West Bengal’s got election fever, with the three main contenders raising the stakes and going in for the final kill. The BJP ‘tasted blood’ in the 2019 general elections, where its vote share more than doubled.
Therefore, the BJP is confident that it has a fighting chance to dislodge Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, riding on anti-incumbency, a poor track record of her government, rampant corruption among its lower ranks, and of course, the popularity of Prime Minister Modi.
It is essentially using the same tactics it used against the Congress at the national level — banking on charges against the grand old party — of corruption, dynastic politics and minority appeasement.
Initial opinion polls show Mamata’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) as moving towards a simple majority. However, the BJP may gain comfort from the fact that the party’s recent track record has not been spotless, and the actual tally has been way off / lower, in most cases.
Not Much Scope for BJP to Make Further Dents in Left-Congress Base
The BJP has gained primarily at the expense of the Left Front in the state, its vote share witnessing an increase from 6.1 percent in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections to 40.6 percent in 2019. During the same period, the Left Front’s vote share has declined from 43.3 to 7.5 percent.
The Congress, on the other hand, received 5.7 percent vote share in 2019. The Left Front and the Congress have formed a Mahajot and their vote share has bottomed out now. Further, their vote share is concentrated in nature.
This is their core vote share, and almost half of this is accounted for by the voters belonging to the minority community.
65 percent of votes received by the Congress in 2019 were from just 6 Lok Sabha seats, meaning 42 Vidhan Sabha seats, mainly in three districts of Malda, Murshidabad and Uttar Dinajpur.
One-third of the Left Front’s votes were from just 7 seats, meaning 49 Vidhan Sabha seats.
The ABP-C-Voter opinion poll shows that the Trinamool Congress will get 43 percent vote share, BJP 38 percent, Congress-Left alliance (Mahajot) 13 percent and Others 6 percent. The Mahajot is seen retaining its vote share of the 2019 general elections (7.5 + 5.7 percent = 13.2 percent).
This means that there is not much scope or potential for the BJP to make further dents in the Left-Congress support.
The Right has emerged as the new Left, with most of the latter’s upper caste, Matua, adivasi and OBC voters having shifted to the saffron party.
The BJP can’t win a bipolar election with 38 percent vote share, as predicted by C-Voter. It needs another 5 percent to win, and that has to come from the TMC.
How the BJP Can Get An Additional 5% — That Too From TMC
The 19 MLAs who have joined the BJP from the TMC are expected to bring some TMC supporters along with them. Big names like Suvendu Adhikari could provide a boost to the BJP’s prospects in many seats in South Bengal.
In any election there are 12-15 percent undecided voters who normally decide whom to back, very close to the elections. They normally go with the hawa. The BJP will need to raise the pitch and go for the kill, to attract these fence-sitters.
Currently, two-third of TMC voters (translating to 30 percent vote share) are erstwhile Congress voters — since Mamata left the grand old party. Another one-third (translating to 15 percent vote share) are erstwhile Left Front voters, essentially belonging to the poor and lower socio-economic class.
This exodus was on account of the perceived corporatisation of the Left and their anti-poor policies, especially in Singur and Nandigram. This is the vote bank which the BJP needs to tap into.
Traditionally, the rich and middle classes have supported the BJP. In 2014, the BJP won votes from the lower middle classes as well. The new voter for the BJP in 2019 was mostly from the poorer segments of society.
Way Forward for BJP in Bengal
The Hindu right wing party’s pro-poor central schemes have swayed this class of voters towards the BJP. In the post-pandemic era, the dependence of the poor on the central government has increased, due to the dwindling financial position of the states.
The party could work on this segment.
It has already announced that it will transfer Rs 18,000 to farmers’ accounts from the PM Kisan Nidhi Scheme — the benefits of which have been denied to them thus far.
Owaisi’s AIMIM and the Furfura Sharif cleric’s party ISF could make a dent in the vote bank of the TMC in minority-influenced seats, thus, giving the BJP an outside chance.
To sum up, making further dents in the Left vote is not really possible for the BJP, and it has to now target the TMC vote bank if it wants to win the elections.
The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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