There comes a tipping point when you almost feel sorry for an incumbent. When it seems like even the incumbent, at some level, is hoping for the election to come so that it can all be over quickly.
With the Congress in 2013, you got this sense. The public had lost confidence in them completely. Literally every single thing they did, no matter how small, was viewed negatively. Its supporters had gone silent. When they surfaced, usually to object to something about Modi, they would start with “I am not a Cong supporter, but … ”
That’s when you know an incumbent is about to get uprooted in an election storm. Many of their supporters are still voting for them (core supporters always do), but they feel embarrassed to admit who they are. Because there is now social stigma associated to it.
In Bengal, that moment seems to have arrived.
People saying “I am not a TMC supporter, but…”
Obviously I have a biased sample when it comes to personal and online interactions. But these are social cues that people tend to absorb from the larger environment.
On one side you have BJP supporters chasing their opponents, calling them “TMC supporters.” The term has become an accusation in itself. And the other side feels it is very important to deny this most shameful of accusations. Can you feel the stigma?
Nobody “accuses” anyone of being Modi supporter. Because there is no stigma that comes with it. Yes, there are Modi supporters. So what?
I cannot but laugh. How things have changed in Bengal. You should see the sorry condition of intellectuals. It will fill your heart with joy.
And Coronavirus became the last straw. The Times Now poll in Kolkata gave her an approval rating of 6%.
I really don’t know how scientific that survey was. But when you are down to 6% in any poll, whether scientific or otherwise, it tells a story. Most importantly, it underlines the anecdotal observation that Mamata’s supporters have gone silent, too embarrassed to support her openly.
Yes, TMC will get its beloved 30% of the vote. But then what? Who is the remaining 70% voting for? With no caste politics to speak of, there are no “natural barriers” to this 70% uniting all behind one party.
The TMC has only one last remaining card. Leadership. If not Mamata, then who?
Mamata Banerjee had a golden opportunity to emerge as a leader in the Coronavirus fight. But she fumbled very very badly. Honestly, Bengal isn’t the worst affected state. It has around 1800 confirmed cases. Even if the real number is 5 times that, say 9000, it’s terrible of course but it could have easily been a lot worse.
The difference is the disaster she made in perception. First, she said Corona was propaganda by Modi to slow down anti-CAA protests. Then, senior bureaucrats were blamed for rejecting medical precautions due to VIP attitude. Then tests were held at some places, delayed tremendously at others. Each time a video surfaced
- The viral one from Bangur hospital showing patients coughing in confinement but no tests being held.
- Videos supposedly showing bodies being taken away in Titagarh for ‘secret’ cremation in the night.
- Videos from Howrah showing ‘seculars’ chasing away police.
I think pretty much everyone in Bengal has seen these videos by now and forwarded to five friends. Each time, Mamata imposed another set of bans… no phones in hospitals and stuff like that. Each time, she made the situation worse.
In fact, the BJP’s messaging has been remarkably sharp in Bengal. With just three videos, they have hammered in the perception like no other. The night that cops were chased away in Howrah, I received the video from five different friends/relatives on Whatsapp within 4 hours. It really shows you what ‘viral’ means.
Then of course the flip flops on the number of confirmed cases, the number of deaths. Fighting with the Central team. Then suddenly admitting that the real number of fatalities was four times as much.
It left her with zero credibility.
And credible name recognition was the only asset she had in the face of the BJP’s onslaught.
And TMC leaders have been acting with the bitterness and touchiness of a govt that knows their time is up. A TMC MLA was asked why she was distributing food that was rotten already. She screamed back: How do I know if BJP has put snakes or frogs inside the food?
They are clueless, angry and seeing BJP’s all powerful hand in everything.
Now that Bengal is in a 2013 like environment with regards to the incumbent, the opposition just needs a face to become a focal point. This is easier said than done.
I told you there is stigma associated to being a TMC supporter. Sadly, there is also stigma associated to being labelled a supporter of say Dilip Ghosh. There is only one comeback that makes BJP supporters run away in Bengal: “If not Mamata, who? Dilip Ghosh?”
A more credible face has to be finalized. NOW. There is only 1 year left for the election. That’s very little time.
Bengal 2021 is the most important election of Modi’s second term. It’s not just about a long cherished Hindu right wing dream of winning in S P Mookherjee’s home state. If the Hindu right gets Bengal, it will be a crushing psychological blow to the ecosystem. This may be the point the ecosystem finally stops believing in itself. If you cannot stop BJP in the citadel of Communism, where can you stop them?