New Delhi: Absence of a “credible local” face, passing personal remarks against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, and not understanding the “pulse” of the state are some of the reasons central BJP leaders have cited for the party’s performance in the West Bengal assembly election.
The BJP had been working aggressively to corner votes in the state over the past two years and a number of central leaders had been deputed to work on the ground. But when poll results were declared Sunday, it showed the party had won just 77 seats in the 294-member assembly. The ruling Trinamool Congress, which the BJP had taken on, retained power with 213 seats.
“We didn’t have a CM candidate to counter Mamata Banerjee, who is a strong figure,” a senior BJP leader told ThePrint. “Since the start, the party had made it is a contest between PM Modi and Mamata Banerjee. It may have worked in some other states, but to counter Mamata, we needed a credible local face.”
“The whole image of Mamata Banerjee on a wheelchair created a fighting image as well as sympathy for her, especially among the women voters,” said a second BJP leader. “Women voters have generally supported the BJP, especially PM Modi and his schemes, but Mamata Banerjee countered it with her own welfare measures.”
Further, as the campaign started to pick up, a number of leaders turned the election into a Bengali versus non-Bengali issue, added the leader. “In the absence of Bengali faces, the chief minister used it against us,” the leader said.
A party meeting is likely to take place to discuss what went wrong and analyse the results.
‘Personal comments against Mamata hurt BJP’
The BJP’s hopes of forming its first government in West Bengal this year crumbled Sunday as voters opted for Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for a third time in a row.
One of the major reasons that has been cited by central BJP leaders for the loss is the personal targeting of Mamata and the comments made by a number of state leaders.
“We had asked the West Bengal leaders not to publicly discuss the attack on Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at Nandigram too much as we felt it could help her gain unnecessary sympathy. But the state leaders didn’t pay heed,” said a third BJP leader. “A number of insensitive comments, sexist comments were also made by the leaders that should have been avoided as the entire campaign appeared as [though] the BJP was targeting her and not the policies,” the leader added.
At one point, West Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh had said Mamata should wear ‘bermudas’ instead of a saree to highlight her leg injury.
Addressing a poll rally in Purulia on 24 March, Ghosh had said: “We have never seen someone take off their plaster. What is this sorcery? She is wearing a saree with one of her legs exposed. I have never seen anyone drape a saree like that. Wear a bermuda instead so that everyone can take a clear look.”
To boost its campaign, the party had deputed a battery of central leaders to the state, but many complained they didn’t get the kind of support they should have from the state leaders.
“There was no coordination between the central leaders who were deputed and the state leaders who had to help them. There was a lot of in-fighting within the state leaders too and the central leaders used to spend a lot of time resolving that rather than concentrating on the organisational work,” a senior central BJP leader told ThePrint.
Another central BJP leader said that the party’s decision to carry on with roadshows, rallies and meetings in the last four phases amidst the Covid-19 surge also impacted its prospects.
“Though we are still analysing, it seems that the urban voters in the last four phases voted against the party for continuing with our rallies and roadshows,” the leader said. “At a time when people were gasping for breath, our social media was full of pictures of rallies.”
A number of BJP leaders had pinned their hopes on polarisation which would have helped them, and they claim that the move “backfired”.
“The Muslim vote was totally polarised. Mamata Banerjee had appealed to the Muslims to come together and it seems to have worked,” said another party leader.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)