When the history of modern-day West Bengal is written, the spectacular performance of the BJP through better strategising and dogged perseverance in the just-concluded Lok Sabha elections of 2019 will evoke admiration. From a position where Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) had managed to virtually decimate the Congress and Left Front and restricted the BJP to a mere two seats in 2014 at the start of the BJP’s limited foray into the State, in 2019 the TMC with 22 seats in its bag and 43.28 per cent of the vote was a mere three per cent ahead of the BJP.
The BJP secured an impressive 18 seats as against the TMC’s 22 this time around and seems poised for better performance in the crucial 2021 Assembly polls. The process of vanquishing the Congress and the Left Front in West Bengal was furthered in the 2019 polls with the two parties forced to bite the dust, making them wonder what had struck them.
The Congress had bagged four seats and the Left Front two in 2014 but five years later the Congress stood reduced to two seats while the Left failed to open its account. In terms of vote share, while the BJP was a whopping 40.25 per cent this time as against 16.80 per cent in 2014 and 6.14 per cent in 2009, the Congress was down to 5.61 per cent and the Left to 7.42 per cent in the just-concluded elections.
The BJP’s enhanced appeal was an amalgam of local strategy and national drive. It went about its task with rare single-minded purpose with party president Amit Shah putting his best foot forward. Helping him were some TMC deserters who made common cause with the BJP to teach the arrogant Mamata a lesson or two.
At one time the party’s second most important leader, Mukul Roy, exasperated by Mamata’s rude behaviour, was a big catch for the BJP. Earlier, suspended TMC members of Parliament Anupam Hazra and Saumitra Khan had joined the BJP. A prominent legislator Arjun Singh also defected from the TMC to the BJP. All three of them were given Lok Sabha tickets. Significantly, Prime Minister Modi had said in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls that 40 West Bengal TMC legislators were in touch with the BJP exploring entry into the party.
As if it was a trailer before the 2021 elections, the BJP won four of eight seats in byelections to the West Bengal assembly held along with the Lok Sabha elections. It was runner-up in two other seats. The TMC bagged three seats and the Congress one. With 40.5 per cent votes, the BJP exceeded the TMC vote by 3.5 per cent in the by-elections.
Indeed, the BJP is contemplating precipitating the advancement of the Assembly polls with an eye on coming to power in the State. Whether the BJP would succeed in its endeavour to advance the elections is a moot point. The Congress and the Left are now ruing why they did not enter into an electoral alliance to combat the BJP in the parliamentary polls but with the saffron party now well-entrenched, any alliance for the Assembly polls may have little impact.
The BJP is also seriously contemplating speeding up the proceedings in the chit fund scam cases in which many TMC present and former leaders may face heavy weather. If TMC involvement in the chit fund cases is proved, it could acutely embarrass Mamata Banerjee and jeopardise the TMC’s chances in the Assembly elections.
By present indications, the BJP’s impressive showing in the Lok Sabha polls in West Bengal had something to do with the polarisation of the Hindu voters as a result of BJP leaders drilling fear into the minds of Hindu voters that Mamata Banerjee’s gambit in polarising Muslim voters in TMC’s favour was the result of crass appeasement of this minority.
The manner in which Mamata vehemently opposed any move to send back those who had sneaked into Bengal from across the border in Bangladesh over the years exposed the vote bank appeasement tactics of the chief minister. Now, with the BJP intending to force the issue, it could well polarise voters further to the detriment of the TMC.