s Bangla Trinamool Vs Outsider BJP

There are other factors that might help the BJP. A large part of the urban population comprising middle-class could be a bit restive about Ms Banerjee’s government, which despite promises has not really been effective in ensuring the state’s economic progress at a more rapid pace. The continuing impact of the pandemic has not helped either.

But yet, the AITC led by the feisty Ms Banerjee has many strong advantages in the state. For instance, the BJP really doesn’t have a credible face to project as its chief ministerial candidate for the state. Also, the backlash against Muslims may have grown but the fact remains that at in 100 of the 294 constituencies, Muslim voters will be the ones who will decide who wins. And the BJP is unlikely to get their favour.

The AITC has also employed the services of a poll strategist with a good track record – Prashant Kishor, who has worked with several Indian parties and leaders, including his efforts in Gujarat where he is believed to have played a key role in ensuring that Narendra Modi got a third term there as chief minister in 2011. The other niggling factor that might affect the BJP is the first ever formal seat-sharing arrangement in the state between the Congress and the Left parties. Both are not significant players anymore (both have just 46 seats between them) but an alliance could dent both, the AITC as well as the BJP’s fortunes in the elections.

The other states that will go to the polls are Tamil Nadu, Assam, Kerala, and Puducherry. In Tamil Nadu it will be a repeat of the traditional battle between two regional parties, DMK and AIADMK. The BJP, which is likely to have an alliance with AIADMK (in power now), hopes to piggyback on that party if it manages to be re-elected. But early analyses show that DMK may have an edge this time. The Congress and Left parties in the state are allied with the DMK.

ALSO READ: ‘Sreedharan Entry Into Politics A Boon For Kerala’

In Kerala, the pattern has traditionally been one where every five years the fortunes swing between the Left and the Congress. In other words, the opposition gets elected to power. By that logic, the Congress-led alliance may come back to power, dislodging the Left alliance which forms the incumbent government. The Congress is hoping that the fact that Rahul Gandhi represents Wayanad (he was elected MP from that constituency in Kerala) will give it more of an edge.

Meanwhile, the BJP looks confident in being able to retain power in Assam but the Congress party there is focussing its strategy on opposing the National Registrar of Citizens and the Citizenship Amendment Act, two thorny issues that have divisive effects in the state. In Puducherry, a union territory, the Congress government has collapsed recently and although this has created uncertainties, it could well work to the advantage of a BJP-backed alliance if that can be formed.

But it is West Bengal that will steal the show during the state elections. The battle for Bengal could be one that is fought tooth and nail by both, Ms Banerjee who wants to come back for a third term; and the BJP, which wants to wrest control of a state that has always posed formidable challenges to it.

Standing Up To Hindu Nationalists

Who is Amartya Sen? His global admiration is based more on his work as an economist than as a philosopher. Jean Dreze himself a celebrated economist inquiring into development issues based on Indian experiences and who is a long time collaborator of Professor Sen in many works sees in the Nobel laureate a mirror image of Adam Smith, that is, an economist, a philosopher and much more rolled into one person. In the foreword that he has penned for Lawrence Hamilton’s book How to Read Amartya Sen, Dreze says he sees in Sen “not only… a great mind but also… someone who is keen to bring about practical change in the world.” Indeed the world finds in him more than a celebrated economist and a philosopher but, as Dreze says, “a man of action, even if his preferred tool of action is not climbing barricades, or shooting petitions but public reasoning.” This argumentative Indian is a campaigner for a better and fairer world.

The world salutes the 87 year old Professor Sen whose monumental oeuvre besides leaving a profound impact on “scholarship, policy and action in a wide range of fields” has ignited human minds to ask questions and be sceptical of wisdom passed through generations. However the world may celebrate the work that is still growing of the Harvard professor of economics and philosophy, a group of saffronised people in India, not necessarily all concentrated in Bengal from where he hails, will not let an opportunity pass to ask what has this Nobel laureate given to India or say a few short visits to India leaving his comforts in the US behind are not enough to lay claims that he cares for the welfare of unprivileged here.

