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Thursday, November 30, 2023

BJP’s loss in West Bengal neither unique nor reflective of a major political change

Since the recently concluded Assembly elections, a host of political analysts and so-called experts have jumped in, cheering at the defeat of the BJP in West Bengal. DK Singh of The Print claims that Indian politics will never be the same again and that this is “Modi-Shah’s biggest flop show”.

Another said that it was “game over” for Modi-Shah-Yogi, while a repeatedly failed commentator predicted that important cabinet ministers and ex-CMs, who she claims had been “neglected”, may stage a revolt. And finally, someone added that the growing anger of BJP workers in West Bengal after the results showed that the party was losing out among even its followers.

In response, the growing anger of BJP workers has got nothing to do with the loss of the elections. Obviously, the party’s supporters are extremely disappointed at the defeat, considering the high-voltage campaign its leaders put in. But their anger is due to the lack of any decisive action taken by the BJP leaders at the center after the massive violence perpetuated by TMC goons that resulted in BJP workers and supporters being brutally beaten, some of whom lost their lives, women being raped and molested, and a large exodus of people  some to comparatively safer areas of the state and others to neighboring Assam.

Many questioned the central leadership’s lethargy in taking any action against Mamta and leaving their own people to the wolves.

Why did BJP lose West Bengal?

Coming back to the loss of the BJP in WB, there are no second thoughts that it was a terrible defeat, with the party’s vote base shrinking by more than 3% as compared to Lok Sabha elections of 2019, and its leads in assembly segments shrinking by 44 seats.

Many reasons can be attributed,

a) last LS elections, the large Matua Namashudras voted overwhelmingly for the BJP due to the party’s promise of CAA, one and half years after the bill was passed by parliament, it has yet to be implemented. They felt cheated and a bulk of their votes shifted back to TMC;

b) While Suvendu Adhikari was the giant killer of the elections defeating Mamta, just 6 of the 146 defectors given tickets won the elections. Obviously, the electorate wasn’t impressed with voting for the same person but with a different party. The same people that the party criticized when they were part of TMC, were suddenly running on the Lotus symbol. Its another point whether the party could have managed a win under the leadership of its “original” state leader, Dilip Ghosh. Did he have the charisma to take over Mamta? Whatever, it doesn’t seem that the party gained much from the ex-members of Mamta;

c) Failure to present a CM face – against Mamta, who? This was a dilemma for BJP no doubt as it wouldn’t have been easy for the party to find someone who could counter a character like Mamta, but in similar scenarios in Delhi’19, and Bihar 2015, faced against popular names like Kejriwal and Nitish, having no CM face proved a liability.

Against all these reasons, the BJP can also correctly claim that LS and VS polls are never alike. In  every single VS polls held between 2014 ~ 2020, the party’s vote share, even when they had won the assembly elections, had been lower than what they won in both the Lok Sabha polls.

However, the party cannot claim they lost because of Muslims consolidating against them. By now, every BJP karyakarta and neta should be well aware that Muslims are not going to vote for it, definitely not in places where they are in big numbers and their votes could make a big impact.

Granted that the Left and Congress space of around 13% votes in LS polls shrunk to 8%, and presumably some part of it was Muslim that went to Mamta, why wasn’t BJP able to procure the Hindu votes of the Left and Congress? Why wasn’t the BJP able to gain the Hindu votes of Mamta?

It was not Muslims uniting against BJP that saw the miserable performance of the party, but rather the failure of the party to own up itself as a party for Hindus that will speak for the benefit, interests and safety for the community.

Hindu consolidation is the only way

Many BJP supporters have been sharing a tweet of Prashant Kishore where he claims that BJP can never have good chances in winning in states where Muslim population is 30% and  above, because Muslims vote as one, Hindus do not. The intent of such supporters in sharing this message is that look, our leaders tried hard but since WB has 30% Muslim population, we didn’t stand a chance.

However, Prashant Bhushan can’t be so dumb as to forget that next door to West Bengal, BJP scored a victory in Assam, a state where the Muslim population today is anywhere between 37% – 40%. Against the Congress which had teamed up with the Muslim AIUDF party, in order to avoid  splitting the Muslim vote. Yet, the NDA not just returned to power, it also gained 5% in its vote share.

In 2019 elections, the BJP won 5 LS seats in UP which had between 30-35% Muslim population ~ Kairana, Bahraich, Muzaffarnagar, Meerut and Bareilly. This was despite the fact that SP, BSP and RLD had all joined hands together in order to avoid a split in Muslim votes. Muslims in UP voted en masse for them.

So the BJP cannot give this excuse.

Is the loss in West Bengal unique?

But coming back about BJP being finished after these State elections, it really astonishes me as to the level of political analysts in our country. It is of a very poor quality. Anyone who has basic understanding of the BJP under the leadership of Modi and Amit Shah know that the party takes every single election seriously right from municipal, state to national ones.

From the PM to a galaxy of national and state leaders, they all campaign in the innumerable elections. Yet, if one were to judge the party’s future on the number of elections that they have lost since 2014 – Delhi 2014, Bihar 2015, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry all 2016, Punjab 2017, Karnataka 2018, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan 2018, Delhi 2019 and Jharkhand 2020, then the party should have been dead long back.

