(State Election Analysis)
Riding on the charisma of its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, the BJP not only scripted the most resounding electoral victory India has seen in 30 years, but also emerged as a potential force in West Bengal where it is traditionally considered weak.
Besides winning two Lok Sabha seats, the party came up with its best showing in the state in terms of the vote share, and returned surprisingly inspiring performances in a number of prestigious constituencies.
The Bharatiya Janata Party retained Darjeeling, where party veteran S.S. Ahluwalia won emphatically. Bollywood singer and party candidate Babul Supriyo snatched Asansol from the Communist Party of India-Marxist, which had been holding on to the seat for a quarter of a century.
The BJP candidates ended second in three seats where they relegated the CPI-M to the third position.
Contesting all the 42 constituencies in the state, the BJP’s vote share leapfrogged to 16.8 percent, as against around six percent it won in the previous Lok Sabha elections in 2009, and the measly four percent it received in the assembly polls two years later.
The 2014 figure surpassed its previous best of 11.66 percent in 1991, when the party unsuccessfully contested 34 seats.
Turning the tables on opinion polls and experts’ views, BJP candidates finished runners-up in Kolkata South and Kolkata North – considered Trinamool strongholds.
While the Trinamool retained both the constituencies, the BJP bagged 26 percent of the mandate in Kolkata North, and one percent less in Kolkata South.
BJP state president Rahul Sinha received over 2.47 lakh votes in Kolkata North where its candidate had got just 37,044 votes in 2009.
BJP’s Tathagata Roy polled an impressive 2.95-lakh-plus votes in Kolkata South where the party got a measly 39,744 votes five years back.
But what startled poll pundits was the fact that Roy led by 115 votes in the Bhowanipore assembly segment represented by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in the legislature.
Malda South, won by Congress veteran Abu Hassem Khan Chowdhury, was the other seat where the BJP came second.
Up against the Trinamool’s electoral dominance, the CPI-M led Left Front emerged as the biggest sufferer as the BJP made inroads in its vote share.
Commenting on the BJP’s rise in the state, political analyst and Rabindra Bharati University professor Biswanath Chakraborty said the way the party ate into the Left’s vote share was indicative of a change in the political scenario.
“The Trinamool always stood to benefit from the four-cornered seat, but the way the BJP made inroads into the Left’s votes, it signals the party’s rise in Bengal and a probable change in the state’s political scenario,” said Chakraborty.
Since its inception in 1980, the BJP has bagged Lok Sabha seats in Bengal only thrice.
In its earlier avatar as the Jan Sangh, the party won two seats in 1952 – party founder Shyama Prasad Mookerjee winning from Calcutta South-East and Durga Charan Bandopadhyay from Midnapore.
The BJP’s first seat came in 1998 when Tapan Sikdar won from Dum Dum and went on to become a union minister.
A year later, it doubled its tally with Sikdar retaining the seat and former additional solicitor general of India Satyabrata Mookherjee winning from Krishnanagar. On both the occasions, the BJP had an alliance with the Trinamool.
While the party drew a blank in 2004, BJP heavyweight Jaswant Singh won in 2009 from Darjeeling with the backing of the Gorkha Janmukhti Morcha (GJM).
With the party faring well in constituencies where Modi addressed rallies, political analyst Anil Kumar Jana attributed the BJP’s success to the “Modi wave” but asserted it would be difficult for the party to sustain the momentum.
“No doubt, the ‘Modi wave’ worked for the BJP in Bengal where its vote share nearly trebled, but it would be too early to say if it can sustain the momentum. Trinamool’s dominance is expected to continue but the resurgence of the Left can never be ruled out,” said Jana, of Vidyasagar University.