BJP weathers TMC storm in north Bengal By Bappaditya Chatterjee

·5-min read

Kolkata, May 5 (PTI) Though the BJP failed to dislodge Mamata Banerjee from power, the saffron party managed to weather the TMC storm emerging triumphant in 25 of 42 constituencies in six districts of the region in the high- octane assembly elections.

Nevertheless, the result was below BJPs impressive performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls when the saffron camp was ahead in 31 assembly segments in Cooch Behar, Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, Uttar Dinajpur and Dakshin Dinajpur.

The BJP won seven of nine seats in Cooch Behar where five people were killed, including four in firing by CISF personnel, during the fourth phase of polling, while it bagged four of seven constituencies in Jalpaiguri, five of six in Darjeeling and whitewashed the ruling party in Alipurduar district which has five assembly segments.

However, the saffron party emerged victorious from only one of nine seats in Uttar Dinajpur, and three of six in Dakshin Dinajpur.

The tally of winning seats for the saffron party in north Bengal looks 'reasonable even after the overall setback', political analyst Subhomay Maitra said.

The work of the RSS, helped influence tribal communities in northern districts of the state, helping the BJP gain popularity among people giving the party better results, compared to the south, Maitra said.

The saffron camp has developed its organisational strength in several north Bengal districts and grown there organically, while in the south, more TMC rebels were inducted to combat the ruling party, Rabindra Bharati University Political Science professor Biswanath Chakraborty said.

According to him, the TMC's narratives themed around 'Bengali pride' and 'insiders versus outsiders' did not help the ruling party in north Bengal as a cosmopolitan culture exists in hills and Dooars region where people did not see the 'BJP as a party of Bahiragato (outsiders)'.

The BJP had also inducted leaders from various local outfits, stitching alliances with social groups, such as the Rajbanshis in Cooch Behar, to consolidate their foothold. Koch Rajboshis have a long history of seeking a separate Kamtapuri, and upholding of their language.

The saffron party even wrested the Sitalkuchi seat where four people were killed as central forces had opened fire allegedly after coming under attack from locals on April 10, the day of polling, from the TMC. BJP's nominee Baren Chandra Barman defeated Partha Pratim Ray of TMC by over 17,000 votes in this constituency.

During the 2019 general elections, the TMC, however, had remained ahead in the assembly segment by around 1,200 votes and won it in the 2016 Bengal polls.

'The saffron party's identity-based politics, particularly relating to Rajbonshi people in north Bengal and Matuas in the south, helped the party, said Maitra.

However, despite an attempt at religion-based polarisation, there was no state-wide consolidation of Hindu voters, he explained. 'A section of them, who believe in a more liberal society or are familiar with the urban culture, somehow did not relate with the BJP's campaign. This trend, which is prominent in southern states, was not reflected much in the north, ' Maitra told PTI.

Moreover, the credibility of Trinamool Congress leaders, including two ministers who could not retain their seats, in north Bengal, was at stake as they failed to play their leadership roles, Chakraborty said.

At a time when turncoats in southern districts lost their election battles this time, north Bengal witnessed a contrast with many BJP candidates, who switched over from the TMC, proving to be giant slayers.

'Barring a few, several TMC rebels in north Bengal joined the BJP well before the assembly polls, contrary to what happened in southern districts. This augured well for the saffron party in the northern part of the state,' Chakraborty told PTI.

North Bengal Development Minister Rabindranath Ghosh conceded defeat by over 23,000 votes in Natabari seat in Cooch Behar to his former party colleague Mihir Goswami who joined the saffron camp last year.

State tourism minister Gautam Deb, who was seeking re-election from Dabgram-Fulbari seat in Jalpaiguri, lost to the BJP's Sikha Chatterjee by over 27,500 votes.

Chatterjee, a former state committee member of the TMC, left the ruling party in 2018.

Veteran CPI(M) leader Ashok Bhattacharya from Siliguri, conceded defeat to Shankar Ghosh, his former protege who joined the BJP a few weeks before the polls.

The ruling party managed to woo back GJM leader Bimal Gurung, who holds sway in many assembly seats in the hills and 11 Gorkha communities, but this effort seemed had its limitations as the BJP won five seats of the Darjeeling.

According to political observers, growing resentment against the TMC government over 'atrocities' perpetrated during the 104-day agitation in the hills in 2017, helped the BJP cement its foundation.

The ruling camp had managed to fare well in the 2016 state polls when it bagged 24 assembly seats but the subsequent general elections in 2019 saw the trend change in favour of the BJP, which won all the six Lok Sabha seats in the six districts.

The TMC supremo, however, was able to halt the saffron camp's chariot in the region to a considerable extent and improve her party's tally there, vis-a-vis results in the general elections held two years ago.

The Mamata Banerjee-led party which had stayed ahead in just 11 assembly seats in the six districts of north Bengal in the 2019 polls managed to bag 16 constituencies there.

PTI BDC JRC JRC