Like all ruling parties, the central BJP, too, makes its own cost-benefit reports. Over the past half-decade or so, it simply has been better at making them than others, gauging the benefits that can be gained from specific moves and policies. The Centre must have made an internal costbenefit report that suggests implementing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) at this juncture will help BJP not just correct the loss of electoral traction in some states, but also establish a firmer hold on the national political narrative. Such an analysis must show that the benefits outweigh the costs, home minister Amit Shah pretty much announcing in a rally in Jodhpur last week that CAA would be conducted at all costs.

The costs have been evident, most recently in the lack of police action during the Sunday attack by masked goons on students and members of faculty of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Despite the high-octane visibility of one of India’s premier educational institutions coming under attack from ‘unidentifiable’ marauders, and the accompanying inaction of a law and order force that falls under the Union home ministry, any awkward fallout for the government must have been outweighed by popular apathy, or even sympathy, towards ‘anti-government’ protesters being violently threatened. For most people, violence and protests in JNU have arguably attained an ‘expected abnormalcy’, with many not even finding it abhorrent that ‘students doing politics’ can get thrashed by attackers while the suddenly Gandhian Delhi Police looks on.

The risks of implementing CAA, however, are far more heightened in adifferent theatre, arguably BJP’s primary reason for rolling out the new citizenship-awarding law: West Bengal. And here, the ever-reliable BJP’s cost-benefit report-reading skills may have come up short.

Is the right turn right?

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) had certainly been on the back foot since BJP won 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in May 2019 — four seats short of the ruling party, and with a 22.25% vote swing in its favour (compared to TMC’s 3.48%). Much of the votes for BJP were against TMC’s perceived shoddy governance, and for BJP finally providing anti-Banerjee, anti-Left voters a viable alternative. The state’s aspirational classes — both at the upper echelons of the socioeconomic ladder as well as in the lower berths — found the Narendra Modidriven BJP central leadership to provide an option that it hoped would take it out of economic torpor, as well as replicate what Bengal could easily consider as better days if not outright ‘achhe din’.

Running parallel to this ‘attractive option from the Hindi heartland’ for a growing number of people was a bulwark against Banerjee’s quite unsophisticated display of ‘minority appeasement’. This wasn’t just a growing batch of communist-detesting, Syama Prasad Mukherjee-admiring members of the electorate, but voters without any ideological bleach who were window-shopping for a better choice for the 2021West Bengal assembly elections. CAA has, seemingly, made these electoral shoppers stop for a moment.

It is not just Muslims in this 27% Muslim-populated state who may be getting unnerved. With CAA-National Register of Citizens (NRC) — the two still being firmly hyphenated here despite BJP efforts — there is a genuine concern palpable beyond Kolkata city among the underclass that their well-being may be at stake due to BJP’s citizenship project. As one person in Burrabazar, Kolkata’s unorganised sector business district, mentioned after unpacking goods from his cart, ‘What difference does it make to people like me whether Bangladeshis are going to take my job or people from Uttar Pradesh?’ The man, a Bihari, admires Modi and apparently voted BJP last year. But in his Hindi-Bengali mixture, he tells me, ‘Yeh to bohot beshi lagche’ (This [CAA-NRC] seems a bit too much).

It is this ‘too much’ that may have now come as political manna from the hinterland for Mamata Banerjee. Her earlier exaggerations about a ‘fascist’, ‘communal’ government in Delhi are sounding less exaggerated to many ears in tribal-populated North Bengal, Bankura, Jhargram and other parts of the state where BJP had gained significant electoral support last year, beyond the Muslimmajority districts of Murshidabad, Malda and North Dinajpur.

This is hardly a proper bellwether, but 300 district-level BJP workers joining TMC in North 24 Parganas’ Gobardanga town in a very public display of crossing over was highly unlikely a month ago. True, the alleged high-handedness and ‘favouritism’ of district BJP leader Shankar Chattopadhyay played a role in this ‘miniexodus’. But if the Lok Sabha elections last year saw former CPI(M) party workers — and voters — cross over to BJP, it would be unwise to write off BJP workers — and voters — finding aless chaos-inviting ‘support system’ in TMC post-CAA concerns.

Looking over the shoulder

CAA, of course, may well be seen as a taster of other disruptive things to come. While political analyses are being made from within Kolkata’s many clubs and living rooms about BJP being the antidote to communistwrecked, TMC-misruled Bengal — some even applauding the attacks in JNU as necessary detoxification of ‘LiLe’ (the current ‘Bengali’ trending word for ‘liberal-Left’), ironically anachronistic as it pits BJP and its ancillary support against ‘communists’ from the Ghost of Bengal Past —the state’s middle and under-classes are perturbed by the central government’s latest offering. They, too, are likely to make their own cost-benefit report leading up to next year’s assembly elections.

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