Fusillade of such inanities, however, originates in people who lack education to grasp what the Professor is all about. They are simply egged on by some Hindu nationalist politicians enraged by Professor Sen all the time calling a spade a spade.

The present political dispensation has been overtly critical though lacking in substance of Professor Sen for his stand on many social and economic issues but particularly for saying that using religion for the purpose of discrimination is anathema to founding principles of India. In a recent interview with PTI, he said: “Certainly I am critical of any political party that inflames communal and divisive sentiments, particularly between the Hindus and the Muslims.”

Giving the example of Bengal, which paid dearly in the past due to communal strife, he hopes the people of the state will have the good sense to reject the non-secular forces. Incidentally, BJP is all desperate to dethrone Trinamool Congress seen to be pandering to the Muslims who have nearly 30 per cent share of votes in West Bengal. Being in majority in some districts, including overwhelmingly in Murshidabad and Malda, the way the largest minority community votes in April elections to the 294 seat West Bengal Assembly could well decide the outcome in nearly 100 constituencies.

ALSO READ: Fight Against Poverty And Political Populism

Professor Sen continuing to give warnings to the people on dangers of communalism when elections are to be held in West Bengal in three months cannot be music to the ears of BJP. Therefore, it is only logical that the party will use every handle available to it, including the officials of central university Visva-Bharati to fire salvos, however hollow they may be at him. Professor Sen is not spared the accusation that he is in illegal occupation of some land beyond what is sanctioned in the 99 year lease. What is overlooked is that his maternal grandfather scholar extraordinaire Kshitimohan Sen came to Santiniketan at the invitation of Rabindranath Tagore and helped him in building Visva-Bharati. The house Pratichi was built by Professor Sen’s father on lease land but he also bought some parcels of freehold land.

But Hindu nationalists are not expected to be forgiving of the man when he debunks the claims that science and mathematics flourished in ancient India in splendid isolation from the rest of the world. Saffronite individuals and institutions may be in denial but through centuries the world is witness to how our “intellectual horizons expand when we learn from each other.” To consider a recent example, the vaccine to counter the Covid-19 pandemic became a reality in ten months against the usual about ten years taken to develop a new vaccine because of close collaboration among scientists from different countries, including India.

More recently Professor Sen courted displeasure of saffron brigade by pointing out that not the Vedic period but the first millennium was the “golden age” of mathematics. Science has got nothing to do with the world of fantasy. “The great mathematical revolution in India was led particularly by Aryabhata, who was born in 476 AD. What Aryabhata developed initially was the ‘golden age’ taken forward by other great mathematicians in India like Brahmagupta, Bhaskara and others. While deeply original, Aryabhata’s mathematics was substantially influenced by the mathematical revolution that had already taken place in Greece, Babylon and Rome,” he said.

ALSO READ: Bangla Trinamool Vs Outsider BJP In Bengal

Newspapermen who speak to the economist cum philosopher know that Sen will desist from deliberating on issues on which he had not done the required study and inquiry. As he told a reporter: “I do not have the habit of passing judgement on issues about which I have at the most three and a half minutes to read in newspapers.” On another occasion asked by the then editor of Anandabazar Patrika Anirban Chattopadhyaya whether the growing emphasis on technology at the expense of humanities in the country’s higher education is not a step in the wrong direction, the answer that Professor Sen gave should be a lesson for many whose views are often sought.

“If what you are saying is happening, then it’s an important issue to ponder. But I don’t think I am competent enough to speak on the subject. I am here suddenly from abroad and I criticise the country’s education system (at college level) and then disappear like a comet. I shall never do that,” said Professor Sen.

He would be more comfortable to speak on primary education since the Pratichi Trust, set up with his Nobel honorarium, is working on the sector. This is intellectual honesty of the highest order. Professor Sen did not endear himself to the ruling establishment when though based on empirical evidences he said the “spread of education among girls in Bangladesh is far higher than both in Bengal and India. So also they have more access to health care than their counterparts here. But why should these differences exist? We are both Bengali people.” Incidentally, work of Pratichi Trust (Bangladesh) of which economist Rehaman Sobhan is chairman is focussed on primary education and health.

