Bengal woke up to a new morning today. Never before a Chief Minister of Bengal has been banned from campaigning for his or her ‘provocative’ comments during an election. But the present CM of Bengal Mamata Banerjee is barred from campaigning today till 8 PM. The seasoned Didi however has made an alternative arrangement to stay afloat even during the ban. She is sitting on a dharna from 12 noon. And after 8 PM she will address two rallies at Barasat and Bidhan Nagar.
After Mamata, some equally irresponsible Bengali leaders of the BJP have made reckless comments. Dilip Ghosh the president of state BJP, has threatened more incidents like Sitalkuchi. Rahul Sinha has commented the central police should have killed eight persons and not four. Sayantan Basu was heard gloating in a closed-door meeting that ‘four for one’ formula has been implemented (in Sitalkuchi). Incidentally, on the day of the fourth phase of the Bengal elections, in two separate incidents five people had died, one a Hindu, and the rest four (killed in CISF firing) Muslims.
By such rants, the regional leaders of the BJP have stooped even below the level of the CM, and thereby wasted the opportunity of taking advantage of the ban on Didi. But, according to insiders, they are doing it deliberately, to have further polarisation and to show masculinity to their supporters. “Mamata Banerjee was proud of her masculine politics by using goondas of one community and police, and now we’ve hit her back with the same coin,” says a mid-level BJP politician. This is the message they are spreading through whisper campaigns, while TMC leaders like Firhad Hakim are on record that the central forces are trying to intimidate the minorities.
This attempt of further polarisation based on Sitalkuchi and the ban on Mamata is probably working. Otherwise, two leaders of the third front would not have reacted to the CM’s ban in two different tunes. Sujan Chakraborty, a top CPI(M) leader, says, “I don’t think the ban on her campaign is wrong. But what about Dilip Ghosh, Rahul Sinha or Sayantan Basu?” the Congress leader Abdul Mannan has however commented, “There are many allegations of provocative comments made by the BJP leaders. By taking step only against the chief minister, the election commission has shed its neutrality and given an advantage to Mamata Banerjee.”
The last day of campaigning for the polling of the fifth phase is to be held on Saturday. According to new directions given by the Election Commission, from this phase onwards, the campaign will end 72 hours before the polling. This step has been taken to cool the frayed tempers. Whether it works is to be seen, for the fifths phase is also a cliffhanger for both sides.
In the fifth phase, 44 seats of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Uttar Dinajpur, Purba Bardhaman, and the North 24 Pargana districts will go to the polls. According to the 2019 election pattern, the BJP has an advantage in half of these seats, and TMC over the rest. So, like the third and fourth phases when violence spiralled, it is a do-or-die battle for both the TMC and BJP.
(The author Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a senior journalist based in Kolkata. He has a wide range of experience in covering West Bengal politics and has authored several books)