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VOTES AS SIGNS

The waters of election results run deeper than what the ripples of the results make evident. The Congress candidate in Jangipur won by a razor-thin margin over his rival belonging to the Communist Party of India (Marxist). But this is for the record keepers in the Election Commission. For the analysts, the significance of the election perhaps lies elsewhere. What has to be noted is that the Bharatiya Janata Party polled over 10 per cent of the votes. Further, two parties, called the Welfare Party of India and the Social Democratic Party of India, jointly got nearly 8 per cent of the votes. These two facts cannot be explained either by the special context of this election or the demography of the constituency. The BJPís performance can only partially be explained as a rub-off effect of the all-India phenomenon of perceiving the BJP as an alternative to the Congress. It should not come as a surprise if in the forthcoming general elections the BJP maintains this trend in the voting pattern across West Bengal. The present dispensationís propensity to woo the minorities in the state could strengthen this trend. The votes in favour of the other two parties, neither of them a formidable presence in the politics of West Bengal, are suggestive of a new development.

In West Bengal, unlike in the rest of the Gangetic plain, identity politics ó of any variety ó has never had a determining influence on political developments. Neither the CPI(M) nor the Congress, whatever their other sins and shortcomings, has pursued the politics of identity for electoral dividends. Both these political formations have also followed a secular agenda. But this situation has now changed. The present chief minister is not averse to using identity politics and pampering minorities to secure votes. What is possible is that todayís supporters and beneficiaries of the chief ministerís policies may tomorrow emerge as independent groups making their own sectoral demands. This, especially the wooing of minorities, could contribute to further strengthening of the BJP and its anti-Muslim agenda. The Jangipur election results show that parties representing identities and the BJP have all made significant gains. There is a danger in this: the danger of fragmentation and the danger of communalization. If these eventuate then the results of a byelection near Murshidabad could well be the first roll of distant thunder.