Sunday, 23 January, 2022
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Bengal is the new UP, the most critical state election in Modi’s second term

The defining state election this time — the one with the greatest bearing on the next Lok Sabha elections — is not UP but West Bengal.

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The West Bengal assembly elections in April-May 2021, a little over a year from now, will likely be the most important turning point for Narendra Modi’s second term.

Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have made Bengal a matter of prestige. The idea of a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC) to verify the citizenship claims of all Indians is actually about the BJP’s efforts to win West Bengal. In fact, President Ram Nath Kovind in his address to Parliament in the first session after Modi’s re-election said the National Register of Citizens would be created in bordering areas, implying that it may not take place across the country.

Why punish the entire country just to label every Bengali Muslim a Bangladeshi?

And yet, Bengal is so important for the BJP that fears of an NRC have been allowed to create panic across India, protests across the world. Modi’s global image has been allowed to take a severe blow. The openly stated “chronology” between the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the NRC have been allowed to mess with peace and stability in the northeast, especially Assam.

What is it about West Bengal that the BJP appears to be willing to sacrifice so much for it?

Put plainly, West Bengal is the new Uttar Pradesh.

If the BJP could win West Bengal, it will have created a sense of invincibility, and thus a sense of the inevitability of the BJP’s return to power at the Centre for a third consecutive term.

When Modi wanted to become prime minister for the first time in 2014, the state he needed to crack the most was Uttar Pradesh. He himself decided to contest from a second seat in Varanasi, and made Amit Shah in-charge of the state.

That kind of special effort is now being put into Bengal – the bastion of secularists and the Left, a state with 27 per cent Muslim population, the state with the biggest metropolitan city in east India, a state decidedly outside of the Hindi belt with its own sense of regional pride and identity, even superiority. If the BJP wins Bengal in 2021, it will be difficult to imagine the BJP lose India in 2024.

Also read: Modi delivers poll speeches in Bengal, invokes Gandhi to defend CAA, hits out at Mamata

The new semi-final

The Uttar Pradesh assembly election is usually seen as the ‘semi-final’ before the Lok Sabha election. It happens exactly mid-way between two Lok Sabha elections. What happens in Uttar Pradesh is often taken as an indicator, rightly or wrongly, of what might happen in the next Lok Sabha elections.

When Narendra Modi became Prime Minister, the BJP started to win assembly elections such as in Jharkhand and Haryana with clear majorities, and managed to form a stable government in Maharashtra even before it could have ally Shiv Sena come around on its terms.

Those victories created a sense of a BJP juggernaut with the real possibility of Modi-Shah creating a new one-party system akin to the Congress rule of yesteryears. However, the BJP juggernaut was halted by Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi and the Nitish Kumar-Lalu Yadav alliance in Bihar. The year 2015 was bad for Modi-Shah’s expansionist plans.

However, the BJP learnt from those mistakes and changed strategies to win Assam in 2016. The BJP wasn’t in the race in other state assembly elections that year: Kerala, West Bengal, Puducherry, and Tamil Nadu.

Also read: 11 state govts, representing 56% of India, have now taken a ‘no-NRC’ stance

The BJP’s invincibility or lack thereof was an open question. It was in early 2017 that the BJP’s clean sweep in Uttar Pradesh that silenced all the doubting Thomases. Despite demonetisation or because of it, thanks to a “surgical strike” on Pakistan or the promise of a farm loan waiver, the BJP was able to do the unthinkable – install a fringe Hindutva extremist as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.

The victory in UP, the widely accepted semi-final, came like a force of nature. It killed any sense of challenge to the BJP’s open efforts to establish one-party rule. Critics and dissenters, corporates and media, opposition parties and global community, all accepted it as fait accompli that Modi was too popular to lose 2019.

This had an effect of demoralising the opposition and making it surrender. Nitish Kumar, while dumping Lalu Yadav and joining forces with the BJP in mid-2017, famously declared there was no chance anymore of anyone defeating Modi in 2019. That’s how invincible the BJP became with UP.

