SOAS University of London

SOAS South Asia Institute

SSAI Sanglaap: A Game of Power in West Bengal Assembly Elections 2021

IMG - SSAI Sanglaap

Date: 8 April 2021Time: 5:30 PM

Finishes: 8 April 2021Time: 7:30 PM

Venue: Virtual Event

Type of Event: Webinar


South Asia’s national elections are known for their high pitch drama, emotional investment, demonstration of wealth, internecine conflict among contesting political parties, and competition between an array of new promises. The panel conversation seeks to draw international attention to the Indian State of Bengal, located in the vulnerable 'borderland' region of South Asia. It is identified as a hotspot for communal tensions and violence (given the historical context of Partition and Decolonisation), which is building up ahead of the upcoming high-octane eight-phase Assembly polls --  and a key target state for the ruling majority BJP as it  has steadily progressed in Eastern India.

Historically, the shifts in Bengal politics are unprecedented given the long periods of communal stability in the post-Partition decades of Communist rule and the relative unimportance of caste as the identity marker of the electorate. Bengal's Assembly election in 2021 throws up the myriad possibilities of strange political bedfellows, opposition coalitions, and provocative media responses by grassroots activists to elite celebrities. Pre-election hate speeches, demonstrations, rallies, and the closure of social media accounts have pushed backroom campaigns and social media operations to WhatsApp-led campaigns that reflect changes in the political populism and development narratives. More importantly, the multifaceted thorny religious divisions in recent years cannot be trivialised amidst the promises of cash flow, social protection and timeworn developmentalism. 

Speakers address topics featured in election campaigning and broader strategic context: political slogans ‘Khela Hobe’ (Game is On/see image), transitions earmarked as 'Poriborton'; changing identity; populism; relations with neighbours such as Bangladesh/China; and, relations with the Centre and other regional states.


  • Mohammed Salim Former MP and CPI(M) leader campaigner
  • Prof Maitreesh Ghatak (Economics, LSE)
  • Dr Subir Sinha (Development Studies, SOAS)
  • Dr Indrajit Roy (Dept of Politics, University of York)
  • Prof Sekhar Bandyopadhyay (Emeritus Professor of History, Victoria University of Wellington; Former Director of New Zealand India Research Institute)
  • Shahnawaz Ali Raihan (PhD scholar, St Antony's, Oxford University)
  • Epsita Halder (Jadavpur University, Charles Wallace Fellow, SSAI)
  • Ambar Ghosh (Jadavpur University and Observer Research Foundation).
  • Chair and Discussant: Dr Sanjukta Ghosh (SSAI)


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Organiser: SOAS South Asia Institute

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