BJP has every reason to dislike Manmohan Singh’s friend Professor Sen who has been overtly critical of demonetisation, Citizenship (Amendment Act) and more recently the farm laws. As he maintains that the space for debate in the country is shrinking and his airing of the kind of regime he wanted ahead of 2014 and 2019 elections, it is only likely that BJP will have a strong distaste for him which is manifest in many ways. But it is not only Professor Sen, but historians such as Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib and Ramachandra Guha and economists, including Raghuram Rajan, Prabhat Patnaik and Kaushik Basu have fallen foul of saffronites for speaking their mind.

Winds in Bengal May Be Blowing Against Didi

The next big state assembly election after Bihar’s will be in four states—Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu, and Bengal. In Assam, a BJP-led coalition is in power; in Kerala, it is a coalition of left parties rules; in Puducherry, a tiny union territory, it is a Congress government. But of those elections, the one that will be watched most keenly are the elections in West Bengal where for the second term, it is the Trinamool Congress (TMC) that is in power, led by its feisty chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, fondly called “Didi”, by her supporters.

In the wake of the Bihar elections where the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has won the recent elections, the focus on what happens in Bengal has turned sharper. But first, a quick rewind on Bihar.

Although Bihar’s incumbent government before the elections was an NDA one, it wasn’t meant to be when the 2015 election results were announced. Then, it was the coalition opposed to the BJP that got the winning numbers. But, famously, after the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (U) quit that coalition and crossed over to support the BJP, the tables turned and Nitish Kumar became chief minister of a NDA government in Bihar. Before this year’s elections, there was much speculation about whether the BJP and Kumar would part ways (the latter has had a love-hate relationship with Prime Minister Modi and his party in the past). That did not happen and Kumar was sworn in as chief minister for a second term.

In Bengal, things are quite different. Ms Banerjee whose party won 222 of the 294 seats in the assembly in 2016 could look like she will contest the next elections, scheduled in 2021, from a position of strength. The Left parties in the state, which was run by a leftist alliance for more than three decades, have been decimated in the past decade—they have just 24 seats in the assembly—and the Congress with 23 fares no better. But all eyes are on the BJP. From virtual non-existence in Bengal, the nationalist party won 16 seats in 2016, and in recent years it has been trying to bolster and grow its support base in the state.

ALSO READ: BJP Now Dominant Partner In Bihar

The BJP’s main issues in its campaign will likely be charges of non-governance against Ms. Banerjee’s government, and allegations that it has been overly appeasing minorities in the state. The BJP has been fanning these sentiments for a while in its efforts to garner voters. If elections in Bengal are held as scheduled (in May), there is barely five months left before voters cast their ballot. The BJP has already ramped up their campaigning. Home Minister Amit Shah, and the party’s president JP Nadda have planned frequent visits to Bengal, to address rallies and strengthen the party’s state-level organisation.

The thing that stands in favour of Ms Banerjee, however, is that unlike the BJP or other opposition parties in the state, in her (as the two-time chief minister), the Trinamool Congress has a face and, obviously, a clear chief ministerial candidate for the election. The BJP doesn’t. At least not yet. But opposition parties, including the BJP, hope that anti-incumbency sentiments may finally begin to stir up against Ms. Banerjee and her Trinamool government.

Earlier this month, a small organisation, Crowdwisdom360 (it calls itself India’s first Political Prediction Market) carried out small on-the-ground polls to get a feel of the political mood in Bengal’s districts. Crowdwisdom360 claims that in the recently-held Bihar elections, its seat-level accuracy was 70%. In Bengal, its surveys appear to show that the BJP’s dual messaging against the Banerjee regime (poor governance; and minority appeasement) has been working better than the incumbent government’s absence of positive messages. Crowdwisdom360’s surveys have shown that voters are unable to zero in on concrete reasons why they should vote for Trinamool candidates.

