Opinion, Politics

The rise of the BJP in West Bengal

This article first appeared on April 16, 2017 at Rightlog.in and was published under the title: “Mamata used to be super-confident about her victory, not anymore” The original article is available here: (Click to read)

The Kanthi Dakshin by-poll result in West Bengal is significant in more ways than one. While the result itself followed the script in the sense that Mamata and the TMC won with a landslide and in fact with an increased vote-share percentage, the performance of the BJP and its candidate SourindraMohon Jana came as a surprise to political commentators and as a jolt to the TMC and more particularly the Congress and CPI (M).

The numbers tell the story – The TMC candidate and former minister Chandrima Bhattacharya won the seat with 95,369 votes. The BJP candidate, SourindraMohon Jana, came second with a whopping 52,843 votes, 32% vote-share and a 22% increase in vote-share (over the BJP vote-share the previous year). Both the Left and Congress were decimated with both candidates losing their deposits. The Congress candidate got only 2,270 votes, an all-time low. So did, the CPI (M) with just 17,423 votes.

In the 2016 election, the TMC got 93,353 votes, the BJP 15,223 and Left Front (the congress and the left fought the election jointly under an alliance) 59,469 votes in this constituency. In 2017, the Congress and the CPI-M fought on their own and against each other as well.

A dispassionate analysis of this by-poll brings out the following key points:

  1. There has been no erosion in the TMC vote-share. In fact, the TMC has managed to increase its vote-share by 2% over last year
  2. The BJP has increased its vote-share by a whopping 22% to leapfrog over the Congress and the left to become the second largest party and gain the mantle of the leading opposition to the hegemony of TMC in West Bengal
  3. The left and the Congress have been reduced to fringe players with candidates of both parties losing their deposits.
  4. The Congress without the Left has been reduced to a paltry 2,270 votes
  5. Interestingly the BJP has not been able to make any dent in the TMC vote-share – the BJP has gained at the expense of the Left and the Congress – what has happened is a vote-transfer from the Left and the Congress to the BJP.
  6. The Modi-factor which was in play in this assembly election has managed to decimate the Left and the Congress (both national parties) but has not managed to eat into the TMC and the Mamata-wave highlighting that in State elections while national leaders can swing votes, the need for a strong regional satrap is crucial.
  7. Mamata and her brand of minority appeasement has led to the first stage of Hindu consolidation that has led to a swing away from the Left and the Congress and in favour of the BJP – an indication that the electorate believes that it is the BJP alone that would be able to safeguard the interests of the Hindu majority
  8. The TMC has managed to retain almost the entire Muslim vote bank (estimated to be at 30% in West Bengal) and this en-bloc vote share along with the votes of those sections of the population that remains entrenched in the Leftist-liberal ideology has managed to keep the TMC unscathed for now.

In the Table below we provide a snapshot of how the West Bengal elections have played out over the period 2011 through 2017 (starting from when Mamata broke the Left stranglehold on West Bengal). It is interesting to note that both in 2011 and 2016 it is only the TMC and the BJP that have similar vote share percentages for both parameters measured: Average state-wide share of vote percentage (the first number shown in the table against that row) versus the vote-share percentage measured only in those seats/constituencies that the party has contested in (the second number shown in the table). This could reflect two things:

  1. It is only the TMC and BJP that have been able to garner support across the state while the Left and the Congress are slowly getting squeezed out of large parts of West Bengal and have to rely on pockets
  2. It could be a reflection of seat-sharing adjustments

Either way the writing is clearly on the wall for both the Left and the Congress in West Bengal.

Year Poll Vote Percentage (%) Modi Factor
2011* Assembly 4.06% 38.93% 30.08% 9.09% NA
4.14% 50.15% 41.39% 42.67%
2014 Lok Sabha 16.93% 40% 22% 9% High
2016* Assembly 10.16% 44.91% 19.75% 12.25% Medium
10.28% 45.18% 38.4% 40.37%
2017 Assembly by-polls 32% 55% 10% 1.3% High
2016 Kanthi Dakshin constituency Assembly polls 8.75% 53.7% 34.2% Medium

Notes on Table:

  1. *2011 and 2016 vote percentage data gives two numbers – The first number is the vote percentage obtained by a party across the state and the second number reflects the vote percentage obtained by a party in the seats contested by the party.
  2. Data from Table is primarily obtained from the Election Commission data/report available online.
  3. In 2016 Assembly elections, the BJP and the CPI-M were in alliance – this explains the apparent discrepancy in vote share percentage numbers and actually reflects the vote-share of each party in only the seats they contested
  4. NA = Not applicable

Now coming to the BJP – what does this result signify? It shows that they have managed to capture the imagination of a section of the Hindu population who are disgusted with the kind of partisan politics being practiced by Mamata and the TMC and the silence of the Left and the Congress and have therefore shifted their allegiance from the Left and the Congress to the BJP. However, the BJP must look at why they have still not been able to make a dent into the TMC’s core constituency – the left Bhadralok (who have decisively switched allegiance to the TMC from the Left) and the Muslims.

As for the TMC and Mamata – should they be worried about the rise of the BJP? The answer is a resounding “Yes” – Mamata being the shrewd politician she is, has already realized this as can be seen from her recent tweets on Ram-Navami.

However, she will continue to be hamstrung by her need to cater to her core Muslim constituency as can be seen by her silence on the brutal police crackdown on Hanuman Jayanti celebrations.

In the two years leading up to the Lok Sabha elections followed by the assembly elections we should expect greater Hindu consolidation around the BJP. If the next elections are a four-cornered fight with the Congress and the Left fighting the elections separately we should expect the Left and the Congress to be decimated and the contests being reduced to a straight fight between the TMC and the BJP.

However, for the BJP to be a greater force to reckon with in the future, vote-share percentages alone will not suffice particularly in our political system of “First past the post”. It would require:

  1. A greater consolidation of Hindu votes around the BJP
  2. Anti-incumbency against and disenchantment with appeasement politics of the TMC
  3. Desire of the electorate to become part of the mainstream and align with a party that can represent the State’s interests at the state and centre and importantly be less confrontational in its attitude towards the dispensation at the centre.

While making predictions in politics is always fraught with danger what can be however said with certainty is that the 2019 Lok Sabha elections will truly be a watershed election more so than the 2014 elections. As someone said, “We truly are living in interesting times”



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.