With political dynamics of an evolved order, the eastern Indian state of West Bengal recently wrapped up its 17th Assembly election. The 8- phase polling, spread over a month, was marked by exchange of vitriolic statements between opponents, violence leading to deaths of four people due to firing by the Central forces, and large scale political rallies that allegedly flared up 2019-nCoV cases in the state. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who is strongly entrenched at the Centre and Bengal’s politically seasoned ruling party, Trinamool Congress (TMC) who ousted the strong administration of the 34 years deeply rooted Left Front (LF) government from the State, have been locked in a tough battle, results of which on May 2 will determine who emerges winner to take over the mantle of Bengal. The Left Front who had been dormant the last few years following their electoral debacle in 2011 unexpectedly losing to the TMC, reemerged in this election chalking out newer equations of fielding youthful candidates, striking alignment with their long back staunch rival, Congress and roping in a freshly formed political outfit, Indian Secular Front (ISF) also put up a tough fight in the Bengal polls. In the backdrop of this political volatility in the State, The Edition spoke to people across domains in India and abroad to hear their Voices on this high voltage Bengal Assembly election. Here is the 2nd part :

IAS (Retd.), he is a historian, art historian, writer, action anthropologist, arts administrator, known for intercultural and cross-disciplinary research and activism. He can be reached at msk4747@yahoo.in

I cannot predict election results. It is different in being a battle for the soul rather than soil of Bengal. Issues irrelevant to development have been brought in to divide people

Distribution of money and largess, blatant misuse of Government enforcement agencies, muscle power, media manipulation, desecration of internationally respected icons of Bengal, vulgar rhetoric, spurious and false promises from the highest echelons of public offices, degradation of standards of impartiality among those charged to ensure it in conduct of election, open intimidation, wastage of precious resources, garnered from people, have made a mockery of the electoral process and made it the object of derision and contempt.

The inept handling of migrant labour, corona, economy, and incitement of violence by those required by their high office to arrest it, and complete amorality have been the hallmark of this election.

Having handled and supervised several elections in conflict and insurgency ridden areas, I still have confidence in the deep wisdom of the hinterland communities, their uncanny ability to distinguish chaff from grain, promises from performance, rise above artificially sown enmities, and decide right for the land and themselves.

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An army veteran with 32 years service and watches Indian administration closely. Can be reached at sanjaytripathi202@gmail.com

The election that just ended in West Bengal has shown new and unwelcome trends which need to be arrested.

The first is the unbridled violence in the run up to and during the election. It showed the propensity of parties to come in power by any means.

The speeches in the rallies lacked class and content. This is the first time the names of Lord Ram and other dieties have been used to engage voter attention which is a highly objectionable practice.

The aspect of community health was totally neglected by holding huge rallies and throwing safety to the winds. The Prime Minister himself led the fray and remained unmasked during the rallies.

In an ironical political twist recently the PM lauded the decision of Juna Akhara to call off the Kumbh while the rallies were left out. Obviously he could not take the decision himself, the hard decision making having evaporated.

The Election Commission and Supreme Court remained mute spectators while the rallies were lined up back to back. Who wins is not what we should be bothered about… rather how to ensure ethics amongst political leaders is what must agitate our minds.

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Senior Journalist and Editor of publications with the Society for Policy Studies. She is also Senior Fellow with WISCOMP (Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace). Can be reached at nilova.rc@spsindia.in

It is an unfortunate fact of life in India today that elections to state legislatures  have, in their tenor and conduct, begun to emulate the language of war. Electoral contests are not political contests; they have become forums to unleash verbal and even physical animus, no holds barred.

Holding elections appears to be the only aspect of democracy the ruling establishment takes seriously. Strengthening civil society, providing autonomy to institutions of democracy, like media and judiciary, seem glossed over.

Four states and one Union Territory, Puduchery, went to the polls.

For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the most critical is West Bengal. It has injected enormous money and muscle power into the state in recent months, particularly, as India emerged from the pandemic. The unprecedented eight-phase election for the 294-seat state legislature and money flowing, to lure candidates and voters, betrays its anxiety. Everybody, from the Prime Minister to his cabinet colleagues, has been busy trying to sway Bengal’s voter. ‘Khela’ (game) it is not, as there are no rules of fair play.

There is a reason why the BJP needs to win the state, which appears within its grasp after winning 18 parliamentary seats in 2019. Bengal, in the 19th century, was the harbinger of India’s cultural renaissance, contributing significantly to removal of the British and colonial rule. For the BJP, which prides itself on upholding what it calls “Indian culture,” essentially meaning non-English, pro-Hindi and Hindu, Bengal is the ultimate prize to seal its ideological base. It needs popular approval from Bengal, where slogans like ‘Vande Mataram’ and the concept of ‘Bharat Mata’ arose.