There are problems with such surveys, of course. First, there could be sampling errors that let biases creep in; and second, in India’s electoral politics, things change sometimes quite mercurially. But even if such surveys are disregarded, the mood in Bengal as it heads for another election is quite different from what it was when Ms. Banerjee steered her party to victory for the second time in 2016.

There is discontent among rural voters, largely fuelled by what is perceived as minority appeasement; the COVID-19 pandemic has not helped matters; and the opposition’s campaigns, particularly the BJP’s, have been having an impact. In 2021, for Ms. Banerjee and her party, returning to power for the third time may not be a cakewalk.

Is Hindutva Hanging By A Thread In Bengal?

Hindutva is no longer the rabble rouser vote bank as it was in the last national election. When the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party won an emphatic victory in the recent Delhi assembly election, opposition leaders were quick to point that the Bharatiya Janata Party will have to recalibrate its strategy of polarisation now that it had been roundly rejected by the electorate of yet another state.

However, it would be extremely difficult for the saffron party to abandon its majoritarian agenda in the forthcoming state elections. For the BJP, hardline Hindutva, strident nationalism and communal talk is an article of faith.

Hindutva seems to have worked for BJP in the last election. It probably sees the current run of defeats as aberrations. Besides the Hindutva strategy helps divert attention from bread and butter issues at a time when the economy is tottering. An election is the occasion for the BJP to propagate its ideology.

ALSO READ: Oppn Must Sieze The Moment

In fact, the BJP’s high-decibel poll campaign in Delhi with its focus on the Shaheen Bagh protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act was meant not just to consolidate the Hindu vote in the Capital but also to send out a message across the country that this agitation is led by minorities and that the amended citizenship law actually enjoys popular support.

Among the opposition leaders, West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee appears most vulnerable in this regard. Determined to add West Bengal to its kitty, the BJP has opted for a brazenly communal narrative to dethrone Banerjee. Having met with remarkable success in the last Lok Sabha election when it surprised everyone by winning 18 seats and increased its vote share to 40 percent, the BJP has every reason to persist with this strategy. It remains undeterred by the fact that its attempts to focus on Article 370 and triple talaq did not cut much ice with the voters in Haryana, Jharkhand and Maharashtra.

It will not be surprising if the BJP’s polarising and divisive rhetoric gets more shrill as it begins preparations for next year’s assembly election in a state which has a 27 percent Muslim population.

The very fact that the BJP has re-elected Dilip Ghosh as president of the party’s West Bengal unit, is a clear message that the saffron party has no intention of going back on its communal agenda. Known for using vitriolic language, Ghosh is constantly stoking controversies with his inciting statements. Ghosh was in the eye of a storm recently when he described the anti-CAA protesters as “illiterate and uneducated” who are being fed biryani and “paid with foreign funds” to continue with their agitation. He constantly refers to the issue of infiltration in his speeches and has, on several occasions, thundered that all Bangladeshi Muslims in the state will be identified and chased out of India!

ALSO READ: ‘NRC Will Be A Disaster In Bengal

Not only has the BJP campaign reopened the old wounds inflicted in the communal riots during the state’s partition of 1905, it has also been helped by the fact that Mamata Banerjee is seen to be appeasing the minorities. The Trinamool Congress chief who is personally leading the prolonged protests against the amended citizenship law as well as the National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register, has given the BJP enough fodder to push ahead with its communal agenda.

Undoubtedly the Delhi defeat came as a rude shock for the BJP but, at the same time, its leaders believe the party increased its tally from three to eight seats and improved its vote share from 32 to 38 percent because it made the anti-CAA protests as the centre piece of its campaign.

It’s still too early to say if the BJP’s strategy will succeed but, at present, Mamata Banerjee has the first mover advantage over her political rival. While the saffron party lacks a strong party organisation in West Bengal and has no credible chief ministerial candidate, the Trinamool Congress chief is already in election mode.

