A campaign blitzkrieg targeting Muslims and driving a wedge between the Left Front and the Congress, are the twin strategies adopted by the Trinamool Congress (TMC) to prevent a Sagardighi-like electoral reversal in the ensuing rural polls.
Emerging from a meeting with her council of ministers, the West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee, on Monday (March 6) directed some of her party colleagues to intensify minority outreach.
She also told the group of ministers, which included ministers from the minority community, to conduct an assessment of the party’s defeat in the recent by-poll in the Muslim-dominated Sagardighi assembly constituency, said sources privy to the discussions.
Among the ministers who were present were urban development and municipal affairs minister Firhad Hakim, minority affairs minister Gulam Rabbani, irrigation minister Sabina Yeasmin and mass education minister Siddiqullah Chowdhury, who is also the president of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind’s West Bengal chapter. She told them to probe if Muslim voters were losing their faith in TMC and if so, what were the factors prompting the shift.
TMC gets into introspection mode
Banerjee asked party leaders to highlight the several welfare schemes being run by her government specifically for minorities. The party has gone into introspection mode after the stunning defeat of TMC candidate Debashish Banerjee against the Left-backed Congress candidate Bayron Biswas in the by-poll.
What has jolted the TMC more is the fact that it had been winning from Sagardighi in Murshidabad district since 2011 and that the constituency has about 60 per cent minority votes, which is the mainstay of the party.
Also read: Smarting from Sagardighi bypolls defeat, Mamata says TMC will fight 2024 polls alone
The recent electoral mandate has also reinforced the reports the party has been getting from the ground about growing discontentment among people with the ruling TMC. This is largely stemming from the alleged involvement of TMC leaders in cattle and coal smuggling cases, money for jobs and other graft cases.
TMC leaders have faced protests in many places in rural Bengal during the party’s Didir Doot (Didi’s messenger) outreach campaign launched to quell the rural anger ahead of panchayat elections supposed to be held in March-April. The TMC leaders christened as ‘Didir Doot’, are now going around visiting villages to listen to the grievances of the people, as part of a drive launched in January. They are collecting the feedback to convey them back to Mamata Banerjee for redressal.
So far, the TMC leaders have found that there is simmering anger against the TMC in many areas. A consolidation of Left-Congress alliance is the last thing the TMC wants on its hands right now amidst the brewing trouble.
Tactical voting by BJP supporters
The Sagardighi by-election much to the TMC’s concern not only saw the deepening of ties between the Left and the Congress but also tactical voting by BJP supporters. An analysis of the party-wise vote share, shows that no less than 10 per cent BJP votes were transferred to the joint candidate.
“Even a section of BJP supporters voted for us with the sole purpose of defeating the TMC,” admitted West Bengal Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury. The TMC fears there can be an emerging model in such strategic voting. Already, the BJP is trying to seize the opportunity calling for a larger Opposition unity to dethrone Mamata Banerjee.
“Though there cannot be an alliance of the BJP, Congress and the CPI(M) under one banner because of ideological issues, these parties could give a call for a ‘no vote’ to TMC,” said Suvendhu Adhikari, BJP MLA and leader of the Opposition in Bengal assembly.
Also read: West Bengal: Sagardighi bypoll result sets alarm bells ringing for TMC
Even BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar endorsed the idea, which essentially means the BJP supporters should vote for the Left-Congress candidates in the areas where the latter is strong and vice-versa.
“Their mask has slipped. The Congress, CPI (M) and the BJP have now joined hands to defeat us,” Mamata Banerjee said, taking a dig at the “emerging model.”
To create a rift in the Opposition camp, the TMC has now decided to open an old wound. Of all the atrocities the CPI(IM) allegedly committed against its rival, the most macabre was one that took place 53 years ago.
On March 17, 1970, the alleged CPI (M) functionaries brutally killed two brothers Malay Sain and Pranab Sain in Burdwan district. They were killed for their family’s allegiance towards the Congress. Perpetrators also gouged out the eyes of their elder brother Naba Kumar Sain.
Not stopping at that, the attackers forced the grieving mother of the victims to eat the rice smeared with the blood of her two slain sons. None of the accused were brought to book. Some even went on to become ministers in the subsequent Left Front government.
After the TMC came to power it had formed a commission to probe the incident. But nothing came out of it. Now the party has decided to observe the 53rd anniversary of the massacre throughout the state in a bid to remind the Congress and the Left about their gory rivalry in the past.