She is not an atheist, unlike her communist predecessors. And much as Indians not from Bengal may presume otherwise, she is no Islamist either, deep within. Mamata Banerjee’s namaaz is as much for public consumption as is her pranaam. Without this strategy in place, the TMC could in no way have snatched power from the CPM, Singur and Nandigram notwithstanding. What makes her a formidable challenge for the BJP is that the woman, born in a Brahmin family and brought up in a neighbourhood no less revered among Hindus than Kalighat, can effortlessly marry her policy of appeasement of Muslims with her ploy of incorporating Hindutva. While the previous chief minister was a Brahmin, too, the chip of an intellectual Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee wore on his shoulder alienated everyone — from the devout Hindu to the indoctrinated party cadre — from him. Jyoti Basu might have remained invincible till the time he remained the chief minister of West Bengal. One doubts his run would have been as smooth if Hindutva had targeted the State under the leadership of someone who understood Bengali society inside out rather than by a BJP of LK Advani’s era. The RSS-backed political organisation is trying to repeat the experiment of 1992 again minus one mistake they had done in that period. The leaders and cadre in today’s BJP are almost wholly Bengali rather than the Marwaris who had filled the rank and file of the organisation after the Ram Janmabhoomi movement entered Bengal in the early 1990s. The strategy it has not revised yet is that of making Lord Rama rather than Goddess Durga the vehicle for its ascension. So far, there appears in place no plan to celebrate Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay or Ramakrishna Paramahansa either. As this inexplicable apathy towards Shakti continues in the BJP that proudly sings Vandemataram, helping Banerjee hoodwink the Hindus further is Hindu Samhati’s Tapan Ghosh. The former RSS man, who left the Sangh disgruntled when the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government could not rescue some of his companions from the clutches of Bangladeshi extremists, ostensibly believes in spreading his outfit’s footprint by making his people penetrate every organisation. That works to the BJP’s disadvantage. Banerjee gets away with her claim that the TMC is more ‘Hindu’ than her detractors could countenance by parading Hindu Samhati activists, who are also members of her party, before the people!
In sections of the electorate where Hindutva does not strike a chord, Banerjee’s projects for development, despite the State’s condition of severe indebtedness, impresses Bengal as much as Nitish Kumar’s vikas did in the Bihar of 2015. For, even that glimpse of progress was as absent under the Left Front rule as it was in Bihar under Lalu Prasad Yadav’s reign. The current Bengal chief minister is so particular about seeing all the State government programmes through that she reportedly takes recourse to even abusive language to ensure her bureaucrats meet all deadlines. So, where is the room for a BJP? Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah can assert that the industry wouldn’t shy away from a State ruled by them the way it stays away from a TMC-ruled one that couldn’t change the CPM-era ‘all protest and no work’ culture that prevails in the labour class.
Banerjee is not invincible. Her efforts at masquerading as a practising Hindu apart, the damage done to Bengal due to her brazen communalism is undeniable. The most influential and visible section of Bengali society — Kolkata’s denizens — considered it a hoax for all these years when the rest of India raised an alarm for the Muslim skew the State’s demography was gathering gradually. The chief minister forgot a vital lesson that she should have learnt from the CPM years: The undivided Congress could never come back to power despite its dominance over Kolkata, as the Left ruled almost the entire rural stretch. Kolkata is no more significant for Bengal than Bengaluru is for Karnataka or Chennai is for Tamil Nadu. That rural Bengal, which is embracing Hindutva big-time, could finally script the nemesis of the TMC, as Muslims boss their Hindu neighbours around in suburbs and villages more than they do in the State capital. Kolkata is important for just one reason: The local leader the BJP’s central leadership would choose must be a bhadralok (gentleman) or bhadramahila (lady) from the city, who can make such a people proud Bengalis again who sorely miss the aristocracy of communist rulers of the bygone epoch. Bringing that touch of gentility back to the Bengali discourse is beyond the capacity of Banerjee’s character. One of the reasons that took her almost 15 years to overpower the Left even after she broke away from her original party was the fact that Bengalis found her politics too uncouth for their taste. Finally, when it comes to playing dirty, her ‘north Indian’ challenger could experiment with something the Hindi hinterland is comfortable with: introduce caste divisions in society. Once the otherwise contented rustic Bengali is convinced that the writ of his caste does not run beyond his village — in the rest of the country, lower castes could not rule even the villages until three decades ago — the permanent occupation of the high seat of power in Kolkata by Brahmins and Kayasthas may come to an end. Whereas introducing casteism to a caste-unconscious State is a prescription worse than the disease, one cannot rule out the possibility that the BJP might try it.