Siliguri (West Bengal): Mamata Banerjee’s gameplan or political opportunism has backfired clearly, so say voters in this busy township in North Bengal – a region where the BJP has established strong grip.
According to common people, most of it has turned in favour of the saffron party owing to Mamata’s gamble when she decided to ally with a pro-Gorkhaland outfit. No wonder, Trinamool Congress supremo’s hyped rally at Siliguri on February 1 has turned a flop show as the turnout was very poor.
“Mamata Banerjee has lost her touch. In order to strengthen grip in 15 assembly seats in Darjeeling-Kalimpong hills, she has left voters across 100 seats anguished. That the crowd turnout was poor is not a big surprise,” says Niharendu Biswas, a retired banker.
Endorsing him, shopkeeper Ajay Das says, “The pro-change wave (real Poriborton) in favour of BJP is very strong. A large section of Trinamool footsoldiers and supporters who came for Didi’s rally could vote against Trinamool on the voting day. How could she ally with a discredited face like Gorkha Janamukti Morcha leader Bimal Gurung”.
Trinamool had won 16 seats out of total 54 assembly seats in North Bengal five years ago in 2016. But the manner in which the BJP has gained grounds marginalizing the Congress and the Left, it is any body’s guess now that the BJP’s tally will go up and Didi may end up with a modest 5-6 seats only from the region.
Traditionally some North Bengal parts like Murshidabad and Malda have had a strong Congress presence but the BJP performance in 2019 polls was very encouraging.
Separate state of ‘Gorkhaland’ is a pressing demand in hills pending since the time of Rajiv Gandhi and Subhas Ghising. But Bengalis are extremely touchy about yet another round of ‘partition’ of Bengal and thus it may not be erroneous to say that out of 294 seats, people in around 280 assembly segments are against Gorkhaland.
The voters in the North Bengal region and in and around Siliguri are also unhappy with Mamata for allegedly ‘neglecting’ the region during the last 10 years. Moreover, the violence triggered by Trinamool workers from time to time has upset the common people. Local observers say a large number of former CPI-M cadres who faced the brunt of Trinamool inspired violence during last decade have shifted allegiance tactically to the BJP camp.
“If you had come in 2016 during assembly polls, I would not have spoken to you. Today, we have some confidence as we believe, Trinamool days are over and the BJP will be around to protect us,” says Bishnu Karmakar, a student who quit Students Federation of India.
The BJP supporters on the other hand are more than happy. Some enthusiastic of them sport Tilak on the forehead and would raise Jai Shri Ram slogan merrily and with pride. “Its a new era in Bengal sir…enjoy the Hindu uprising here. Now the sky is the limit,” says another youngster Mithu Banik.
“The biggest achievement of BJP is that their growth has completely eclipsed the anti-Hindu forces in Bengal politics – the Left and the Congress. Now we all are waiting for the exit of Mamata Banerjee,” says Banik, 22.
He says the Chief Minister did commit another blunder on January 23 when she angrily disliked and dismissed the slogan of Jai Shri Ram.
His rhetoric is significantly supported by a middle-aged farmer from Matigara area in Siliguri, Pritam Pal. “Mamata is trying a dangerous game, raising Jai Bangla slogan…her Bangla is nefarious Greater Bangladesh and it has a strong Islamic backing,” says Pal, 44 displaying his rural frankness.
Not that the Trinamool leadership did not realise the emerging challenge. Mamata’s nephew and powerful lawmaker Abhishek Banerjee and poll strategist Prashant Kishor visited North Bengal and held a series of meetings at Jalpaiguri, Coochbehar and Alipurduar besides Siliguri and tried to do some damage control exercises.
Walk along with Deshbandhu Para, the heart of Siliguri-New Jalpaiguri meeting point also gives a clear message that the BJP has established an early edge especially in terms of perception. People have gauged the mood of change and thus the pressure is building on more and more Trinamool and Left leaders to shift allegiance to the saffron camp.
Some of it is happening on daily basis practically at all levels. While defection of MLAs and organisational office bearers is well reported in the media, most of the ground level political defection is not getting the media limelight.
Hence, common voters who have faith in Narendra Modi’s leadership and BJP’s ability to win support in Bengal say enthusiastically- every beginning has an end. If 2011 marked the end of communists and signalled the arrival of Mamata as a cyclonic anti-Left leader, in 2021 it is the season of change in favour of nationalistic BJP.