Sandeshkhali Sting and Teacher’s Jobs Verdict: Turning Tides in Bengal Politics

As Sandeshkhali sting video surfaces, Trinamool and BJP engage in a battle for narrative control, while the SC's reversal of HC's order on teacher's job adds another layer of complexity to Bengal's electoral dynamics, potentially reshaping the outcome of the crucial 2024 Lok Sabha polls

Raj Kapoor’s famous film, which was more famous for Mandakini’s bathing scene, reminds us of the song composed by Rabindra Jain after Sandeshkhali’s ‘sting video’ started airing on various television channels. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is compared by his devotees to ‘Ram,’ are the various words caught in the “Gangadhar Kayal” sting of his party tantamount to ‘washing away sins’? Although Sandeshkhali’s ‘sting video’ has been claimed to be fake by the BJP and currently the state BJP’s chief face, Subhendu Adhikari, did it shake the saffron camp a little in the face of leaving North Bengal and entering South Bengal? Significantly, in what Subhendu termed a ‘bomb blast’ for the state government and the Trinamool leadership, the Supreme Court also stayed the dismissal of nearly 26,000 teachers in the High Court. Is the Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee looking a little more confident as polling begins in South Bengal, known as her stronghold?

There is an old proverb in Bengal, ‘The crow dies in the storm, the magic of the fakir increases’. Of course, it is difficult to say which ‘Fakir’ will increase the TRP of 26,000 teachers saved by the furore over Sandeshkhali and the Supreme Court verdict. The fate of CPM State Secretary Md Salim, who was most vocal about allegations of corruption in the appointment of teachers, has been tested in the third round of voting. But will the other CPM candidates want to campaign for left-wing lawyer Bikas Bhattacharya, who is at the centre of discussions on teacher recruitment corruption? Because Trinamool has already started political attacks on Bikas Bhattacharya & company as ‘Chakrikheko’. CPM’s Rajya Sabha MP also faced protests by the unemployed in the High Court. In this scenario, just as Kunal Ghosh has been dropped from the Trinamool’s list of star campaigners, will Vikas Bhattacharya be a very attractive campaigner for the Left?

Vacancies and recruitment of teachers. Both these were the main magnets of state politics for the last one year. The state’s ruling party has repeatedly been dogged by allegations of corruption in teacher recruitment, with its ministers, legislators and even education administrators jailed. The ED-CBI kept nothing out of the house from the bathroom tank to the pond. The recovery of crores of rupees from the house of an actress close to the former education minister became a subject of Bengali practice for the benefit of television. But from the beginning of this year, Sandeshkhali came to the headlines leaving behind the issue related to teacher recruitment. First, the attack on Shah Jahan’s house and the women of Sandeshkhali taking to the streets and protesting within a month grabbed the headlines. But everyone was surprised when the women of Sandeshkhali came in front of the camera and complained of sexual harassment. As embarrassing as it was for the Trinamool, the ruling party in the state, the BJP managed to make Sandeshkhali a national issue. The prime time of all Indian channels was consumed for weeks by the allegations of sexual harassment in Sandeshkhali.

Women in Shahjahan vs Sandeshkhali, as the BJP’s intense attempt to polarize this narrative, so was Mamata Banerjee’s sly attempt to wrest the female vote tied to her sari. BJP and RSS ideologues knew that the Trinamool leader dominated the women’s vote in Bengal but Scheduled Tribes and tribal women were beginning to turn towards Padmaphool in the 2021 assembly elections. So Sandeshkhali was the main weapon of the Ocher camp to fuel that trend and attract Scheduled and tribal voters across India. After it was confirmed that the political dividends of Sandeshkhali were coming home, BJP’s ‘poster boy’ in West Bengal, Subvendu Adhikari, got a little more confident and predicted that the Trinamool government would ‘bomb’. The Calcutta High Court cancelled the jobs of 26,000 teachers in one fell swoop as demanded by the Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly.

But in the run-up to the polls in South Bengal, competing narratives have come to the fore on both issues of vacancy and teacher recruitment. If the sting video in the Sandeshkhali case can sway voters to the contrary, then the Supreme Court verdict in the teacher recruitment case. Since the order of the division bench headed by the chief justice of the country’s highest court came on Tuesday, the ruling party of the state has started saying loudly why the jobs of the unqualified and the qualified will be cancelled. Those who demanded the scrapping of this entire panel, i.e. Vikas Bhattacharya and his associates are raising their grass roots. In a country where employment has always been one of the most important issues in India and current surveys suggest that the lack of job opportunities or job resources is what upsets voters more than the saffron camp’s Ram Mandir campaign, the loss of jobs to thousands of ‘qualified’ teachers is surely politics. Can be fateful. So after the announcement of the Supreme Court on Wednesday, just as many of the so-called first-class media in the state released the news saying, ‘Supreme Court did not stay’, in the end, Mamata Banerjee knows that after winning the test of patience, she is at the ‘advantage’ after overcoming all the odds.

So what will happen to the BJP? Sandeshkhali allows them to bring home the expected political harvest. Can Trinamool retain their political ground with the weapons that have been made for so long in the other camp, i.e. social media? Before the polls in South Bengal, all the political debates are currently revolving around it. Mamata Banerjee is going back to the political strategy of 2021 and trying to maintain political supremacy by branding BJP as ‘anti-Bengali’. The chief minister and his party’s ‘No. 2’ Abhishek Banerjee are trying to make in every public meeting, Sandeshkhali’s ‘sting video’ or Narendra Modi’s non-vegetarian sarcasm by the opposition, that the saffron camp or the BJP do not understand the Bengali mindset. So the BJP is ‘anti-Bangla’. Just as ‘Marathi Asmita’ was once Maharashtra’s vote magnet, with the rise of BJP’s political clout, the Trinamool has sought to seize ‘Bengali Swaviman’ as a weapon. And before the polls in South Bengal begin, Mamata Banerjee and Mahua Maitra are looking to fight with that weapon.

Shitalakuchi was a decisive event in the 2021 assembly elections. Could Sandeshkhali and the decision to retain the jobs of teachers in the Supreme Court be decisive in the last four phases of the crucial Lok Sabha polls in 2024?

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