New Delhi: The West Bengal assembly elections will be held next year and it’s a frontier the BJP wants to conquer. The party, however, faces a formidable rival in the state — Mamata Banerjee.
In episode 643 of Cut the Clutter, ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta said: “Mamata Banerjee is the only regional leader who is a formidable rival for the BJP and West Bengal is a frontier that BJP wants to conquer. This is why Amit Shah and other party leaders have visited the state so many times.”
Gupta in the episode decluttered West Bengal politics and analysed how the exit of prominent leaders from the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) reflected increased BJP inroads into the state.
BJP upped its vote share by 10 times in last nine years
The BJP has, over the last nine years, been trying to make inroads into West Bengal.
Gupta said: “West Bengal has been in the crosshairs ever since Narendra Modi and Amit Shah came into power. The reason why they have been targeting the state is one, because they want a big footprint in the east. Second, they want to hedge their base in the Hindi heartland just in case they are not able to max out their numbers as they’ve done in the past.”
“They think it’s much more plausible there than say in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. And third, they also have the emotional issue that Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who’s like the founder of the BJP and Jana Sangh, comes from West Bengal,” he added.
The BJP has been persistent in its efforts to gain seats and votes in the state. In 2011, the party contested 289 of the 294 seats, but drew a blank and ended up with a vote share of 4.06 per cent.
In the 2016 assembly elections, the party contested 291 of the 294 seats, and ended up winning just 3 seats with a vote share of 10.6 per cent. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won 18 of the 42 seats and its vote share rose up to 40.64 per cent.
“The BJP has worked doggedly over the last ten years and increased its vote share by ten times,” said Gupta.
BJP wasn’t able to cut into Mamata’s vote bank in 2019
It was in the 2011 assembly elections that Mamata Banejee decimated the Left and came to power. She won 184 seats out of 294, although she contested in alliance with the Congress, which won 42 seats. In this election, the combined vote share of TMC and Congress vote was 39.9 per cent.
Despite the Modi wave in 2014, Banerjee was able to win 34 of the 42 seats in the Lok Sabha elections, and was able to become the largest opposition in the Parliament.
It is because of her popularity, the TMC didn’t need the Congress, and in 2016 state assembly elections, Banerjee won 211 of the 294 seats on her own. Her party won about 45 per cent of the total vote share.
By 2019, the BJP’s five years’ of sustained campaign helped bring down Banerjee’s seats in the Parliament, despite which she retained 22 of the 42 seats. In 2019, she retained her 44 per cent of the vote share.
“So Mamata Banerjee’s number of votes has remained more or less constant. Even as the BJP has grown, it wasn’t able to cut into her vote bank even in the 2019 election. If TMC’s vote is intact, where is the BJP vote coming from? That is the key to understanding what is happening in West Bengal,” said Gupta.
Congress and the Left
The Congress won 9 per cent of the vote share in the 2011 state assembly elections when it was in an alliance with the TMC.
“About five per cent of TMC’s vote share was transferred to the Congress in this election,” said Gupta.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress won four seats out of the 42 seats with 9.7 per cent of the votes share.
In the 2016 state elections, the Congress formed a tacit alliance with the CPIM. This, according to Gupta, was the “biggest mistake” by the Congress.
While the Congress, in West Bengal, lost out on the vote share it enjoyed with the TMC, the Left’s vote too was on a steady decline.
In the 2016 elections, the Congress got 12.25 per cent of the vote share, and this was because the Left parties transferred some of its vote share to the Congress, and the latter got to contest more seats than they might have when they were in alliance with the TMC. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Congress was down to 5.6 per cent vote share.
In this election, the two parties again formed a tacit alliance and got zero seats. Despite their alliance, the two parties individually have a measly vote share of about six per cent each.
While they do not pose a threat to either the BJP or TMC in the upcoming elections, the Left can protect its loyal voter base from shifting to the BJP. This can work in the TMC’s favour, Gupta said.
“It is because of the committed Left voters and workers of the CPM who’ve moved lock, stock and barrel to the BJP that the CPM lost its vote share. Mamata Banerjee sees this problem and hopes that (in) this election, the Congress-CPM alliance works well because the vote in Left’s favour will help TMC maintain the small per cent of lead that it has over the BJP,” Gupta concluded.
Watch the full CTC here: