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Mamata is winning as of today... remember, as of today. Communalism can be game changer

By Rajiv Shah 
Mamata Banerjee is “injured”. The two main political opponents of Mamata, the Congress-Left combine, on one hand, and the BJP, on the other, challenging what so far seemed to be her indisputable rule in the poll-bound West Bengal, are stating that it was an “accident” and Mamata was trying to use it as to gain sympathy. On the other hand, as already reported, the Trinamool Congress, which she heads, says, she was “pushed” by four to five persons and was the result of “security lapse.”
Without going into the controversy surrounding the incident, as it would take some time to reach some conclusion on what might have happened, I want to jot down a few interesting facts which I learned from a senior journalist friend from Kolkata, whom I have met a couple of times in Ahmedabad when he came down to cover elections in Gujarat. I talked to him a couple of days before the Mamata incident actually took place.
I wanted to know what was happening in West Bengal, whether the BJP would win, and what would be the fate of the Congress-Left conglomerate. The first thing this journalist – whom I am not naming because I didn’t take his permission – was, “as of today, Trinamool is winning the polls… as of today, remember”, he repeated twice. However, he said, the scenario might change.
This journalist, who spoke to me in Hindi with Bengali accent, was frank and straight. “This the first time when the Left is the third force in West Bengal. This wasn’t the case ever... even in 2019. We were the first or second force, always. However, things have changed. I witness sharp communal divisions, which was not there ever. It is being projected as a straight fight between Trinamool and BJP.”
But why does he say that the scenario might change? He said, “The main problem with Trinamool is, while Mamata remains popular, its rank and file has deserted the party and become part of BJP. In fact, Trinamool is facing the same situation which it had created earlier. Defections were not part of West Bengal politics, Trinamool introduced it. And now BJP is using this opportunism, created by Trinamool. Not only leaders, cadres, too, are shifting loyalty every day.”
I turned to the Left-Congress alliance, what role would it play – whether it would help BJP or Trinamool. According to him, his overall impression is, the Left-Congress alliance would “mostly neutralise” opposition to Trinamool, and many of those who do not want to vote for Trinamool and are broadly secular would vote for the Left or the Congress candidates. This would, hopefully, cut into potential BJP votes, he suggested, though he added, BJP would do everything in its arsenal to “communalise the situation to gain votes.”
I asked him how was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally, which took place a few days back in Kolkata. According to him, rallies in West Bengal cannot tell the full story of support or otherwise to a political party. It went off well, he said. For the first time, BJP was able to fill up the the ground. However, people are used to rallies and love attending them. Money played a major role. According to his information, people were brought to the rally from outside Kolkata on a payment of Rs 400 each in buses and trucks, plus lunch.
Furfura shrine
Finally, I asked him where would the Muslim votes go. Whether the Left-Congress alliance would get Muslim votes, and wouldn’t that cut into Mamata’s votes. According to him, the Left-Congress has allied with a political party floated by the Indian Secular Front (ISF), floated by Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui, an influential cleric of the Furfura Sharif shrine in Hooghly district.
The Furfura shrine, he said, has followers both among Muslims and Hindus, just like Ajmer Sharif in Rajasthan. Pointing out that Muslims, too, are disgruntled with Mamata, he added, an alliance with ISF would ensure victory of several Left-Congress candidates. And, because Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen is not in the fray, the Muslim votes wouldn’t “go waste” like they did in during Bihar elections.
And finally, I asked him what had gone wrong with the Left – I was interested in it as I too belonged was a sort of Leftist during my youth. He said, it was seen as a party of the old, hence people appeared to have little hope from it. “The Left has done intensive social service for the benefit of the marginalised sections during the pandemic, but this may not get converted into vote”, he said, adding, though, “Recognising its image of a party of the old, especially the CPI-M has put up young candidates, many of them in the age group 40-45. People have begun coming out to listen to them, which is a positive sign.”

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