Pooja Iyer Mukherjee
The Gritty Relationship of BJP and Bengal
An academic and cultural hub , brimming with ideas and a mix of races and colours, all backed by a laid back attitude , one won't be entirely in the wrong to call Bengal the California of India. A colourful and defiant state, Bengal slipped away from the hands of the BJP and went right back to Mamata Banerjee in the much talked about 2021 state elections.
Was this anticipated or did the journey suddenly change its destination?
With Bharatiya Janata Party dominating Indian politics under the leadership of Mr.Narendra Modi , since the last couple of years, there was much talk on whether BJP would sweep Bengal too.
With the national party pooling resources and our Prime Minister himself coming to the state holding a large number of rallies , there was much excitement and tension circling the results. Pre-election reports suggested our PM had a real shot at Bengal, over Bengal’s tigress herself.
Yet after much suspense, Sunday May the 2nd revealed a sweeping victory of Ms. Mamata Banerjee over India’s prime minister , with 213 seats out of 294 , as opposed to 77 held by the BJP at the state legislative elections.
Some might argue that the Bharatiya Janata Party performed better in 2021 and the glass should be seen half full. If one compares 2016 with the 2021 elections , the party has claims to only 3 seats in the assembly as opposed to 77 in 2021 i.e 25 times the number.
Even with a significant loss , Modi’s party emerged as the main challenger to Trinamool in the state elections. Is this a moment to celebrate as disaster averted or consider this a massive defeat of sorts?
In the words of Sankarthan Thakur, the national affairs editor of the Telegraph ,
“ The counterblast from Bengal comes in the throes of a spiralled authoritarianism; it is marauding and it is untrammelled, More than once in our recent past , the baton of challenge has been picked [by the opposition ] , more than once has it been dropped“
But to some other authorities on Indian politics, the defeat of the BJP was catastrophic and something to talk about and analyse.
The hold of BJP over Bengal, according to them, is weakening, if one takes a look at 2019, when India held parliamentary elections , the party won a larger percentage of votes compared to 2021. Had the 2019 percentage remained steady , Bharatiya Janata Party would have won 121 state assembly seats in the 2021 elections ; 40 percent more than its actual score.
Neelanjan Sircar, a political scientist at Ashoka University said ,
“Since 2019 a lot of stuff hasn’t gone right for this government” . He further said , probably directing the statement more towards our Prime Minister than the party , “Systematic dominance requires you to prove your dominance. And when you can’t prove your dominance , you’re in a bad position .”
The world was sure of the second wave , and that it wasn’t going to be easy. Our prime minister however declared victory over Covid-19 in January this year. He relaxed stringent restrictions and the virus did the rest.
As the second wave took a demonish turn, rallies of the BJP still continued and with force. Mass rallies were held in West Bengal right beside the bodies, that were piling up. Some say had the BJP rallies not taken place the situation in West Bengal would have still remained under some control, but the public gatherings held by our PM and his members acted as a positive catalyst for the pandemic to spread its fangs over Bengal.
“ There is no doubt that the election process led to the spread of corona in West Bengal. Till February and March , Bengal had the disease under control. But as campaigning started with large crowds and people coming in from affected states, cases started shooting up”, said Punyabrata Goon, a physician of West Bengal, to Scroll.in (an Indian publication).
Bharatiya Janata Party under the leadership of our PM Narendra Modi’s core strategy is targeting Hindus (80 percent of India’s population )and sideline the Muslim minority. Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee , however, wants to be the face for the poor and the women population ;she skillfully places her bet on the gender inequality and massive income disparity in a highly populated country like India.
Strategically her focus is closer to people ‘s hearts. Did this add to the fact that the people of Bengal want to see a Bengali as their leader and BJP failed to produce a face?
Even with MP Swapan Dasgupta, MP Locket Chatterjee and the dancing star of the 80s, Mr.Mithun Chakraborty fell short in front of Mamata Banerjee.
Her work for the villages and the poor, the fact that a woman loves to see another woman in power , she feels she will be aptly heard, all worked in favour of Bengal’s sitting chief minister.
In a 2021 report , V-Dem, the leading quantitative assessment of global democracy downgraded India from a democracy to an “electoral autocracy”.
Just prior to the election, India recorded an alarming 3,629 deaths in 24 hours. In Kolkata, Bengal’s capital city, test positivity rate was 50 percent. Severe shortages of oxygen, ICU beds, lackadaisical approach to the vaccination campaign, with only 2 percent of the country’s population vaccinated by April 30, not to mention the full force with which the rallies and crowd pulling events continued, it was a “crime against humanity”, aptly put by writer Arundhati Roy.
The maddening focus on the election campaigns , whilst totally ignoring and aggravating the poisonous spread of the pandemic , resulted in not just a defeat, but a defeat by a very large margin.
Is this India’s reply to have been called an “electoral autocracy?”, a welcome sign that democracy still lives, and power lies in the hands of her people?
A propeller for the sweeping win of Mamata Banerjee, was the stellar strategy that backed her party. The people centric campaigns from “Didi ke Bolo “ ( Didi as Mamata Banerjee is referred to , and ‘bolo’ as in tell her or talk to her ) to “Duare Sarkar “ (translated as ‘government at your doorstep)
, spelt magic in engaging with the public.
Even with the men and machinery army of the BJP , “ Bangla nijer meye ke chai “ ( TMCs slogan that Bengal wants her own daughter ) rang bells and how! Madam Banerjee's focus on women worked wonders , as every woman felt she could relate to this iron lady, feel protected by her . “Banglar Gorbo Mamata” ( The pride of Bengal is Mamata) , touched the cultural chords of the people.
These catchy slogans showcasing strategic campaigns , made for a solid platform to ensure a win for the TMC in Bengal.
National politics are in for a massive change.
The Hindu-Muslim strategy of the BJP doesn’t seem to a perfect fit in every state especially in a state like Bengal and the predictability of the strategy is getting frowned upon by the voters.
The covid mis-management has cast a major question mark on credibility of BJP. A party whose leader is the Prime Minister of the country should at least lay its primary focus on a life threatening national issue , rather than on polishing their campaigns and rallies-is something that every national of this country would now want.
A reboot for Modi-Shah and Bharatiya janata Party could be to possibly revamp their strategies , re-establish the Prime Minister’s image as the ‘vikash purush” and dedicate their focus entirely on pushing the pandemic away.