After the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP’s) spectacular showing in the recent Assembly elections in Delhi when the BJP was reduced to a mere eight seats out of 70 and the Congress was decimated as in the 2015 polls, the BJP faces two seemingly formidable challenges － in Bihar later this year and West Bengal in the later part of next year.
It is not as though BJP’s sway over the national vote is under any kind of threat with the Opposition challenge being feeble except in certain pockets and at local levels where regional parties have carved out a niche in some states, but every opposition victory goads the parties to try and weld together as a group.
While Uttar Pradesh with 80 seats in the Lok Sabha holds the trumps for any party or group to credibly entertain ambitions of sitting on the central ‘gaddi’, Bihar with 40 seats and West Bengal with 42 also hold major stakes.
In Bihar, the BJP has, in recent times been a force to reckon with, while in Bengal its resurgence is symbolised by its winning 18 of 42 Lok Sabha seats last year whereas in earlier elections it was a non-entity. The performance in 2019 in Bengal has transformed the perspective of the BJP poll-watchers who now are seeing visions of displacing the Trinamool Congress (TMC) from power in 2021.
Yet, on the other side of the spectrum, the BJP has been losing ground in state after state, having lost six states in the last one year. On balance, however, it is sitting pretty in the national vote.
Displacing TMC from power in West Bengal may seem a tall order but it is not inconceivable considering that all challengers to TMC other than the BJP have fallen by the wayside. It has emerged in other cases that the voter could vote differently in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. As an effective challenger to Mamata there is no one even remotely matching her skills as a rabble-rouser and manipulator.
But then anti-incumbency sometimes transgresses normal responses and there is no doubt that people at large are exasperated with Mamata’s pro-minority bias which is clearly seen through as gimmickry to win votes. That this is alienating a section of Hindus is looking increasingly plausible. Added to it is the lacklustre governance of the Mamata government with industry not in the best of shapes and the employment position daunting.
The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is being looked at as a game-changer for the BJP but the TMC is looking to reap benefits from it too in its stand with the minorities. Of late, the TMC is adopting a low key attitude towards it, conscious as it is of the growing sentiment that the Hindus are feeling that they are being short-changed by the TMC.
Evidently, the West Bengal voter is moving increasingly towards a polarised polity and the BJP reckons, with some justification, that this would be of benefit to it. But how it would pan out in State assembly elections is untested. The last time around, in 2016, the BJP had won a mere three seats out of 294 while the TMC had a whopping score and a clear majority. Undoubtedly, the BJP with its sustained campaign has traversed much ground in recent months.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the TMC got 43 per cent of the vote and 22 seats while the BJP got 40 per cent of the vote and 18 seats. The gap was indeed narrow but it would be interesting to see the BJP vote share in the 2021 Assembly polls in which local issues will predictably dominate.
The Saradha chit fund scam has dented the TMC’s reputation. Any finality to the scam in courts before the Assembly vote could damage TMC’s credibility further.
Before the vote in West Bengal, the BJP would have a chance to bounce back with honour in Bihar where it has a credible tie-up with Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) and the LJP of Ram Vilas Paswan and his son Chirag. There is indeed a huge difference from 2015 when Lalu was still running the show in RJD and calling the shots in alliance with Nitish.
There are rumours floating around that Lalu would be out on bail before the Assembly elections in the only case in which he is still behind bars. If that happens, the JD (U)-BJP alliance may have something to be wary of, though some of Lalu’s fire and charisma may have worn off.
As things stand, his son Tejaswi Yadav is fast maturing but he still has a long way to go before he reaches up to Lalu’s stature if at all. Without Lalu campaigning for the party full blast, the alliance of Tejaswi’s RJD, the Congress, the Upendra Kushwaha-led RLSP (Rashtriya Lok Samta Party), Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM (Hindustan Awam Morcha) and VIP (Vikassheel Insaan Party) headed by Mukesh Sahni, who belongs to the numerically-strong Mallah (boatmen) community is unlikely to make a strong impression on the electorate.
All in all, the JD (U)-BJP alliance has a clear edge in Bihar with Lalu’s bail factor having the potential to dampen the mood for them, and the BJP could make reasonably-significant gains in West Bengal at the cost of the Trinamool Congress. But between now and the elections in the two states much can happen one way or another.
The writer is a political commentator and columnist. He has authored four books.