Mamata and her party will have to reassess their approach
West Bengal is now wearing two distinct colours for the Lok Sabha. The Trinamul Congress had more or less cleared the terrain of Opposition parties since 2011. The coalition that had ruled the state for 34 years was barely to be seen and the Bharatiya Janata Party had been held down to an unimportant count seat-wise. But no longer. The TMC now has to face a situation it was unused to: its rival within the state is almost equal to it in strength in parliamentary seats. The BJP has harvested the fruits of its persistent propaganda that not only does Mamata Banerjee appease the minority community but also that such ‘appeasement’ is unforgivable. This is not a new story. But its effectiveness may be partly a result of the fact that the BJP’s build-up from the ground was made easier during its five years at the Centre. Also, the BJP had pulled out all stops to ‘seize’ Bengal and, at the moment, its resources are unmatched. But even that cannot account for the number of seats it won. The party was certainly expected to do well on its own; on top of that it had invaluable help from within. There can be little doubt that the Left vote was neatly transferred to the BJP. Perhaps the Left hoped to unseat Ms Banerjee by using the BJP in order to get a look-in later; or maybe its voters found it easier to get their back on the TMC by just becoming BJP supporters. It was certainly an act of self-sacrifice — the Left no longer has a Lok Sabha seat in the state. Given the BJP’s generosity with regard to rewards, its swelling power, the security from persecution and freedom from lip service to diversity that its presence promises, voting for it would be the natural option for many.
Ms Banerjee has a hard, harsh task ahead of her if she wishes to regain lost ground. Since it is now quite clear that what she has tried to do for the state, both in the villages and in the city, is not enough, and her building of temples and mosques — she has done both — is not the way into her voters’ hearts, she and her party will have to reassess their approach from scratch. The TMC’s interference in, for example, education, could not have been why it was rejected by so many voters this time: the BJP is far more interventionist. But in a democracy, opposition is a good thing. The good, though, cannot come through violence and the creation of fear. The TMC’s violence during the last panchayat polls greatly damaged perceptions about it. Will either side keep that in mind?