What rallying of all anti-Modi forces behind Mamata Banerjee tells us about the opposition campaign and the ‘Khan Market gang’
Bengal has been the political flavor this election season. In the run up to 2019 general elections, all the eyes were on Uttar Pradesh due to the “Mahagathbandhan” of two eternal enemies to take on the juggernaut of Modi and BJP. But as the month and a half long seven phase election progressed, all the focus got shifted to Bengal, not due to the Lutyens obsession of opposition unity but due to the ever growing prospect of a BJP win in the state and the violence unleashed by their beloved leader Mamata Banerjee to protect her citadel.
Before focusing on Bengal, let’s take a small tour through the opposition campaign to set the context for the developments happening in Bengal.
Congress and other non-NDA parties tried their best to create a mirage of opposition unity but as it turned out, like it happened with most of the other strategies of the opposition this election season, it remained a non-starter. Old tactical alliances in few states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu were presented as a new alliance to take on the mighty force of BJP and Narendra Modi. The only new real challenge for BJP was in Uttar Pradesh where SP and BSP risked everything to come together to remain relevant. (After all what will happen to this alliance and these parties if BJP emerges as the winner in UP).
If one looks closely how the opposition campaign has progressed in last two and a half months since the announcement of the schedule for the general elections, it all started with every regional player like BJD, TMC, JDS, Left, and others trying to make the general elections of India as local as possible by raising the rhetoric of jobs, intolerance, communal forces, etc. They all had the hope that the over-arching narrative under which they will fight the elections, will come from Congress.
Congress tried to take on the BJP’s pitch of Nationalism after the high of Balakot strikes by announcing ‘Nyay’ scheme which turned out to be such a dud that none of the other opposition parties talk about it and some even criticized it openly. The Rafale Scam lie was already not getting any traction on the ground. On top of that, their take on AFSPA, Kashmir and Sedition law didn’t help the matter in such a charged up environment in favor of Nationalism. Congress tried a few tricks like ‘officially’ appointing Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as General Secretary of Easter Uttar Pradesh after they were thrown out from the “Mahagathbandhan” of SP-BSP, building suspense over her candidature in Varanasi, but nothing seemed to work.
Congress campaign withered away within the first few phases of the elections, so much so that they tried to hijack the BJP’s style of campaigning by using Surgical Strikes during UPA; Priyanka Gandhi turning herself as a replica of ‘Radhe Ma’; Digvijay Singh, the inventor of false ‘Hindu terror’, went on a 3-day Havan-Pooja spree with thousands of Babas and Sanyasis. However, eventually they returned to the narrative of 2014 that is to abuse Narendra Modi in profuse amounts.
On the other hand, BJP and Narendra Modi planned their campaign meticulously. They started with Nationalism and strong leader pitch riding on the high of Balakot strikes; blew the wind out of the opposition’s campaign with the show of strength in Varanasi; gave it a twist of softness and inspiration with Akshay Kumar interview; brought the discussion back to ‘Hindu terror’ and Hindutava with the candidature of Sadhvi Pragya and finished it off with a calculated showdown in Bengal to puncture the foundation of “Save Democracy by removing Narendra Modi” narrative by the opposition parties.
With Congress fleeing the battlefield mid-way and “Mahagathbandhan” in UP not making much of a dent in BJP’s numbers, the whole “Khan Market gang” (which seemed to be the main opposition rather than the political parties) rallied behind the only leader which was giving some competition to the BJP, at least verbally.
All the Lutyens Media and Left-liberal intellectuals had closed their eyes to the violence that was going on in Bengal since last 2-3 years, political or otherwise. Congress and Left did it at the cost of the lives of their own cadre. In 2019, when almost all the states have seen a largely peaceful election, almost a celebration as the PM puts it, Bengal violence stood out as a sore spot. All the six phases in Bengal have seen immense violence, intimidation and rigging despite EC taking many measures to ensure a free and fair election. (And there were people who were questioning the seven phase election in the state!)
When all the other leaders seem to have fled mid-way or rendered inconsequential by the pro-incumbency wave in favor of Narendra Modi, Mamata Banerjee at least made it till the end. It does not matter what methods she employed, or what consequences her methods would result in, what matters is she is the only anti-Modi leader standing on the finish line. It does not matter whether she wins or not, but right now she needs to be backed 100 percent by all the anti-Modi forces including her arch-rivals, the Left.
I was amazed when Sitaram Yechury and other left leaders came out in full support of her after the Kolkata incident in Amit Shah’s rally. Before that at least they used to blame both the parties equally. The entire “Khan Market gang”, “Tukde tukde gang”, Lutyens media, became the cheerleaders of the Mamata Banerjee’s “Bengali Pride” rhetoric that she employed after the desecration of the statue of Ishwarchand Vidyasagar Ji in the violence that broke out in the BJP rally.
They backed her nonsensical rant on EC to the hilt by conveniently forgetting the amount of violence Bengal had already seen till that point. After all that has been the strategy of this ecosystem since forever. Maintain a complete silence on contentious issues and the atrocities on BJP supportive forces; whether in Kerala, or Karnataka, or Tripura, or J&K, or Ram Janambhoomi; but when a reaction comes when pushed to the hilt, use that to shout at the top of their lungs and paint the entire party and its supporters as ‘goons’.
When the situation becomes so violent and toxic, there are bound to be some contentious decisions taken like it happened in J&K when an Army Officer decided to tie a stone-pelter on the front of a Jeep to save the lives of many; there is bound to be some retaliation like it happened in Kolkata when BJP supporters gave it back to TMC goons. It does not matter who destroyed the statue, as the TMC and others want to make it about, the question is why such a situation got created that such an act happened.
Let’s assume for a moment that the statue was destroyed by the BJP supporters, does that negate the fact that countless lives have been lost in the first six phases of the elections? Does that negate the fact that many voters have been beaten and threatened to not use their democratic right? Does that whitewash the brazen attempts of rigging and misuse of state machinery in the elections? I am sure all these are much more graver crimes that the desecration of a statue, which in itself is a deplorable act. But how can one compare the horrific crime of murder with an act of breaking a statue?
But, as I said earlier, all this does not matter. Nothing matters. Lives of people. National Security. Democratic values. Constitutional Responsibility. Nothing. The only thing that matters is to fight and defeat Modi because it is not the man that they fear but the revival of Hindu ideology which would make it impossible for these forces, who either have no ideology or have toxic imported ideologies, to ever come back to power. This is what the fight is all about. This ecosystem might not survive another full majority term of Narendra Modi.
So, even if it means to close your eyes when the democracy is in danger and rally behind a leader who is shredding democratic values to pieces, it’s all acceptable and even celebrated. After all, this is not the first time this would be happening!