As Battle for Bengal Begins, all eyes on BJP and TMC
As the assembly election of West Bengal is drawing closer, it is becoming more interesting than ever before as no one is able to clearly predict, what will be the final outcome and who is going to lift the trophy on May 2nd, 2021. As predicting, how voters will exercise their choice is precarious at a time when the topography of Bengal politics is changing from a tradition of politically conscious decision to emotional selection of leaders.
Five states namely West Bengal, Kerala, Assam, Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu are going to choose their leadership in respective states, but all eyes are on West Bengal where voting for 294 seats are planned in eight phases over 34 days, starting on March 27 and ending on April 29, longest so far in recent history. BJP is confident, claiming to hoist its flag in the Eastern state for the first time, as ever since India’s independence from British rule, the state has been ruled by Congress, Left parties and Trinamool Congress and not BJP. Let’s try to understand the equation before we come to any conclusion.
In the year 2014, when Narendra Modi has emerged as the undisputed leader of the country and the wave that followed has subsequently swept every corner of the country, Bengal was no different. Those opposed to BJP, claim that the party has consensually managed secular competition to polarisation along communally divided identities in the course of time and are successful in bringing many to its fold including important leaders from all the prominent players of Bengal, TMC, the Left and the Congress.
Though, compared to TMC, BJP has comparatively weaker organisational presence in West Bengal and therefore the party has to depend on its central unit for support. Even after the party won 18 out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2019, the party’s state unit has to depend on central leadership and therefore all central leadership including Party officers, senior leaders of the party, Ministers and even Prime Minister and Home Minister are camping in Bengal more frequently to boost the morale of the candidates and party workers.
The BJP no doubt has been successful in installing itself as the centre of all conversations in Bengal now, in building a perception about its chances of winning the 2021 state assembly elections. The BJP’s confident expectations are a product of an increasing anti-incumbency against the leadership of Mamata Banerjee and her alleged politics of corruption, followed by the BJP’s campaign that the only remedy lies in aligning the state’s administration with that of the Centre, or as the BJP puts it “double-engine sarkar”. It is also true that the BJP has no chief ministerial candidate in Bengal to counter Mamata Banerjee’s charismatic appeal as a mass leader.
In perceptions, the BJP seems to be ahead in the race to win West Bengal. Its power of reaching people through social media, backed with heavy resources, weakens the efforts of the TMC, which is only a regional party. The social media reach of the BJP matters because it does play an important part in building the idea of the party’s inevitable success in ousting Mamata Banerjee.
BJP is banking on certain broad calculations on how West Bengal’s composite population and its distribution will have to be managed to deliver the 200-plus target of seats in an assembly of 294 seats. The party is leaving no stone unturned where it expects to make huge gains. The BJP is banking on votes from 70% of the voting population to win over 200 out of 294 seats. The BJP’s vote share touched a record 40.64% in the year 2019. The BJP must get around 60% of the votes in order to reach its target of 200 seats, though no party can ensure that the majority of votes will go in its favour.
Since the BJP did not have expectations of winning in 60 to 80 seats or 30% vote share, where Muslim votes will be the determining factor. That means, it is left with either 234 or 214 seats where it is expecting to win, from the total of 294 seats, mostly in straight contests against the TMC. In the Lok Sabha elections of 2019, BJP won 18 seats out of 42 parliamentary seats in West Bengal. This increase in the number of BJP seats was possible because voters had clearly shifted support to the BJP from the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front. There was a massive 13% shift of votes to the BJP from the Left. BJP grabbed close to 7% votes from the Congress.
This time the Congress Left unity is in alliance with the Indian Secular Front, founded by Abbas Siddiqui, one of the Pirzadas of Furfura Sharif, which claims to be the second most sacred Sufi shrine after Ajmer Sharif, which wields significant influence among the Bengali speaking Muslims, which could be a problem for both TMC and BJP in terms of Muslim vote share.
It is important for BJP to win this election, as with the result of the election it is going to counter all the nation issues including farmer’s agitation, inflation, price rise, unemployment and to prepare itself confidently for the upcoming general election. Meanwhile, if Mamata Banerjee wins, she’ll emerge as the face of opposition in the national politics. So, it is war cry for both the parties in Bengal and for voters, who now has more choices, also with dilemmas.
By Joydeep Dasgupta from Kolkata