Himanta Biswa Sarma left the Congress party in India because the Gandhi family, he felt, took all the important decisions. Now in the BJP Sarma says Amit Shah will decide if he will become chief minister of Assam. Quite a long journey to reach the same end.
If the Assam election is about a surprising Congress fightback (these days the Congress barely shows up for most elections) with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, general secretary of the party campaigning extensively, it is also about the persistent, stubborn fight for political supremacy between Sarma and incumbent chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal.
And, in the lengthy battle for Bengal, the first phase of the voting has commenced with the BJP claiming that this will give them the “hawa” (wind) for the next seven phases.
Muslims make up 27 per cent of the Bengal electorate and they are all quietly hoping that Mamata Banerjee of the TMC and the incumbent CM returns.
Consolidation of subaltern Hindu vote
This is led to the first ever consolidation of what can be described as the subaltern Hindu vote all punting for the BJP. This is possibly the first election in Bengal which has always prided itself on not being swayed by religion and caste which work in other Indian states. The long spell of the Left front rule was a testament to this.
Banerjee perhaps succeeded in breaking the Left hegemony but, has created a dissatisfied lower caste Hindu voter who feels a grudge that the minorities capture all the welfare schemes while Banerjee gaslights them. The lack of development in Bengal is stunning and so is the prevalence of what is described as “cut money”.
Shah and the BJP are counting of this lack of development, anger at the cut money and the new found anger of the lower caste Hindu subaltern voter to give them a historic victory in West Bengal.
Shah and his man for Bengal Kailash Vijayvargiya, a powerful BJP general secretary has assiduously nursed this subaltern Hindu vote base by constantly nudging a sense of grievance. While Kolkata and its Bhadralok still find the BJP a bit of an embarrassment and shrink away from the party, the story in rural Bengal is different.
One huge takeaway is that the BJP is no longer just a party of urban Indian but, as West Bengal is a testament has made deep inroads in to rural India. Assam and its support base here is a pointer to the same thing — Shah has grown the party systematically and in a way that it can no longer be dismissed as a party of the upper castes in the urban areas of India.
Modi's Bangladesh statement
To understand how desperate the BJP is to win Bengal consider that Prime Minister, Narendra Modi took his first state visit post COVID-19 in his brand new aircraft to Bangladesh and made a claim that he had as a young man of 20-22 done “satyagraha” (non violent struggle) and gone to jail to fight for the independence of Bangladesh.
Actually the Jan Sangh, as it was then known, had agitated in August 1971 for the formal recognition of the Bangladesh provincial government not “satyagraha” for freedom as Shashi Tharoor a Congress leader pointed out. But, for the BJP all is fair in election battles.
These state elections in India will have huge repercussions as the aftermath. If the BJP manages to win West Bengal then Shah will have his own place in the Sangh pantheon of greats. If Banerjee manages to comeback for a third term, she will be the first among equals in the opposition ranks.
A restive opposition led by Banerjee and Sharad Pawar wants to dislodge the Congress as the national opposition and create a regional opposition — the third front to take on a resurgent BJP.
The Congress and much more the Gandhi family is fighting for its political life. If after the extensive campaigning by Rahul Gandhi, the Congress performs badly in Kerala than his return as Congress president will be a huge question mark. The Congress also needs to script a convincing win in Assam.
All this brings us back to Sarma. The Congress has promised in Assam that they will not allow the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAA) to be implemented. Sarma says this shows how out of touch the Congress is. According to him the CAA is no longer an issue in Assam.