The violence at Amit Shah's roadshow in Kolkata on Tuesday during which a statue of Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, Bengal's 19th Century educationist and social reformer, was vandalised reinforces further the notion that a change of political guard in West Bengal may be underway. Violence during elections in West Bengal has always been associated with shifting of the power equation. The ferocity this time suggests that the state might be rolling towards an astonishing conclusion.
There has been the usual blame game on who instigated the violence and who indulged in it. This fog of confusion shall be cleared if we ask one basic question. Who may benefit from this violence? The answer is clear: The ruling Trinamool Congress party.
Mamata has sought to counter BJP's growing clout in the state in two ways. One, 'otherisation' of BJP as a party of "outsiders" who are alien to the state's "Bengali" culture and ethos. Two, using the state administration to scuttle BJP's campaign strategy by denying permission.
It suits TMC's purpose, therefore, if the blame for vandalisation Vidyasagar's statue — a key figure of Bengali renaissance — is laid at BJP's door. It becomes easier for Mamata to then claim that BJP is a party of "rioters" and "goons" that "brings people from outside the state" to populate rallies, possesses no idea about the spirit, psyche and traits of Bengalis. Desecration of the statue, in Mamata's narrative, serves to only prove her right.
Mamata has sought to counter BJP's growing clout in the state in two ways. One, 'otherisation' of BJP as a party of "outsiders" who are alien to the state's "Bengali" culture and ethos.
Accordingly, the Trinamool Congress has gone all out to paint BJP as the villain in Tuesday's incident. Mamata and her party members have changed their Twitter display pictures to reflect the bust of Vidyasagar to reinforce their "ownership" over Bengali ethos and claim that BJP is attacking the symbols of Bengali culture. The smashing of the statues seems to be a well-coordinated move to trigger outrage among Bengalis against the BJP. And that's exactly why this TMC narrative doesn't pass the smell test.
The BJP is a behemoth of a party that is not only in power at the Centre but also in 16 states. It has held countless roadshows across the nation in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections. Nowhere has its roadshows witnessed the violence that happened in Bengal. BJP is aware of the parochial campaign run by the Trinamool that almost borders on soft-separatism and is likely to be extra cautious to avoid incidents that may become politically inconvenient.
Conversely, it suits the Trinamool if a tag of "violence" can be attached to BJP campaign programs such as roadshows and rath-yatras. Notably, this year in January, the TMC refused to give permission to Amit Shah to hold rath yatra in West Bengal ostensibly due to "fear of violence". The BJP went to Supreme Court where a bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had said that "apprehension of violence by the state government" was not unfounded.
It doesn't take a Sherlock Holmes to uncork the truth that Tuesday's violence and vandalism at BJP president's roadshow will be advantage TMC. It now allows Mamata fresh leverage to call for banning all BJP programs in the state. It is worth noting that Mamata has already started creating such noises.
The BJP has opposed TMC's accusation that it was responsible for Tuesday's violence. A report in The Times of India, quoting officials, noted that "(Amit) Shah's convoy was attacked with stones by alleged TMC supporters from inside the hostel of Vidyasagar College, triggering a clash between supporters of the two parties."
"Photos of Vidyasagar College just when the brick batting began from inside. It clearly shows gates closed & BJP workers protesting from the outside. With gates closed they couldn't enter. TMC activists were inside where the bust of Vidyasagar was smashed. TMC is Bengal's Taliban," wrote Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta on Twitter.
Not surprisingly, the BJP is trying to fight fire with fire. Union defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman and senior BJP minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi approached the Election Commission in New Delhi against the goings-on in Bengal, refuting what they called were "false allegations" levelled by the TMC.
Sitharaman urged the Election Commission to ban Mamata Banerjee from campaigning "because she is making provocative speeches. Rocks and stones were thrown at our party workers during the roadshow, police lathis used by Trinamool Congress workers were also used against them. False allegations have been made against the BJP of destroying the statue of noted reformed Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. All this proves that the law and order situation is bad in the State."
Amid the contesting version coming out from Tuesday's incident of violence and arson, one thing is clear. Mamata and her party have been rattled by the traction that the BJP is getting on the ground. Two factors have contributed to it. Mamata's own reaction to BJP's rise and the complete collapse of the CPM in a state that was its fortress for 34 years.
Mamata has failed to counter the ideological challenge thrown at her by the BJP, and her muscular response has opened up polarising fissures even more in the state for the BJP to exploit. Alongside, a major shift has already taken place in the erstwhile Left Front vote bank. In the violent paradigm of Bengal politics, gravitating towards either the ruling party or the strongest Opposition is inevitable for survival. The CPM's wipeout has been so total that many of its erstwhile cadres and supporters have shifted to the BJP as the only anti-TMC option available that may "provide protection".
These ground realities have further panicked Mamata, whose descent into dictatorship has been steep even by her mercurial standards. She recently called for taking "inch by inch" revenge against the BJP and RSS. "Law and order is a state subject, but they have tried to take control of it. Remember, the elections are here for a few more days, after which they will go. Then, there will be inch by inch badla," he was quoted as saying during a public meeting at Basanti in South 24-Parganas.
This is a clear indication that TMC is set to intimidate, threaten and use violence against its political rivals. Are we to believe that a chief minister who uses such incendiary language to incite party workers against its rivals in a democracy is the upholder of Bengal's "culture and ethos"?
On the contrary, it seems likely that the huge response to Shah's roadshow in Kolkata — considered TMC's fortress — has unnerved the chief minister to such an extent that we may see more such attempts at crude subterfuge. Well, may the TMC try to claim Vidyasagar's legacy by changing Twitter display pictures. It will not work.