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Friday, September 24, 2021

Lessons for BJP in Bengal rout, Assam success

The result of the 2021 Bengal assembly poll is a befitting lesson on the electoral havoc which Hindu disunity and Muslim consolidation can cause. Apply the template to the national level and what you have is a recipe for the country’s balkanization in the not so long-term. Break-Bharat forces have long been active in states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh.

It will be churlish to deny that Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress won a spectacular victory. Winning a third straight term with a two-thirds majority despite 10 years of rogue rule could not have been possible without getting a few things right. Grabbing the entire 30 per cent of the Muslim vote held the key.

Didi’s blatantly pro-Muslim policies and hurried course correction after the reverses in the 2019 Lok Sabha poll on the advice of her poll consultant and strategist Prashant Kishor paid off. His prediction that the BJP would struggle to reach 100 was based on stark electoral arithmetic. The saffron campaign pitch, he said, was confined to 70 per cent of voters while the TMC had the entire field to itself.

That a sizeable section of Bengali Hindu voters would stay with the TMC seems to have been overlooked. There is a hardcore communal cross-section of voters (Aamra Bangali), both cultured and crude, who have never reconciled themselves to the probability of a cow belt party running Bengal. But the very same bunch have no qualms being ruled by a party of goons and a foul-mouthed termagant presiding over the state’s destiny.

The BJP’s hope of a Hindu consolidation against the TMC lacked basis. This is despite Didi’s open contempt for Hindu sentiment. She knew only too well that Bengali Hindus would never vote en bloc for the BJP given their lack of religious conviction and the intellectual air of superiority of the pretentious bhadralok social class bred on western values. The “Say no to BJP” campaign was essentially initiated by this class.

Kishor’s observation that it is difficult for the BJP to win elections wherever the ratio of Hindu-Muslim numbers is 7:3 or 6:4 is grounded in hard reality. Winning in such a demographic scenario requires getting the lion’s share of the Hindu vote, a virtual impossibility in Bengal (and, indeed, much of Bharat) given the obliviousness of Hindus to the Muslim demographic threat in a growing number of pockets.

The BJP’s refusal to openly champion Hindu interests is nothing but a long-term death wish. Time it woke up to the prospect of being pushed out by an anti-Hindutva coalition which includes Hindus. Disenchantment among committed Hindu voters with the Modi regime has been growing in geometric progression. Around 140 party workers have been killed in political violence in Bengal, but there is nothing the party has done to offer their families any assurance or help other than mouth platitudes. The impression is that the BJP likes using its workers to win elections, but not investing in their security and welfare.

Not for nothing is Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath being increasingly looked upon as an option. His ascension in the party hierarchy will necessarily depend on his ability to win a second term in 2022 without a significant shrinkage in assembly seats: 325/403. Retention of such a majority will not be easy.

It is extremely doubtful if the right lessons from Bengal’s defeat will be imbibed, obsessed as Narendra Modi is about projecting a statesman like image of himself in the western media which continues to paint him as a nationalist Hindu villain. It is difficult to find a single good thing liberal media pillars like NYT, WaPo, Guardian, BBC, CNN, Guardian have said about Bharat since he came to power seven years ago. And yet he continues his pointless efforts to win their admiration.

The outcome in Assam, where the caste and religious divide is even more complex and Muslim numbers larger, was exactly the reverse albeit not a landslide. Here the BJP knew well that it had no chance of returning to power without going all out to consolidate its Hindu vote bank given the fallout over the CAA and NRC.

The focused approach bore fruit because every caste and community within the Hindu fold was treated as one composite whole. Individual identities were never given primacy as in Bengal where the party gave undue attention to coaxing and cajoling the Matuas and Mahishya communities neither of whom switched their loyalties to the saffron brigade.

The Assam triumph, admittedly, could not have been possible without the free hand given to the party’s master poll strategist, Himanta Biswa Sarma, one of the BJP’s finest acquisitions from the Congress. His presence ensured no strained efforts were made to supplant local culture and traditions with the Jai Shri Ram brand of Hindutva. As with Bengalis, it would never have been acceptable to Asomiyas who are just as protective of their culture.

It is true that in Bengal the party did not have a Sarma like figure, but the blunder the Modi-Shah duo made was in completely ignoring local leaders and superimposing themselves in the entire campaign. Even the party’s state president, Dilip Ghosh, a committed RSS pracharak, was treated as a mere appendage to Central leaders.

Ideally, it is Ghosh who ought to have released the party’s poll manifesto instead of Amit Shah and accompanied the prime minister in all his rallies. Reluctance to give primacy to any state leader did go down well with the cadre. Roping in a clutch of TMC dissidents and rewarding them with tickets also proved hugely unpopular. It is hardly surprising that all, barring Suvendu Adhikari, lost. Even he just about scraped though at Nandigram against his mighty opponent, Mamata Banerjee.

The BJP was confident of building on its 2019 success in Bengal with an accretion in the 40-41 per cent vote share. The 18 LS seats it won translated into 121 assembly seats. That it ended up with 77 showed the extent of the miscalculation. Just as the Congress had ignored the popularity of schemes like Ujjwala and Jana Dhan when assessing Modi’s chances of returning to power in 2019, the BJP ignored Didi’s handouts and course correction initiatives like Didi Ke Bolo (Tell Didi) and Dware Sarkar (government at your doorstep).

The Puducherry based French writer and Hindutva activist Francois Gautier offers the most sensible advice to the BJP though there are others who have said the same in the past: Work for the people who elected you and do not try befriending those how hate you – just be neutral to them. Nothing is more foolish than to think that Muslims and Christians will ever vote BJP, much less Modi, except in minuscule numbers.

Gautier also suggests that the BJP change its media team given the utter failure of the currently lot. It is extremely doubtful that the PM has the foggiest idea of where things are going wrong though his allergy to uninvited counsel from others is well known. The French journalist and blogger, in fact, had offered his services along with few others to help the party build a narrative to take on it enemies with greater aggression, but not welcomed.


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Sudhir Kumar Singh
Sudhir Kumar Singh is an independent journalist who has worked in senior editorial positions in the Times Of India, Asian Age, Pioneer, and the Statesman. Also a sometime stage and film actor who has worked with iconic directors like Satyajit Ray and Tapan Sinha.

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