Why Sandeshkhali did not become Singur-Nandigram to West Bengal's BJP in 2024 Lok Sabha election | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Why Sandeshkhali did not become Singur-Nandigram to West Bengal's BJP in 2024 Lok Sabha election

Jun 14, 2024 11:35 AM IST

BJP's attempt to sustain campaign momentum was upset by allegations of orchestration, the lack of grassroot connect and women backing of the TMC's welfarism.

At the beginning of 2024, a dramatic event unfolded in Sandeshkhali, West Bengal, when Enforcement Directorate (ED) officers attempted to arrest Trinamool Congress (TMC) strongman Sheikh Shahjahan. Shahjahan evaded capture, and his supporters clashed violently with the officers, igniting a political firestorm. The situation escalated when thousands of local women took to the streets, alleging years of sexual assault by Shahjahan and his associates. This sparked widespread outrage and brought national attention, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seizing the opportunity to criticize the TMC government under Mamata Banerjee.

Villagers of Naskar Para of Sandeshkhali celebrate after the arrest of absconding Trinamool Congress leader Sheikh Shahjahan, an accused of crimes against women and land grabbing. (File image)(HT Photo)
Villagers of Naskar Para of Sandeshkhali celebrate after the arrest of absconding Trinamool Congress leader Sheikh Shahjahan, an accused of crimes against women and land grabbing. (File image)(HT Photo)

Despite the intense media coverage and political uproar, the incident did not translate into electoral success for the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. In Basirhat, which includes Sandeshkhali, the BJP candidate Rekha Patra, a prominent figure in the protests, was decisively defeated by TMC's Haji Nurul Islam by a margin of 3,33,547 votes. Several factors contributed to this outcome.

Also read: The BJP lacked coherence in their political campaign in Bengal; the lack of a mass leader hurt the party

Firstly, the BJP failed to sustain the momentum of the Sandeshkhali narrative throughout the campaign. Unlike the TMC's successful mobilization during the Singur and Nandigram agitations against the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the BJP's efforts were perceived as reactionary and opportunistic. The TMC effectively countered the BJP's allegations, portraying them as a conspiracy to defame the state government and its leaders. This narrative resonated with voters, who saw the BJP's actions as an external attempt to manipulate local issues for political gain.

Secondly, the demographic composition of the Basirhat constituency played a crucial role. The region has a significant Muslim population, traditionally supportive of the TMC. The BJP, which has struggled to garner support in Muslim-majority areas, could not effectively mobilize this segment of the electorate.

In conclusion, the Sandeshkhali incident did not become a turning point for the BJP in West Bengal. The party's failure to maintain a consistent and credible narrative, coupled with the demographic realities of Basirhat, led to a significant electoral defeat. This outcome underscores the complexities of regional politics in West Bengal and the challenges the BJP faces in penetrating the TMC's strongholds.

Also read: Basirhat Lok Sabha constituency: BJP's Rekha Patra loses in Sandeshkhali seat

Allegation Of Scripting and Conspiracy

In the heat of the 2024 Lok Sabha election campaign, West Bengal's political landscape was dramatically shaken by a sting operation tied to the Sandeshkhali protest. This sting, which emerged during the electoral contest, featured a local BJP leader casting doubt on the allegations of sexual assault directed at the Trinamool Congress (TMC). This revelation has not only undermined the credibility of the BJP’s accusations but also sparked a broader debate about the ethical conduct of political narratives.

The sting video, which surfaced at a crucial juncture, purportedly shows Gangadhar Koyal, a BJP Mandal president, suggesting that the allegations of rape and sexual harassment in Sandeshkhali were fabricated. Koyal is seen implying that women were coerced into making these claims by senior BJP leaders. This blow to the BJP’s campaign, which had been heavily focused on exposing the TMC’s alleged misconduct, was significant. The TMC quickly capitalized on the footage, using it to counter the BJP’s allegations and bolster their own narrative.

The timing of the video’s release led to intense political skirmishes. The BJP denounced the video as doctored, claiming it was manipulated to discredit the party. They even sought legal recourse, lodging a complaint with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to challenge the veracity of the video. This incident highlights the fragile nature of political narratives and the disruptive potential of technology. The BJP’s accusations that the video was altered using artificial intelligence underscore the complexities of establishing truth in the digital age.

Also read: BJP's Rekha Patra attacks TMC over Sandeshkhali, claims ‘not been allowed to vote since 2011’

 

Moreover, allegations from former BJP member Syria Parveen, who accused the party of scripting the entire Sandeshkhali incident, further damaged the BJP's position. Parveen, who defected to the TMC, claimed the BJP had orchestrated the incident to defame the TMC by manipulating local women and fabricating stories of abuse. This narrative severely undermined the BJP’s credibility, making voters skeptical of their intentions.

The BJP struggled to handle this backlash during the election, primarily due to its reliance on central leadership for campaigning. Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeatedly targeted the TMC over the Sandeshkhali incident, but his efforts were hampered by a lack of ground-level connect and language barriers. Meanwhile, local BJP leaders' arrogance and mishandling of the issue allowed the TMC to successfully sideline the controversy and regain voter confidence.

In conclusion, the Sandeshkhali sting operation not only damaged the BJP’s narrative but also highlighted the ethical dilemmas of leveraging technology for electoral gains. This incident underscores the importance of authenticity and local engagement in political campaigning.

Demography And Lack of Local Support

 

In the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the Basirhat constituency, which has a significant Muslim population, witnessed the defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate, Rekha Patra, by a substantial margin. Several factors contributed to this outcome, highlighting the complexities of local politics and the importance of understanding regional dynamics.

Firstly, the lack of local support in Sandeshkhali played a crucial role. This area was the epicenter of the BJP-TMC faceoff, where protests against the alleged misconduct of TMC’s Shahjahan took place. Despite Rekha Patra’s involvement in these protests, the BJP failed to garner enough support. The situation worsened when a sting operation surfaced, purportedly showing a BJP leader discrediting allegations of sexual assault against the TMC. This revelation eroded the BJP’s credibility and support base in the region.

Secondly, the demographic profile of Basirhat, with a majority Muslim population, significantly influenced the election outcome. The TMC candidate, Haji Nurul Islam, resonated more with the local electorate, which has historically leaned towards the TMC. The BJP’s campaign strategies did not align with the preferences of the majority of the constituency’s voters. Mamata Banerjee's deep understanding of Bengal's grassroots politics allowed her to strategically choose a candidate who could effectively engage with the local population. Haji Nurul Islam, known for his adeptness in Muslim identity politics, leveraged his influence to secure votes, further solidifying the TMC’s position.

Moreover, the BJP’s national narrative and policies failed to translate well at the local level, especially in a constituency like Basirhat, where communal harmony and local issues take precedence over national politics. The TMC’s focus on local governance and development initiatives appealed more to the voters, who sought representation that understood and addressed their specific needs.

In conclusion, the BJP’s defeat in Basirhat during the 2024 Lok Sabha elections was a result of the complex interplay of local dynamics, demographic factors, and the party’s inability to adapt its narrative to resonate with the constituency’s electorate. This outcome underscores the necessity for political parties to deeply engage with the unique contexts of the constituencies they contest.

TMC's Counter Narrative

 

The 2024 Lok Sabha elections in Basirhat, West Bengal, showcased the complexities of regional politics and the challenges the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) faced in attempting to unseat the Trinamool Congress (TMC). Despite fielding Rekha Patra, a prominent figure linked to the Sandeshkhali protests, the BJP failed to gain significant traction, ultimately losing to the TMC’s Haji Nurul Islam by a substantial margin.

The TMC's effective counter-narratives played a pivotal role in shaping the electoral outcome. The "anti-Bengali" narrative, suggesting that the BJP was out of touch with Bengali culture and interests, resonated deeply with the local populace. The TMC's emphasis on Bengali pride and sub-nationalism effectively countered the BJP's identity politics, appealing to the cultural sentiments of voters who felt their identity was under threat by the BJP's nationalistic agenda.

Additionally, the fear of the BJP discontinuing the popular 'Lakshmir Bhandar' scheme, which provided financial assistance to women, significantly influenced the electorate. This scheme was a game-changer for the TMC, impacting nearly 2.3 crore financially weak women beneficiaries. The prospect of losing this crucial support swayed many voters, particularly women, towards the TMC.

The BJP's stance on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) also played a critical role. This policy was perceived as a threat to the Muslim community, which constitutes a considerable portion of the electorate in Basirhat. The TMC capitalized on this fear, suggesting that the BJP would deport Muslims if it came to power. This narrative likely led to the consolidation of Muslim votes in favor of the TMC, further contributing to the BJP’s defeat.

Moreover, the BJP’s heavy reliance on central leadership and figures like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who targeted the TMC over the Sandeshkhali incident, failed to resonate deeply with the local populace. Modi's efforts were seen as disconnected from the immediate concerns of Basirhat’s voters, who prioritized local issues over national rhetoric.

In conclusion, the BJP's defeat in Basirhat was a result of misaligned campaign strategies, demographic realities, and the party’s inability to sustain a credible local narrative. The TMC’s strategic communication, leveraging cultural, economic, and communal factors, successfully swayed voters, highlighting the importance of grassroots support and local engagement in political campaigning.

Sayantan Ghosh is a Professor from St Xavier's College (Autonomous), Kolkata. He is also a political columnist and commentator.

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