Having raised the ideological stakes so high, the BJP has ensured that Bengal has become a battleground it must win, to salvage its raison d’etre. For the ruling Trinamool Congress, fighting to retain leadership in the state, winning is important to reaffirm its claim as the true inheritor of Bengali nationalism and raise its credibility as a national opposition party.

Meanwhile, ‘Vikash’ (development), like the Congress and Left combine, is waiting on the sidelines.

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Director and Chief Artist at National Survey of Indian Art, Government of India. Can be reached at biswajitdas86@gmail.com

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A veteran with almost 34 years of service in both military and corporate. Authored 7 books on various subjects. A relocated Black Cat Commando, he is a regular speaker on military matters on electronic media. Can be reached at kaushik@sircargroup.com

Post my pre-mature retirement when I finally decided to choose my den, I came to Kolkata in the Autumn of 2009.

The condition of the city was almost in shambles in the year 2009. It was full of poor infrastructure, pot holes, dilapidatedi buildings, unworthy construction darkness and a total feeling of negligence and negativity. That’s certainly not the Calcutta of the 70s, where one could stand up and say the first few lines of Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore… ”where the mind is without fear and the head held high”…

I saw uncertainty and realised there has to be a renaissance in some form to save the city from decaying to the dark lanes and by lanes of the old city.  Two years later there was election and there was a change of guard after almost 35 years of a single party rule. Developments happened during that period as well, but the party suffered a defeat owing to three major aspects; Complacency within, a bullish attitude and lack of infrastructure (leading to negative growth and joblessness)

The new government started off in an euphoria and so were the 9 crore population who voted them to power by the press of a button. Coming to the analysis, per se, I have the following to elucidate my opinion:

1.   The current government has gone a long way to firstly stop all Strike/Bandh activities across the state, an aspect that disturbed the grass root population and we the middle class in a big way. Bandh and strikes were always a retardation for growth of a state or country

2.    Enormous development in flyovers, bridges, roads condition, infrastructure at large, schools, colleges, water and electricity.

3.    Easy availability of basic needs in the state and slightly better employment opportunities has always been the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s personal effort.

4.   Somehow too many freebies and trying to pacify minorities may not be a positive feedback for this current incumbent. All should be treated equally and irrespective of the party in power the police should be given a free hand to control the situation and bring the wrong doers to task

5.     Personally, I found I was quite comfortable last ten years of this ruling party being in power with certain excellent up-liftment initiatives like Kanyashree.

6.      As far as the party in centre is concerned, it is to be understood that elections in Bengal is quite different than in other states and hence a lot of deliberation needs to be extended than speeches. The party currently has no prominent and promising face in the state to be an elected representative of the people of the state at large.

7.    Continuous shifting of personalities from the ruling to the central party may not be taken in the right perspective too by the population.

8.  Metro is a central project, which is languishing in this manner for the last ten years almost. This should have been the main stay of the party to be to come to power and take off from there rather than last minute inauguration of metro lines and stations. Lot of things like business has hit the bottom line and will take time to grow with too many policies and changes at short intervals.

9.   The central party should always have alternatives, which seems to be lacking except for the popularity of our honourable Prime Minister. There is no dependable face amidst the shifters or within the central party

10.    The centre could have over a period of time ensured equated developments in West Bengal from central sources and people here in this state are educated and aware enough to understand and drive home the point.

11.    The left party or the erstwhile ruling party of the centre have not been able to leave a mark on the population to the extent since the agenda and voting manifest for most parties are either not drawn out to the best of their ability and credibility.

12.    Last but not the least, the current ruling incumbent stands a better chance of winning the coming election keeping in mind the changes that have actually happened on ground and not on paper alone. The honourable CM should have refrained from hitting out directly on personality basis and avoided direct confrontation. It was sometimes sad to see the honourable PM taking a direct dig at party representatives which may not go well with the literates across the board. It should best have been avoided and the political parties had better concentrated on the election manifesto and things to do. However, there is always a scope for improvement and we should strive to achieve that.

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Professor of Political Science, Savitribai Phule Pune University (formerly University of Pune). Can be reached at santishreepandit@gmail.com

West Bengal is churning in a huge change. A state that has suffered partition thrice and bloodshed on the basis of religion in 1947. Today the party conceived by the Bengali badralok leadership is back in the state with a bang.

The founding fathers of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh were the towering Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and N.C. Chatterjee. The latter was the father of the late CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee. The differences with the then Prime Minister Nehru was on the false promise of protection of Hindu minorities in East Pakistan. This issue has not been resolved and still minority Hindus, Buddhists and Christians are targeted on a daily basis.

