‘Mamata will be a very decisive player’

Maidul Islam

Despite Amit Shah’s target of 23 out of 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal and the hue and cry raised by the BJP claiming to soon be able to oust Trinamool Congress (TMC) from power in the state, eminent Kolkata-based political observer Maidul Islam argues that it will be an uphill task for BJP. If the Left Front manages to retain its vote share of 2014 Lok Sabha election, it will ensure TMC’s success. Islam, a faculty member at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, spoke to Soumya Das of DH. Excerpts:

Do you think that it is a BJP versus TMC contest in West Bengal? If so, what led to this, after 34 years of Left Front rule and later the TMC?

I think that in south Bengal, it will not exactly be a clear-cut contest between BJP and TMC. The Left Front will get a significant amount of votes in this region which will actually ensure TMC’s success. The dominant narrative in the media is not taking into consideration that the Left Front got about 29% votes in 2014. Even in the 2016 Assembly elections (where Left and Congress were alliance partners), they got a little over 25% votes which means that a large number of Left votes were polled for the Congress candidates. Unlike BJP, the Left Front has a considerable organisational presence at the booth level. Even if BJP gets an equal share of votes which the Left Front got in 2014, it is very unlikely that the Left Front will get less than 16-17% votes.

What is your opinion on BJP’s strategy in Bengal and how is it different from the Hindi heartland states?

BJP is not coming up with any unique narrative in Bengal. It is actually a bit clueless. It is mostly the Hindi heartland leaders who are coming to Bengal for campaigning. The state leaders do not have the charisma to pull the Bengal electorate in BJP’s favour. BJP tried to uphold the narrative of NRC and the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill but it did not have much effect. Apart from this, there is BJP’s narrative of minority appeasement by Mamata Banerjee but the BJP also had to field Muslim candidates or asking for Muslim votes.

How is Mamata Banerjee responding to the challenge of BJP?

I think she is responding in a very tactful but aggressive manner. She is looking forward to this election. Even if she retains her earlier tally of 34 seats, then also TMC will be the third largest party after BJP and Congress. It will give her enormous bargaining power at the Centre and if there is a non-BJP government, she might actually become a very decisive player. She knows this very well. This is her best opportunity. She is playing her cards well with regard to issues such as demonetisation, communalism and federalism.

Mamata Banerjee is one of the most pro-active leaders when it comes to unifying the Opposition against BJP at the national level. But in Bengal, she has given a call to her party workers to ensure victory in all the 42 constituencies in the state. Is there any anti-BJP unity in West Bengal then?

A lot will depend on the Lok Sabha election results and whether the Left and Congress are getting some seats in Bengal. It all depends on how Congress performs in states where there is a direct fight between Congress and BJP. For instance, if Congress does well in states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, MP and Maharashtra, then there is no chance of a BJP government coming to power in 2019. In such a situation, a post-poll alliance will be necessary. Mamata’s tactics is to have a Karnataka kind of government where a party with lesser number of seats compels Congress to support and form a government together in order to keep BJP out of power. TMC may also drive hard bargain for key ministries.

Mamata has been repeatedly saying that TMC will play a key role in forming the government at the Centre. How realistic is her national, if not prime ministerial ambitions?

TMC wants to play the same role which the Left Front played in the UPA-I government which is having a large chunk of seats and being the third largest bloc in Parliament. The difference between the Left and TMC is that the former was not interested in joining the government and TMC has no qualms being a part of the government.

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