What represents the highest challenge to ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal? Surely not the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - they have only become the nearest opposition and TMC is still managing comfortable wins in elections. Its no other party at present that can challenge TMC in West Bengal. The religious faultline which has been a successful model for BJP can only consolidate voters in a few pockets, whether that can translate a power change in the assembly is highly questionable because of two reasons, first, West Bengal has a considerable portion of Muslim minorities (around 27% as per 2011 census) and second, there still is a strong secular civil society activism working at ground level. Hence, no opposition force is capable of uprooting TMC in its stronghold. Meanwhile there are disturbing trends in Panchayat election related to the increasing percentage of uncontested sits and disjuncture of Panchayat from people as well as civil society (for details click here http://sumanparole.blogspot.in/2018/04/panchayat-civil-society-west-bengal.html).
However, what appears to be most daunting task for TMC is to save the party from itself. The fault-line of faction appears to carry a greater threat than anything else at the moment.
What makes the faction more prominent?
TMC happens to be a party that does not take care for building up organisations at the grassroots. Instead, the entire Party machinery appears to depend on a few local or regional leaders. TMC supreme Mamata Banerjee's dependence on leaders like Anubrata Mondal in Birbhum or Arabul Islam in south 24 parganas are few examples. While these men effectively 'controls' and regulate the local power grid through a variety of informal channels, they have developed an 'exchange dependence' on a handful of relatively smaller units - most often on those who have control over local hooligans. This entire architecture has become an alternative to the party based organisation system developed meticulously by erstwhile Communist Party of India Marxist (CPIM) led Left Front (LF).
These smaller units have their autonomous modes of operation which is most often beyond the control of vertical tier and hence often surfaces prominent internal conflicts. These situations intensifies at a time of power uncertainty.
Handling of factions:
While at the base level there are multiplicity of actors, agencies and power conflicts resulting in internal clashes at the highest level there is much lesser turmoils getting surfaced. There is a linear power allocation typically aligned to the TMC supreme Mamata Banerjee. The rise and continuation of TMC supreme is a classic example of Weberian charismatic leadership interfaced with a administrative-democratic leadership. Hence, instead of getting deeper into the resolution of factional politics within the party, TMC supreme came up with a brilliant alternative of using stardom (symbolic capital) of significant personalities - most frequently that of people from silver-screen like Dev, Chiranjit, Sandhya Ray, etc. While these people carry a significant amount of symbolic capital from their own fields, they completely lack the social and cultural capital at the field in which they are expected to perform. Hence, the people with greater social and cultural capital to work at the grassroots remain unaffected and faction remained. Occasional localised conflicts related to petty issues like who will provide material to a construction, who will partner in a land related dealing and who will get work in a particular project are reflections to such unresolved factionalism and their disagreements.
Meanwhile handling faction in Panchayat election is a daunting an impossible task. There are simply too many sits with too many competing and 'competent' contenders. Hence, the strategy has been to depend on the locally powerful leaders. Hence, West Bengal is experiencing the highest number of uncontested sits this year.
|Percentage of uncontested sits in Panhayat election over the years|
The repeats of history:
While TMC is busily fighting factionalism, there are repressions on popular movements and nuanced development of protest politics in places like Bhangar against the construction of power grid. Hardly, 25 kilometers from heart of the capital city of Kolkata, Bhangar Jami Jibika Paribesh O Bastutantro Raksha Committee (Committee to protect land, livelihood, environment and ecosystem) led movement is brutally repressed by the TMC. The same party which brilliantly fought Special Economic Zone (SEZ) initiatives to bring about a political change in 2011- ending longest democratically elected LF regime.
Meanwhile, as the then CPIM argued Nandigram has Maoist backup which was later admitted by a section of the Maoists, TMC is also showing possible Maoist connection in Bhangar movement.
Image courtesy : https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/trinamool-congress-wrests-noapara-assemmbly-seat-leads-in-uluberia-ls-seat-in-west-bengal/articleshow/62740260.cms