The land that produced unifiers of our civilization, Swami Vivekananda, Aurobindo and Ravindranath Tagore, today unfortunately brings in the issue of insiders and outsiders a paradox to this great tradition. The high level of political violence is very unfortunate and it undermines the political legitimacy of the present leadership. This election has decided whether Bengal wants to continue its regressive politics of backwardness and minority appeasement. It is a very important moment for the people of West Bengal being a border state with a theocratic neighbour which even, until today, targets Hindu and Buddhist minorities.

Border states have to be very vigilant for there is the issue of illegal immigration. Unfortunately, this raises the issue of strong religious fault lines. Border crossing is so easy and am told by scholars that this illegal migration has communalised the border. This is a dangerous trend and it must be stopped. A secular state is at risk.

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Advocate at Supreme Court of India. Columnist, Media Commentator, Political Analyst and Author of the book, ‘Kanha to Krishna – the Journey to Divinity’, a politico-mythological fiction. Can be reached at pkmullick@gmail.com

Bengal just wrapped up a Modi vs. Mamata T-20 thriller – the 17th Bengal Assembly election whose results are due on May 2. Unlike Kerala, in Bengal ‘cholche-cholbe’ has generally trumped over anti-incumbency factor. But will that sustain in the social media era?

A highlight of this election has been the attempt to consolidate Hindu votes. Social media is awash with features highlighting Muslim appeasement by TMC. The middle class is angry with TMC but discomfited with stridency of the ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogan. BJP might have done better to invoke ‘Vande Mataram.’ BJP ought also to have reached out to Muslim women on Triple Talaq ban issue.

Large scale defection of prominent TMC leaders to BJP have made TMC appear like a sinking ship and severely rattled its poll prospects. But this is not without its side-effects. BJP has not been able to fully exploit the cut-money and chit fund scams since most of the tainted leaders are now with it. Another adverse effect that is likely to reflect in the result, is infighting in BJP between the ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been a cartoonist’s delight and ‘khela hobe’ while on wheelchair has given rise to a lot of mirth. But Pishi remains a streetfighter. Can faceless local BJP under non-playing Captain (PM Modi) re-enact the UP-Uttarakhand model? Who becomes BJP CM if Suvendu loses in Nandigram? Did Saurav Ganguly’s illness come at a very wrong time for the BJP?

ISF won’t substantially erode TMC’s Muslim votebank, but will have effect in marginal seats. In case of hung house, Congress-CPI(M)-ISF will go with TMC.

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Scientist at VECC, Department of Atomic Energy, Government of India. Can be reached at jaogsscience@gmail.com

This time the assembly election in West Bengal is a death knell for Trinamool Congress (TMC) while it is now-or-never moment for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).  As such,  both parties have rolled up their sleeves to leave no stone unturned in the spectacular battle of political survival.  Leaving aside issues like  citizens’ entitlements, rights and  demands  parties  have  embroiled in political  mud slinging. 

Thieves are up in arms against dacoits and raising voices against plunderers where as thugs are busy in managing the vote shares by creating a threat perception among the common people.  Having said that, a strong wave of imminent change is ubiquitous. It is primarily because of present misrule, religious appeasement, joblessness and corruption  by the functionaries at different levels of ruling TMC. 

Banking on these anti-incumbency factors that has generated a negative perception among the masses, BJP has came out with a progressive ‘Sankalp Patra’. It focuses on the reformative and long term developmental schemes to counter long pending public issues like quality education system, self-reliance of women, industrialisation together with establishment of three AIIMS in West Bengal and so on. Apparently, the “Twin Engine” concept propagated by BJP, i.e., alignment of state  administration with central government as to accelerate development of the state  has gone well to  various strata of the society. 

In contrast, opposition has promised to offer short-term benefits to the people, some of which look to be fictitious. Thus as far as social commitment is concerned, BJP stands way ahead of other parties.

However,  there is many a slip between cup and lip, so, we have to wait till the final result of the 2021 Bengal Assembly election is announced. Besides some visible strategic attributes caught our eyes, especially ticket distribution strategy to the candidates. 

For instance, in South Bengal there are 167 assembly constituencies, naturally vote share in this region is of paramount importance and helps to pave the way to the success. Accordingly, TMC fielded Muslim and non-Muslim candidates taking respective vote shares in 2016 and 2019 elections into account. On the other hand, BJP’s candidates are largely protege-turned-contender  and new faces. 

Even though many psephologists foresee that another socio-political upheaval in Bengal is  just a matter of time, nonetheless, it is yet to be seen whether the winning party secures the number beyond 196 or  below it, two-third of the total number of  constituencies. 

Read Part 1 Here

Opinions expressed in this article are of the author’s and do not represent the policy of The Edition. The writers are solely responsible for any claim arising out of the contents of their articles.

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