"No Congress, no Bam (Left Front), zor se bolo Jai Sri Ram." That's the slogan reverberating in West Bengal where the BJP is poised to bag 16-odd seats. And, unfortunately for Mamata Banerjee, she will have to live and bear with "Jai Sri Ram" taunts in the foreseeable future.
A few weeks ago, a two-minute video had gone viral on social media platforms, in which the West Bengal chief minister was seen charging at some people " ostensibly BJP supporters " who chanted the slogan while her convoy was passing through Chandrakona in Paschim Midnapore district. Some locals were detained and later let off after being questioned. But the impact of this "minor" incident was felt afterwards when none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi recalled this event and chanted "Jai Sri Ram" at a public rally held after the incident, while daring Banerjee to arrest him. Modi's man Friday, Amit Shah, had also followed suit, daring the West Bengal government as he threw a direct challenge at the TMC supremo. The episode was used against Banerjee and her government to show how the ruling dispensation was stifling Hindus and preventing them from practising their faith openly " a charge that the saffron outfit had levelled time and again against its rival across Bengal.
With the BJP expected to bag at least 16-odd seats and 39 percent of the votes, it seems that the Modi-Shah duo's game plan has paid rich dividends. Mamata Banerjee, on the other hand, will regret her heat-of-the-moment charge at the BJP workers for chanting the slogan. Also, the TMC's strategy to discern, differentiate and define Bengali Hindus as a separate entity, removed from their Hindu counterparts in the so-called cow belt, has failed to gain any currency. In meeting after meeting, the firebrand Trinamool leader had reiterated how Bengalis were votaries of Ma Durga as opposed to Ram: the presiding political deity in the Hindi heartland. Party spokesperson Derek O'Brien had tried to blunt the barrage of attacks by the Sangh Parivar and branded the saffron outfit anti-Bengali. The party backed its argument by citing that the BJP's religious ethos of vegetarianism is in stark contrast to the Shakta tradition of Bengal, which is steeped in meat-eating and animal sacrifices - staple of the community pujas in the state. In fact, under the Shakta tradition, consuming meat-based food and animal sacrifices have long been considered necessary to placate the godessess. But the emerging poll results make it amply clear that the TMC's campaign had very few takers. Matters didn't help the ruling dispensation as it took out counter processions during Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti.
In fact, the BJP's rise in a state, where secularism was metaphorically worn on the sleeve as a badge of honour, is attributed to Banerjee's initial pandering to the minorities through stipend for imams and preventing Durga idols from being taken for immersion post afternoon if Vijaya Dashami clashed with Muharram. The saffron brigade encashed the growing disenchantment among a section of the majority and played it up to ensure polarisation, particularly in the districts of Purulia, Bankura, Maldah, Dinajpur, North Bengal and North 24 Parganas.
For the TMC chief though, political analysts believe, a course correction is the need of the hour. Banerjee needs to co-opt Ram as one of the leading figures from the pantheon of Hindu gods who have been used politically by various outfits. The stage is set for a battle of one-upmanship between the BJP and TMC on who is the true flagbearer of Hinduism in the state. For now, it's advantage BJP.