Five reasons why the BJP can’t afford to take mamata lightly in Bengal elections

West Bengal Assembly elections are due next year around April-May.

The Bharatiya Janata Party after threatening to breach Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee’s citadel in 2019 general elections, is raring to unseat Trinamool Congress government. The BJP hopes to install its first chief minister in the state.

The TMC is grappling with the resignation of Transport and Irrigation Minister Suvendu Adhikari, who has rebelled against Mamata and is expected to join the BJP.

The Left Front, which couldn’t even open its account in 2019 Lok Sabha elections, is teaming up with the Congress to salvage its prospects.

The BJP is pressurising the West Bengal Governor to ask Mamata to prove majority as many leaders recently have openly criticized Mamata and her nephew Abhishek’s way of functioning.

On the other hand, Mamata is rolling out ‘Duare Sarkar’, an outreach programme for doorstep delivery of government schemes on the advice of her political strategist Prashant Kishor.

The TMC was leading in 161 Assembly segments, 16 more than simple majority, and the BJP in 123, as per the 2019 general election trends.

Despite the BJP’s push, Mamata still appears favourite to win Bengal. A survey by ABP-CNX in June 2020 (for whatever it’s worth gave 159 seats to TMC (a simple majority), 101 to Mahajot (Left Front + Congress) and a meagre 26 seats to BJP.

There are five factors which work in favour of Mamata in West Bengal:

1. Bengali pride/asmita

The TMC is trying to invoke the Bengali pride among the voting population, in line with BJP’s ‘Gujarati asmita’ poll plank in Gujarat, following good response to its insider versus outsider campaign.

The state has 86% Bengalis and 14% non-Bengalis. This strategy is likely to counter the caste/social engineering strategy of the BJP and the class politics of the Mahajot.

In the last phase of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP drew a blank in the 9 seats. TMC launched a fiery campaign over ‘insult to Bengali icons’, following the desecration of social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s bust during a BJP rally.

It is likely to employ Bengali sub-nationalism and an inclusive message of regionalism to counter BJP’s aggressive nationalism and Hindutva pitch.

Regional parties of Tamil Nadu are proponents of the Tamil pride, the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra harps on Marathi ‘asmita’ and Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal played the Odiya pride to the hilt to thwart the rise of BJP.

2. Split of opposition vote

In Bihar, while the Mahagathbandhan scored almost equal vote share to NDA, 37% each; smaller parties and other alliance groups like GSDF, LJP, Pappu Yadav’s front recorded 26% vote share, thus splitting the opposition vote.

Unlike Bihar, Bengal is a three-way contest. In the 2019 general elections, the BJP benefited (+23%) from the collapse of the Left (-33%). However, we have seen in 2016 state elections that BJP lost majority of the gains made by it in 2014 general elections.

If the Left wins back a section of its votes, BJP’s vote share could dip, giving TMC the advantage. On each seat, there are two claimants of the anti-Mamata/anti-TMC vote.

3. Leadership factor

The BJP hasn’t yet declared a chief ministerial candidate. The chances are that it would go for a combined leadership and bat on the Modi factor.

State elections are also increasingly being held in presidential style, and not having a chief ministerial face could hurt the prospects of, both, the BJP and the Mahajot.

As a thumb rule, one-third voters cast their votes on the basis of CM candidate in state elections. Not having a declared CM candidate or an obvious CM choice may work to the advantage of Mamata.

The BJP and the Left, both, do not have a leader who has the same statewide appeal as Mamata and/or enjoys her charisma. BJP’s over dependence on Modi can be seen as its weakness.

‘If not Modi, who?’ worked for the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, then ‘If not Didi, who?’ may come to haunt it in West Bengal in 2021.

4. Minority consolidation

The state accounts for the second highest population of Muslims in India (2.47 crore) and third highest, in terms of proportion of the population (27-28%). Muslim vote could determine winners in 125 constituencies (43 per cent of Assembly strength).

TMC won almost 90 such seats in 2016, bettering its record of 2011 when it contested in an alliance with the Congress and had won 95 of these seats.

The Congress historically has a strong support in Muslim-infleucned seats in the state. However, the lessons from Bihar, where split in votes dented the Mahagathbandhan’s chances, could lead to solid consolidation of minority votes in favour of TMC.

The Muslim vote is all the more important this time around because of the saffron surge in the state witnessed in the Lok Sabha polls in 2019 in which the BJP recorded almost similar vote share as TMC. In the 2019 general elections, 70% Muslims backed the TMC.

5. Voters increasingly making a distinction between central and state elections

In all the state elections after 2019 general elections, the BJP has lost considerable vote share as voters are increasingly differentiating between state and general elections.

On an average, the BJP’s vote share has declined by 13% (in absolute terms) and 29% (in relative terms) in the 5 state elections held post the 2019 general elections.

The BJP gets additional votes due to the ‘Modi factor’ in Lok Sabha elections. As per CSDS post poll survey for 2019 general elections, 32% respondents (appriximately one-third of BJP voters) said they would not have voted for BJP if Modi was not the prime ministerial candidate.

The relative decline of 29% in the table below is closer to the Modi factor figure highlighting this benefit vaporises when it comes to state elections.


In fact, this happened with the BJP previously where its vote share declined from 17% in 2014 general elections to 10.3% in 2016 state elections.

To sum up, while the BJP is expected to give a tough fight to the TMC in the state elections due next year, it needs to be appreciative of the factors pointed out and not take ‘Didi’ lightly.

The article was first published here.

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