BJP's challenge on home-turf forces Didi to go saffron
Can BJP's Himachal and Gujarat wins weaken the knees of self-assured TMC in Bengal? CM Mamata Banerjee's recent actions suggest this. Mamata seems to have re-thought her electoral strategy. During her Gangasagar visit, she spent time at Kapila Muni's ashram. Moreover, she has set up boards to renovate Tarapith, Tarakeswar and Kalighat temples. Is Bengal's tigress Mamata sharpening her claws? Should BJP worry?
Since the beginning, Mamata has relied on minority outreach. With steps like disallowing Durga idol immersion, giving sops to Imams and high budgetary allocations for madrassas and minority affairs, she is often seen as appeasing minorities. This is also part of Bengal's regular political narrative. Parties in this once-upon-a-time left bastion have relied on class politics and wooing minority vote-bank to garner votes.
However, BJP's vote-share surge in the recent Sabang and Dakshin Kanthi by-poll suggest that the regular political narrative is being challenged. Interestingly, BJP didn't have much of a presence in these places. Yet, in Dakshin Kanthi, it came second, with increased vote-share by 12%. In Sabang, it secured 19% vote-share compared to 2.5% in 2016 assembly polls. This may have compelled Mamata to bow.
So, what is Mamata doing to contain this BJP challenge? She is probably sending signals to suggest that she is a tolerant Hindu. After taking a holy dip at Gangasagar, Mamata spent time with the chief priest Gyandasji there. She promised "I will come to this place again." The temple boards mimic a similar board set up for the Furfura Sharif mosque.
It seems PM Modi successfully integrating OBCs, SCs and STs into the Hindutva fold may have shaken Mamata's minority resolve. Being an OBC himself, Modi has broken BJP's image of being exclusively for upper-caste Hindus. Now, Mamata has risen to the challenge. Apart from renovating temples, Mamata is also upgrading tribal burial grounds and providing employment opportunities to middle-class youth in the reserved category.
With Mamata changing tact, Bengal politics will experience changes. But, despite adopting a slight pro-Hindu stance, she didn't let her guard down with BJP. She attacked the ruling party for "distorting history" and urged people to "remain alert against BJP's evil designs." Meanwhile, with both TMC and Congress adopting soft Hindutva, there is little doubt that BJP's popularity is at an all-time high.