ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Caste Question

West Bengal's Election Story

The new politics of caste in West Bengal has the potential to dislodge the traditional bipolar political discourse in the state. While bhadralok politics is still dominant, the question of caste is growing in importance; whether it finally comes of its own is difficult to foretell.

The political scene in West Bengal, in the context of the upcoming 16th Lok Sabha elections, seems to be quite unique. With the decline of the Left Front’s (LF) organisational strength and political appeal among the voters of the state the present ruling party Trinamool Congress (TMC), which this time has not aligned with the Congress for the upcoming elections, also cannot claim a monopoly over popular support. Moreover, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with its strong development-oriented political campaign and smart selection of candidates in different seats has increasingly managed to secure a certain level of support among specific pockets of the voting population. Therefore, unlike the erstwhile bipolar nature of West Bengal’s election scene, the upcoming Lok Sabha polls cannot be simply looked at as a contest between two major camps. Rather, the other prominent political parties like the Congress and BJP among others, quite evidently, shall play a crucial role in deciding the results.

On the other hand, the collapse of the long-standing LF regime in 2011 signalled the crisis of what Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya (2011) has called “party-society”.1 With the crisis of the party as the “chief mediator” in rural and semi-urban affairs, we have witnessed in the last couple of years a host of community-based political assertions in the state politics (for example, the Matuas in the border districts, the Gurkhas in Darjeeling, the Rajbanshis and adivasis in north Bengal, the Muslim minorities and so forth). Since the fate of the elections is largely determined by the rural voters, the political support of these communities, in terms of specific issues, shall definitely play a significant role in the elections this time.

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