POLARISATION IN BENGAL

The West Bengal assembly election process has turned out to be a shame on India’s vaunted democratic system; and not just for the firing by security forces that killed five persons in Cooch Behar. The whole polity there is today deeply divided.

On the one hand, sand seems to be slipping from under the feet of feisty chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Her own election from Nandigram seems to be doubtful, considering the rival is locally entrenched Suvendu Adhikari, the former minister who fell apart in protest over the CM’s styles of functioning. The CM’s obsession to bring forward her nephew, grooming him as her heir apparent, is evident from the present campaign of the TMC too. Abhishek Banerjee, like his aunt, is drawing sizeable crowds. Rallies of PM Modi and Amit Shah are also largely attended, giving out the hint that the relative strengths of the TMC and BJP are perhaps evenly balanced.

How this has happened is curious to note. The chief minister and her party openly asked Muslims to side with them. The BJP simply waited for such an eventuality to do what it is best at: polarizing the Hindu votes in its favour. For the first time in West Bengal politics, religion as also caste came to the fore of the campaign arena. This is a pity considering the secular credentials of the state. At the same time, the involvement of a new party in the assembly polls – The Indian Secular Front – is important. A Muslim cleric who heads the party is influential in the community. It is allying with the Congress and the CPI-M. Yet, a look at the campaign scene would make it clear that this alliance has fewer followers this time.

Rahul Gandhi is descending on the campaign scene from April 14, which is unlikely to make any impact due to the deep polarization there. He and Priyanka Gandhi concentrated on the Kerala and Assam campaigns so far, as these are the two states the Congress has some hope in this round of polls.

It remains to be investigated whether there was high-handedness on the part of the security forces in Cooch Behar. The deaths could have added to the trend of religious polarization in the state. Reports are that the security forces roughed up a local youth, leading to an offensive from the locals and then came the retaliatory firing. Religious polarization as also dynasty instincts hurt the fair progress of democracy. Elections should be fought on the basis of issues, like the positive and negative sides of the TMC rule in West Bengal.

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