For the first time ever West Bengal has seen a saffron surge. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which won just 2 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections, has now crossed double digits in the fight for the forty-two seats in the state. How and why did the BJP make these gains? Here are a few reasons:
1. Left-Front Votes Shifting To The BJP
Since she came to power, especially in her second term as Chief Minister in 2016, Mamata Banerjee has been accused of going after the Opposition parties like the Left and the Congress indiscriminately. This resulted in both these parties being virtually decimated in West Bengal.
As a result, the ground level workers and supporters of the Left Front shifted to the BJP en masse, in order to defeat the Trinamool. This is clearly visible in the BJP’s vote share which went up from 16 percent in 2014 to close to 40 percent in 2019, even as the Trinamool’s vote share remained between 42-45 percent as it was in 2014.
2. Trinamool’s Bad Handling Of The Panchayat Polls
The West Bengal Panchayat polls held in 2018 saw uninhibited violence perpetrated allegedly by the Trinamool Congress. More than 34 percent of the seats in these elections were walk-overs which means that no other candidate except that of one party (almost always the Trinamool) could file their nominations. As a result people in many constituencies especially in areas like Alipurduar and Bishnupur could not cast their vote. This led to a lot of discontentment with the Trinamool and on the ground it could be seen that even traditional TMC supporters were voting for the BJP.
3. BJP’s Polarisation Tactic
Unlike the rest of the country, BJP’s main poll plank in Bengal was not development but issues like the NRC and the need to rid the state of “infiltrators”. The saffron party also left no stone unturned to attack Mamata’s “minority-appeasement” policies, thus dividing the vote bank very clearly into Hindus and Muslims, especially in the border areas. That alongwith tactics like popularising Ram Navami as a “Hindu” festival in Bengal, won the party a lot of votes from the upper class Hindus, especially in the border districts of the state.
The Trinamool Congress, which is not used to facing Opposition on religious grounds (as the Left Front did not raise religion in its campaigns) seemed to be caught off-guard.
4. Mismanagement In The Trinamool’s Middle Leadership & In-fighting
All through the poll campaign there was an undercurrent of in-fighting in the Trinamool especially in areas like Alipurduar, Balurghat and Ranaghat. This meant that a lot of the Trinamool’s own cadre was working against its own candidates.
Lack of a strong middle level management also meant that reports of the buzz on the ground was incorrectly relayed to the top management who were unable to gauge the extent of damage that the BJP made to its ranks.
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