ALSO READ: West Bengal Follows AAP Model

Like Kejriwal, she has stopped taking personal potshots at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and is instead emphasising her governance record. She has also taken the lead in articulating the dangers of the amended citizenship law, the NPR and NRC. Mamata Banerjee is taking no chances as she realizes she can ill-afford to underestimate the BJP as she had done in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

But before it goes for broke in West Bengal, the BJP will test the waters in Bihar which is headed for polls later this year. Not only does the state have a 17 percent Muslim population, the opposition (the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress) has staunchly opposed the CAA, reason enough for the saffron party to polarise the electorate on religious lines.

Besides, the BJP is banking on its alliance partner, Bihar chief minister and Janata Dal (U) president Nitish Kumar to act as a buffer against its strident campaign. Though Nitish Kumar has endorsed the CAA, he has not framed his support for the law on communal lines. Moreover, the Bihar chief minister measures his words carefully and is not known to use extreme language. This, the BJP feels, should help the alliance offset any possible adverse repercussions of the saffron party’s high-pitched tirade against those opposing the CAA.

However, if Mamata Benarjee can repeat AAP’s massive success in Bengal, voices in Bengal may start questioning Hindutva. Hindutva may be hanging by a thread.

Narendra Modi In Varanasi

PM Disclosed Horse Trading Plan: TMC

Trinamool Congress (TMC) on Monday filed a complaint against Prime Minister Narendra Modi before the Election Commission over the alleged horse trading of party leaders.

“The complaint against Modi for horse-trading has been filed with ECI on Monday at 7 pm,” TMC spokesperson Derek O’Brien tweeted.

Earlier in the day, the TMC leader had hit back at Prime Minister Modi for his remark that 40 TMC MLAs are in touch with him, asking if he is campaigning or is indulging in horse trading.

Taking to Twitter, O’Brien called Modi “Expiry Babu PM” and tweeted, “Expiry Babu PM, let’s get this straight. Nobody will go with you. Not even one councillor.”

“Are you election campaigning or horse trading! Your expiry date is near. Today, we are complaining to the Election Commission. Charging you with horse trading. #LokSabhaElection2019.”

Addressing a public rally in Serampore in West Bengal, Prime Minister Modi had said that 40 TMC MLAs are in touch with him and there is nothing that can save Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

Related News: Mamata Slams BJP For Ignoring Elders

“Didi, on May 23, when the results will come, the lotus will bloom everywhere and your MLAs will leave you. Didi, your 40 MLAs are in contact with me even now,” he said at the public meeting.

Eight parliamentary constituencies in West Bengal — Baharampur, Krishnagar, Ranaghat, Burdwan East, Burdwan-Durgapur, Asansol, Bolpur and Birbhum, went to polls under the fourth phase of the Lok Sabha election.

There are 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state. The counting of votes will take place on May 23.

(ANI)

]]>
BJP HImmatnagar Rally

6 States That Could Make Or Break Modi

The BJP tally in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan will decide how it fares in 2019 Lok Sabha elections

Plumb in the middle of India’s seven-phase mega national elections, the prevailing mood is one that is marked palpably by confusion. India’s elections have often proved to be notoriously unpredictable. The tsunami-like wave that Mr Narendra Modi rode on to win in 2014 had taken everyone—including the most seasoned Indian psephologists—completely by surprise. It isn’t different this time. No one appears to have a clue. Journalists scouring the length and breadth of the country report widely divergent readings of the mood of India’s 820-million strong voters. Some say Prime Minister Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could return to power, albeit with less than the overwhelming majority it won last time (in 2014, the BJP won 282 of 543 seats; and along with its allies, its tally was 336). Others say the people’s verdict could result in an indecisive outcome with the united opposition, led by the Congress, eating into the BJP’s vote shares.

