Rasheeda Bhagat

Prepping for big-ticket Assembly elections

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on January 25, 2021

While it’s likely to be a cliff-hanger in Bengal, the elections in Tamil Nadu and Assam could also turn out to be interesting

With Covid vaccination already started, somewhat reducing the nationwide fear of this deadly virus, the new year begins with our netas sharpening their swords for the many political battles ahead.

With Assembly elections due in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam, the BJP is going to make a do-or-die attempt in at least three of the States where it doesn’t have too much of a presence. Well, except for West Bengal, where it did get a good foothold in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, winning for the first time ever 18 of 42 seats. But the dampener for it was that it did so by cutting mainly into the Left parties’ votes, rather than that of the Trinamool Congress. But, then, a victory is a victory, and every MP in the Lok Sabha is a trophy for any party.

The 2019 success has given hope to the saffron party to make a serious pitch for power this year in the State and end Trinamool Congress’s 10-year rule. Fireworks have already started and several TMC leaders have ditched Mamata Banerjee and made a beeline for the BJP.

It is early days yet, but Mamata’s anger and jitteriness at the gaya Rams in her party is becoming evident. On Saturday, a flashpoint between the two parties erupted in Kolkata where both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bengal’s Didi came together at an event at the Victoria Memorial to mark the 125th birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.

The animosity between the PM and the CM was palpable as they were seated grim-faced on the stage, and surely both must have been thankful for the mandatory social distancing! When it was her turn to speak, slogans of Jai Shri Ram raised from the audience upset Mamata, who refused to speak and returned to her seat, saying that this was a government programme and, hence, deserved “dignity”, but had clearly been hijacked for “politics”. While she thanked the PM and the culture ministry for holding the event in Kolkata, she protested at being “insulted” thus.

While the BJP has slowly but surely started making its presence felt in the North-East, till now power in West Bengal, even through an alliance, has alluded it. It is going to be a three-corner contest in West Bengal, and the Left, which performed miserably in the 2019 general elections, has entered into an alliance with the Congress for the Assembly polls. But right now the Congress is virtually in wilderness and the Left has little to boast about, except running an effective and efficient administration in Kerala.

What kind of a dent this alliance will make on the two principal players, the TMC and the BJP, remains to be seen. It is ironical, that as of now, the Left parties appear to be in the ‘also ran’ category, considering that West Bengal has been a Left fortress for such long decades, before Mamata ousted it from power 10 years ago.

In Kerala, the LDF’s government headed by Pinarayi Vijayan has done a remarkable job in handling the corona pandemic, and can well beat the pendulum phenomenon of the Congress-led UDF and the Left front seizing power in the State in turns.

Anti-incumbency

Just like Tamil Nadu, where the swinging pendulum was halted by the late AIADMK chief, J Jayalalithaa, who managed to return to power for a successive second term in 2016. In this Dravidian stronghold, the BJP has been making desperate attempts to make a mark by piggybacking on superstar Rajinikanth. But as always, this time too, Rajini proved to be slippery, and has backed away at the nth hour and refused to form a party, which the BJP must have been hoping to ally with.

That leaves open an alliance only with the AIADMK, which will be facing a huge two-term anti-incumbency. Five years of the AIADMK rule has hardly resulted in any dramatic development in the State, even though it has managed to bag several big industrial projects in the last one year, that too thanks to some quiet and efficient lobbying done with corporates by the bureaucrats.

Another silver-lining for the Tamil Nadu government has been comparatively decent management of the corona pandemic, the most visible facet of which was the efficient work done by workers of the Chennai Corporation. Whether it was following up on corona positive cases, cleaning and sanitising the city’s streets and affected neighbourhoods or ensuring and following-up of quarantined persons, the Corporation personnel have indeed done a commendable job.

But the problem for the AIADMK comes in the total absence of crowd-pullers or charismatic leaders. It is no secret that AIADMK workers at the grassroots are sorely missing an MGR or Jayalalithaa. VK Sasikala is yet an unknown and un-proven element.

This election should have been in rival DMK’s pocket, except that MK Stalin is hardly the astute politician his father M Karunanidhi was.

Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam will be interesting, but the nail-biter will of course be West Bengal.

Published on January 25, 2021

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