It is now disconcertingly clear that the Assembly election in West Bengal in early 2021 will be one of the fiercest political combats in the history of India. A spectre of violence is being foretold in a series of murders and clashes in recent weeks. With the ruling party at the Centre, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), determined to displace the party in power in the State, the All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC), which is equally determined to guard its reign, governments are also being drawn into a partisan conduct. According to one report, more than 50 political murders have taken place in the State since the 2019 Lok Sabha election, when the BJP made deep inroads by winning 18 of its 42 seats. Limited to west and north India in its early stages of growth, the BJP has adopted an ‘act east’ policy to reinforce its dominance since 2014. Having won Assam in 2016 and gaining a foothold in several northeastern States, the party has set its eyes on West Bengal this year. It is pouring resources and deploying personnel with alacrity. The party’s impressive performance in the neighbouring State of Bihar recently has added further tailwind to the BJP’s eastward foray. The party’s 2019 advances were largely among Hindu migrants from what is today Bangladesh. The controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act is now a key plank of the BJP.
The AITMC that replaced the Left Front which had been in power for 34 years until 2011 is staring at a crisis now. It was successful in mobilising the resentment against the Left, but failed to buttress itself with an alternative governance and political agenda. The Left has joined the Congress in the margins, and it will be a contest between the aggressive Hindutva agenda of the BJP, and the incoherence of the AITMC which is often seen as indulgence of Muslim communal politics, in West Bengal. The police have been ineffective against violent activists of the ruling party. The recent mob attack on the convoy of BJP president J.P. Nadda marked a deterioration in the law and order situation. The BJP has responded by roping in the Governor and the Union Home Ministry, which has sought to attach three IPS officers without clearance from the State government. The State government has since refused to relieve them for Central deputation. The battle between AITMC and the BJP should not become a tussle between the Centre and State. The role of the Election Commission will also be under scrutiny in the coming days once it announces the schedule for the election. Governments and constitutional functionaries must stay above the fray, regardless of the high stakes parties might be playing for.