Kolkata: As West Bengal gears up for a four-cornered poll battle, the BJP is hoping to cash in on what it calls a “wave” surrounding its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi to make headway in a state where it has traditionally been weak.
Since its inception in 1980, the BJP has bagged Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal only thrice. It got one seat in 1998 and doubled its tally a year later, fighting as an ally of the Trinamool Congress on both occasions.
In 2009, BJP heavyweight Jaswant Singh won from Darjeeling in north Bengal with the backing of the Gorkha Janmukhti Morcha *(GJM) .
This time, various opinion polls have predicted a maximum of two seats for the Bharatiya Janata Party in the state but its leaders sound upbeat. They feel a four-cornered contest involving the Left Front, the Congress, the BJP itself and the Trinamool will help the party shore up its tally.
“Besides the Modi wave, the Trinamool contesting alone is a favourable factor for us. With the Congress fighting all the seats, it will eat into the Trinamool’s vote share which will benefit us,” state BJP president Rahul Sinha told IANS.
“Moreover, the people have shunned the Left and won’t vote for them,” he added.
The BJP has put up candidates in all the 42 seats with celebrated magician P.C. Sorcar and Bollywood singers Bappi Lahiri and Babul Supriyo among the contestants.
However, political analysts are not very optimistic about the BJP.
“The BJP doesn’t have a mass base especially in rural areas. Moreover, the communal tag attached with Modi and BJP might act as a deterrent for a large number of young voters,” Anil Kumar Jana, professor of political science of Vidyasagar University, told IANS.
Analyst Sameer Das said the BJP’s vote share could increase but it was unlikely to achieve anything spectacular.
“The four-cornered polls this time is largely expected to benefit the Trinamool rather than the BJP or others, mostly because by going alone it (Trinamool) has sent a strong message.”
The BJP’s poll percentage, which dipped drastically after reaching over 12 percent in 1999, is expected to go up but it won’t be anything dramatic, said Das.
BJP leaders are confident of retaining Darjeeling where it has fielded veteran politician S.S. Ahluwalia with the support of the GJM.
But the alliance with the GJM — which is spearheading the movement for a Gorkhaland carved out of north Bengal – has exposed the BJP to attacks from its opponents that it was attempting to break the state.
Distinctly uncomfortable, the BJP seems a house divided on the issue.
While Ahluwalia seems to bat for Gorkhaland, by describing the GJM’s demand as nothing unconstitutional, the state leaders rubbish the stand.
“We entered into the alliance with the GJM with a clear stand that we will not create Gorkhaland,” said Sinha.
However, BJP national spokesperson Siddharth Nath Singh keeps all options open.
“A decision on Gorkhaland will be taken according to the constitution and opinions of various stakeholders,” Singh told IANS.
Former union minister and two-time MP Tapan Sikdar claims that people would opt for his party as they are wary of the instability which regional parties may bring in if they come to power.
“People realise even if regional parties come together, the ambition of various parties and their leaders will not allow it to stay for long.
“Much like the Left, the Congress too will go into oblivion. So the only viable alternative is BJP,” said Sikdar, contesting from Dum Dum in North 24 Parganas.
But the Communist Party of India-Marxist scoffs at the claim, and accuses the BJP of nominating weak candidates to benefit the Trinamool.
“They are in league. The Trinamool has kept its doors open for the BJP, and vice versa,” said CPI-M politburo member Surjya Kanta Mishra.