There are six states though that could decide the fate of the BJP: Uttar Pradesh, which has the highest number of parliamentary seats (80); Maharashtra (48), Bihar (40), Madhya Pradesh (29), Gujarat (26), and Rajasthan (25). That makes for a total of 248 seats; in 2014, the BJP won 194 of them. In other states with a large number of parliamentary constituencies, such as Bengal (42), and Andhra Pradesh and Telangana (which together have 42), and the three southern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka (which together account for 87 seats), the BJP’s footprint is still weak and it will have to depend on the electoral strength of its allies in order to add to the National Democratic Alliance coalition that it leads. Moreover, in some of these states, the regional parties (viz. the Trinamool Congress in Bengal; and the AIADMK and DMK in Tamil Nadu) hold sway with the national parties, BJP and Congress, having much less sway among voters.

So, much of how the BJP fares in the ongoing elections will depend on how many seats it gets to win in the six states that powered its victory in 2014. In three of them—UP, Maharashtra, and Bihar—where the BJP won handsomely in 2014, this time around it faces a stiff fight. In Uttar Pradesh, the two regional parties, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), usually daggers drawn, have forged a surprise alliance to fight against the BJP.

In Bihar, the Congress, which got battered in the 2014 national elections (it got a total of 44 seats), has tied up with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). In Maharashtra, where the BJP has an alliance with the regional Shiv Sena, the tie-up has been under strain. Notably, in UP, the alliance between the SP and BSP covers a swathe of castes and religious communities—the SP has the support of the Muslims and the Yadavs while the BSP, led by Mayawati, has the support of the Dalits and other backward castes. In Bihar, the Congress and RJD, contesting together, could prove to be a formidable challenger to the BJP.

ALSO READ: Do Regional Parties Hold Key To Next Govt?

In Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, in recent assembly elections, the Congress was able to win and form the state governments. That could be a critical factor in determining who the voters in those states would choose in the national elections, giving the Congress an edge in the choice. In 2014, the BJP won 71 of the 80 seats in UP; 22 of the 40 in Bihar; all of the 26 seats in Gujarat; 23 of the 48 in Maharashtra; 27 of the 29 in Madhya Pradesh; and all 25 in Rajasthan.

This time, things could be much tougher for it. The BJP and its allies would need 272 seats in the 543-strong Parliament in order to decisively win. But, although Mr Modi and his party are hoping to get extra numbers from Bengal, Odisha and some of the southern states to make up for the losses in the six crucial states, it is not something it can bank on. The regional parties in these states are formidably strong, with some such as the Trinamool Congress having deep, cadre-based support bases.

In the six states that powered its 2014 victory, the BJP has taken steps to garner support in the face of a stronger opposition. In UP, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, it has tried to woo the non-Yadav and other backward classes by according the status of a constitutional body to the National Commission for Other Backward Classes, which decides on job reservations for India’s most backward classes. It has also tried to alleviate the apprehensions of the poorer sections of India’s upper castes (who fear discrimination when it comes to jobs) by reserving 10% of jobs for upper-caste people coming under the “economically weaker section”.

But still the going will be tough for Mr Modi’s party. In UP, the BSP-SP alliance is strong and theoretically covers a large swathe of castes and communities. For instance, Muslims who have remained almost universally apprehensive of Mr Modi’s government will be unlikely to vote for the BJP or any of its allies.

ALSO READ: It It Advantage Modi?

In two of the six crucial states, however, the BJP could leverage Mr Modi’s own popularity. In a TV interview recently, Mr Modi boasted: “Modi hi Modi ko challenge kiya hai” (Modi is the only challenger to Modi). In states such as Maharashtra and Gujarat, his popularity could translate into regional waves of support when people cast their votes. But in the recent state assembly election in Gujarat, while the BJP won and formed the government, the Congress fared better in terms of the number of votes it managed to get. And, in Maharashtra, where its fate will be partly governed by the support extended by its partner, the Shiv Sena, the two have had regular spats in recent years, differing over many issues.

Many believe that in 2014, when the BJP won 194 seats in the six mentioned states, it had exhausted the maximum number that it could have hoped for from those. And that a repeat of that performance now looks unlikely.

]]>