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‘What Bengal thinks today’: Studying the West Bengal assembly election 2021

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Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Joydeep Bhattacharyya refuses to cease thinking and writes from Siliguri, West Bengal, India.

The upcoming Assembly Election of West Bengal, scheduled to be held from 27 March to 29 April 2021 unprecedentedly in eight phases, demands extraordinary attention for reasons more than one.

The troubled past

At the outset, one has to keep in mind the fact that West Bengal has inarguably become the bloodiest site of election in the country over a period of roughly last 5 or 6 years. Election in Bengal began to be tainted with violence from the early 1970s. During the Left regime, who ruled West Bengal for thirty-four years at a stretch (1977-2011), election had regularly become the topic of debate as the sole opposition party of the time, the Congress, used to attribute Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s (CPI[M]) election success to ‘scientific rigging’ – something which was hard to prove but difficult to deny. With its absolute control over every existing government or semi/non-government machinery, the communist government was adept at shaping public opinion, influencing election process and, most importantly, normalizing any notion of abnormality at any stage of governance. All allegations of manipulation could easily be rubbished hence. But one has to admit that election in the past was relatively ‘quiet’ in Bengal, especially if we remember the elections of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in the 1980s and 1990s.

The ugly present

But the table has turned altogether now as West Bengal has become the undisputed topper in the national ranking of election-violence. The 2015 Bidhannagar civic poll shocked the state for the overwhelming violence that took place for a civic poll of a satellite township adjacent to Kolkata. The most brazen display of election violence in recent times occurred in the 2018 panchayat elections when the state witnessed a bloodbath as about 66 party workers, 52 of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and 14 of the ruling Trinamool Congress party (TMC), had reportedly lost their lives! The elections earned nation-wide infamy not only for the death-count but also for the fact that the ruling TMC won thirty-four percent of the panchayat seats uncontested because none of the opposition parties were allowed to field candidates or file nominations. The 2019 Loksabha election was also politically tensed with some incidents of violence, lesser in numbers though, due to the heavy deployment of central paramilitary forces and the watchful eye of the Election Commission of India (ECI). The biggest question now is: ‘Will it change this time?’. One cannot be so certain as political murders, clashes and threats are continuing unabated in the pre-election months. However, the common people still hold hope, counting on the possibility of larger paramilitary contingents and the supposedly more active ECI.


Unemployment is one of the biggest issues of this election. West Bengal has become the major supplier of human resource to the rest of the country, especially the economically viable states such as Maharashtra, Delhi, Gujarat, Karnataka, Telangana, Kerala. In fact, it has ranked fourth among the states in outbound migration for employment. People are running out of rural as well as urban Bengal in search of employment.

Crisis of job

The issue of unemployment leads to another issue, i.e., the crisis of job in the state, in the govt. or non-govt., organized or unorganized sectors. First, teaching, which generates the maximum govt. employment in the state, has ceased to be so recently as almost all the teacher recruitment examinations, mired in allegations of corruption and malpractices, have been stalled in the court of law. Contractual employment has become the norm in many of the govt. departments. The state govt. seems to be happy with such ad hoc arrangements as its outstanding debt is expected to be frighteningly 32.9% of its Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) in 2020-21. Therefore, there is alarmingly a huge unemployed workforce with higher education. Second, West Bengal has become famished in terms of actual industrial investment in the last ten years. As a result, the non-govt. organized sector has become almost barren in creating jobs. Third, the unorganized sector, which is really big as West Bengal ranked top in micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) in 2017 in the country, is not enough to cater to the huge employment demand of the semi-skilled or unskilled workforce in the state. Fourth, whereas self-employment has emerged as the dominant form of employment in the country, the dominant workforce in West Bengal is low-waged casual labour mostly in the real estate sector. For these reasons, West Bengal needs big industries, investments in infrastructure as also the regularization of its traditional govt. sectors of employment such as teaching and govt. services in other departments.


In order to achieve the goal of employment and industrialization, the allegations of corruption and misgovernance have to be dealt with an iron hand. Rampant politicization and criminalization of govt. institutions and machineries is the most common allegation made by the opposition parties against the state govt. and the ruling party. Terminologies such as ‘syndicate’, ‘cut-money’ (referring to the politically-backed extortion racket in manufacturing and construction sectors and commission system to avail govt. schemes) have become widely familiar in the society, badly tarnishing the image of the ruling TMC before the election.

The polarized electorate

Historically, Bengal has always been a communally sensitive zone both in the pre- and post-Independence times. In the recent times however, the situation has visibly worsened as the ever-growing Muslim vote-bank politics and the consequent Hindu political counter-assertion have seemingly arrived at a watershed moment that can (re)shape the future political discourse in West Bengal forever. The voter landscape is unprecedentedly polarized along communal lines as the 70% Hindu majority, most of which are refugees having fled from the erstwhile East Pakistan and also from the current Bangladesh, seems to be apprehensive about a ‘recycling’ of history and a ‘future’ of similar religious persecution in the hand of the growing Muslim population (27% in the state and growing by 1.77% against the Hindu decline by 1.94%, according to Census 2011). Consequently, cross-border infiltration, cow smuggling, and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) have become burning issues in the election.

 In the above context, the West Bengal Assembly Election of 2021 is a high-voltage battle in every sense. The ruling TMC is desperate to hold its power as Bengal is its one and only political bastion. So are the other anti-BJP parties of the country who desperately stake on Mamata Banerjee, whose party plays the self-declared vanguard in the national anti-BJP bandwagon, to stop BJP winning a state they never won before. BJP, on the other hand, is ready to use all its political resources available, to win the state, which is historically dominated by its major ideological adversary i.e. the Left or Left sympathizers – a reason which is no less important for BJP than ousting the TMC. The win in West Bengal will be a win of national dimension for the BJP. May 2, 2021 will unveil the result of the ‘Battleground Bengal’ to the entire nation, avidly trying to fathom ‘What Bengal thinks today’!

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Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Joydeep Bhattacharyya refuses to cease thinking and writes from Siliguri, West Bengal, India.
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