The BJP actually did very poorly in state assembly elections after that. It just about scraped through on its home turf of Gujarat. It couldn’t win a majority in Karnataka despite an anti-incumbency campaign against the ruling Congress and Janata Dal (Secular). It lost its strongholds in central India, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, and couldn’t stop the inevitable ‘turn of the roti’ in Rajasthan. The idea that the BJP had changed the rules of the game, that anti-incumbency didn’t apply to it and no one could get the better of Amit Shah’s Chankayaniti, all lay in tatters.

And yet, it was that sweep in UP that nullified any suggestion that Modi could lose the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Also read: After citizenship law, BJP has a 2-pronged strategy to woo Bengal Hindus

This time it’s different

The 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly election, similarly, is no challenge for the BJP. The Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, and the Congress will make sure the state sees a four-cornered contest in which the opposition vote will be divided and an unpopular Yogi Adityanath will return as CM.

There is, therefore, little element of surprise in UP this time. It is a foregone conclusion. The surprise will be if there is an upset for the BJP thanks to factors that are not in play as of now, such as a drastic and sudden increase in inflation, or the emergence of a disruptive new party.

The BJP’s return to power in UP will not have the same effect on the national political conversation that it did the last time. We are in a post-expansion phase of the BJP in north India, where the party has reached saturation point. The only question is, how long it will stay at that point.

Also read: Cornering Mamata Banerjee in 2021 assembly polls won’t be easy. BJP lacks a pan-Bengal face

Similarly, the BJP is likely to retain Bihar under the leadership of ally JD(U)’s Nitish Kumar in November 2020.

The BJP may be in quite some trouble in Assam but is likely to return to power because the Congress doesn’t have a game there anymore. The Assam Congress is in such disarray that the viral three-term ex-chief minister Tarun Gogoi is publicly appealing for the state to have a new party.

The re-affirmation of status quo in UP, Bihar, Assam and other states won’t be enough to create a sense of invincibility about the BJP. By now we have seen the party’s mixed performance in state elections. By now we have seen how Modi has separated state and national elections so completely that the narrative about 2024, even from the opposition, may develop regardless of what happens in state elections.

The game-changer for the BJP this time will be West Bengal. It will be more dramatic and shocking to see a BJP chief misuser in Kolkata than it was to see Yogi Adityanath occupy 5 Kalidas Marg in Lucknow.

But Mamata Banerjee isn’t going down without a fight. She’s not a lazy north Indian drawing room politician. She fights on the streets, leads from the front.

The game is on. Keep the popcorn ready. 

Views are personal.

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  1. It’s look like you don’t want to BJP win in West Bengal.
    It’s look like the print hates BJP.
    So cheap journalism.
    But one thing is better a virodhi gives whole knowledge.

  2. Election-2024 will be cake-walk for Modi ji and BJP. In Election- 2019 , there was one worthy politician from erst-while dynasty opposing Modi with fake agenda of corruption in Rafel deal and was shouting “Chowkidar chor hey ! “,, but now he is accompanied by a big crowd of leftists and so-called liberal band shouting ‘CAA is undoing of the Constitution of India and provoking and using Muslims – minorities to place themselves as a community which is “opposed to all -non-muslims communities — whose religious brother immigrants , who were/are victimised in adjoining tyrant Muslim sultanates . The past seven month record of BJP Government — repeal of Article 370 and 35 A. passage of bill criminalising triple talque by the men of a particular religion, Passage of CAB ,division of J&K. are enough to grant them votes for next term. Current economic downturn is on wane , will not be there to pinch the budget of masses by the time next phase of state assemblies and certainly not in 2023– months ahead of next national elections. In next two years unholy alliance of non-BJP parties will start crumbling in different states. In the mean time any misadventure by Pakistan or Indian action in POk will ensure that 2024-29 belongs to modi ji or his BJP successor. It is not wishful situation envisaged by me , but these are based on recent historical happening and trends of the last two decades of 21st century.