In many of these States, its performance in Lok Sabha was fabulous – Delhi, MP, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand- yet they lost badly in State elections. These 5 States just named are actually among the core BJP states and a loss in them should have been more serious as compared to a loss in West Bengal, where they had never ever been in power or even come close to it.

Now if they were saying that Modi’s popularity would plummet due to COVID, then we can at least say that they may have a point. Leaders from Boris Johnson to Macron, Donald Trump to Bolsanaro saw their approval levels drop massively after COVID. It didn’t happen with Modi during COVID 1.0 as most people correctly thought that he had done an extraordinarily great job, but there are no doubts that this time around, the COVID has been far more ferocious and though the people and State governments have a big role to play in things getting out of control, the Central government under Modi cannot be exonerated.

So, while opinion polls aren’t out yet, but if there was a dip in the party’s popularity, that would not be surprising. But results in West Bengal would have had nothing to do with it.

Assam and by-polls

The BJP’s return to power in Assam in a big way was underplayed by media. However, considering that it was up against 2 formidable foes, its battle this time around was far more difficult than last time.

In fact, last December, speaking with a keen political analyst and a strong party supporter, I was told the party was more confident of dislodging Mamta than retaining Assam because of the huge Muslim population and the herculean attempts needed to unite all Hindus. And yet, they won. It also serves a very important lesson for the party. Don’t worry about minorities determined not to vote for you. Its far more important to target getting all the Hindu votes.

Also, BJP managed to win Puducherry, a place where its vote share in the past had never crossed 3%, and which was being ruled  by the Congress. Had the Congress just held on to Puducherry, our national media would have been ecstatic about the “decisive leadership of Rahul Gandhi that saved the Congress”.

But alas for them, over here also BJP outsmarted Congress. Even though small, this union territory can prove to be an important springboard in the party’s long term ambitions to make a mark in Tamil Nadu, as a majority of the people here are Tamil speakers.

But even leaving aside wins in Assam and Puducherry, there were simultaneous by-polls in 13 Assembly and 4 LS seats across the country, and the results have shown more or less a status-quo for all parties. Congress snatched 2 seats from BJP, 1 in Karnataka and 1 in MP, but the latter seat was earlier held by a Congressman who later defected to BJP. But BJP also gained 3 seats – it gained a ST reserved seat in Gujarat with a massive vote share of more than 70%.

It took 1 seat from Congress in Karnataka. But most importantly, it defeated NCP candidate in Pandharpur, a strong bastion of the Pawars and the first assembly by-poll since the formation of MVA alliance in Maharashtra. And in Uttarakhand, where elections are due next year, the party retained Salt assembly seat with more than 50% vote share

Panchayat polls in UP

However, with the desperation in national media to find any ways to show that BJP is on the way out, comes this colorful title in India Today against the background of the results of the just concluded Panchayat Polls in Uttar Pradesh, “Semi-final 2022: The Lotus Fades in the Modi-Yogi bastion”.

A very catchy title no doubt, but quite worrying for a BJP supporter. But once one starts to understand what exactly are these panchayat polls, and how they are fought, then it reveals how such claims are hogwash.

For one, no political party fought this on their symbol, but instead declared support for various candidates. Fair enough. But, the most interesting part is that out of the 8.5 lakh combined seats, 3.17 lakh members were elected unopposed, that’s a whopping 37%.

Further, the biggest winner were not the candidates selected by the largest parties, but rather independents, who took more than 40% of the contested seats. And only among the balance of this 60% where there was a proper fight, did candidates backed SP win more seats than BJP, but it was not like a sweep. Other parties also did fairly well.

Due to COVID and other reasons, most of these polls didn’t see any kind of campaigning by the big leaders of any party. What was important was the local candidates. Some are even saying that many of the independent candidates who won were actually BJP rebels who didn’t get tickets.

What is extremely noteworthy is that while mainstream media screamed big losses for BJP, India Today acknowledged that the BJP surprised all by doing well in western UP – the epicenter of the “farmers rebellion”, including in Muzaffarnagar, the home of Rakesh Singh Tikait, who has been screaming and shouting since January. He was definitely the biggest campaigner in these panchayat polls, going door to door in western UP telling people not to vote for BJP, but these results will show that his appeals just doesn’t matter.

The claims of widespread support were just lies and deceptive. Tikait is a deluded person who even claims that West Bengal voted out BJP because of him appealing to the electorate on behalf of his voters not to vote for BJP. This joker actually was allowed some time in just one of the rallies of Mamta and he has since formed an impression that he was the cause of BJP’s defeat in WB – by speaking such words, he has lost the opportunity of getting  a free holiday courtesy the next time around.

In the 2015/16 panchayat polls, the BJP ended up at 3rd place, yet went to win one of the biggest ever landslides in UP’s history in 2017

In conclusion

In conclusion, whether there is anger against Modi or Yogi in UP is another matter, but definitely taking the results of these panchayat polls as a yardstick is a joke

Similarly, whether the handling of COVID will have an impact on Modi’s popularity or not, time will tell. But the loss in West Bengal’s elections had no connections to any loss of popularity in BJP. Those who are saying this have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.

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Nirmal Laungani
Nirmal Laungani
NIRMAL LAUNGANI is a Hong Kong businessman, Sanghachalak (President) of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, Hong Kong, and chief editor of Sandesh Bharati. Email: [email protected]


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