  3. The basic premise of Shivam is wrong- that BJP cannot win the third term without WB! Communist ruled WB for so many years and yet other parties ruled at the Centre. BJP would certainly like to expand east to WB and Orissa etc and WB given its character, is a good bet. Most likely, BJP will end up being the second largest party after TMC in the next state elections. But Amit Shah is a fighter and he has galvanized his forces for WB. The third term for Modi in 2024 will again depend on who is projected as the PM from the opposition. Modi is certain to do something special in 2023-24 like attack on POK, war with Pakistan, join USA in Afghanistan, skirmishes with China in Western sector etc. This will sway our gullible voters again in favor of Modi. It is quite likely that the scenario of 2019 will repeat itself and Shivam will be terribly disappointed again. But Shivam should live his dreams and continue to enthrall us with his wild imaginations every week.

  4. Odds are against Mamata anyway. Majoritarian communalism in the form of CAA NRC, people’s ever present desire of paribartan or change, antiincumbency etc are advantage BJP.

    • Ha, ha…but what to do about those incorrigible armchair critics who are just waiting for the day when this government fails and their murky Congress/SP/BSP alliance will take charge. You see Amethi and Rae Barreily were France and Singapore; Yogi destroyed them. Akhilesh had taken UP really high in global human development index; Yogi pulled it down.

        • I m a UPite and I proudly say I will vote for Yogi Baba… it seems you are not from UP….if you were and seen the tenure of Maya-Akhilesh…. UP has a lot of problems… but the way Yogi baba and under him UP police had perform its tremendous… the nexus of Yadav-muslim or jatav-muslim had destroyed the UP its unimaginable.. the best part of Yogi baba the way he kept Muslim under check…. if you have any doubt just wait for 2022 ,.. he will win with clear majority … and the highlight of his tenure will be the way he developed different cities of UP… weather it’s Prayagraj or Ayodhya or Gorakhpur…the focus on tier 2& 3 cities is the best part not like previous dispensation… Who only focused on particular parts…and the way he checked the corruption as compared to previous govt and improved UPPCS…and it’s functionality… he’s god’s sent for UPites… you have clearly no idea for UP… be ready for 2022😂😂 UP is BJP bastion 🙏

      • “what to do about those incorrigible armchair critics who are just waiting for the day when this government fails and their murky Congress/SP/BSP alliance will take charge”? Nothing, the same way they can’t do a thing about Modi and Amit Shah being there! What can anyone do? They would always be there.

  5. Then converse should also hold true – if BJP loses WB elections, it should not be able to form a government in the centre post 2024 elections. The possibility also exists that even if it wins WB in 2021, it may not win national elections in 2024. These theories just sound like fanciful kite-flying expeditions. The fact remains that BJP will need to be beaten at the central hustings if one wants to form a government in New Delhi – regardless of what happens in state elections. The PMs policies and ideas need to be countered by better ones. The RSS’ cadres force multiplier effect needs to be neutralised. Whoever and whenever is able to achieve this, only then will power change hands.

  6. Is there a surge of popularity for the ruling party in Bengal, as seen in its winning 18 Lok Sabha seats in May ? Recall the visuals from the recent two day visit to Calcutta. 2. Uttar Pradesh is not a done deal. Arguably the worst CM in the country in office, making his initial appointment even more of a mystery. SP, BSP and Congress would have to be catastrophically stupid to make this a four way fight.

    • Four way contest in UP is inevitable. Arm chair commentators like me see no hope of any meaningful opposition to Mr Bisht. With plenty of evidence piled up against the key leaders of SP, BSP and of course the congress on unjust enrichment , these so called opposition parties will chicken out. The rabble rousers like Owaisi and Grand son of Dr. BR.Ambedkar will add to the conundrum The opposition will split the anti BJP votes six ways. Who would want to spend 100 plus days in Tihar prison when one has a choice to live in splendour with the ill gotten money. If a high IQ man like Chidambaram could be disciplined with the deft handling of a case merely based on conjectures, the likes of Yadav clan and BSP could be shown their place without even a fight.
      No one can stop MrBisth getting the baton as PM of Akand Bharat after Mr Modi retires in 2050AD.

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