Poll fever is peaking in Bengal with stars from the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Trinamool Congress already campaigning heavily in the state.
While Prime Minister Modi addressed a mammoth rally at Brigade Parade in Kolkata on Sunday, March 7, Bengal Chief Minister led a padyatra against cooking gas price hike in Siliguri.
Both the leaders exchanged barbs and made personal attacks against each other. Modi quipped what if Didi’s scooty falls in Nandigram? Didi charged that the country knows of only one syndicate and that is Modi-Amit Shah syndicate.
A ‘poll of polls’ conducted by shows a marginally hung Assembly situation, with TMC at 141 seats (7 short of majority), the BJP at 128, Mahajot (Congress-Left Front alliance) at 22 and Others at 3 seats.
Political pundits, commentators and some surveys predict a very close contest in Bengal.
Both, the TMC and the BJP have many things working in their favour as also working against them. The Bengal election is 294 mini battles between candidates of main formations plus one grand battle between Mamata Banerjee on the one side and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on the other.
The BJP has gained at the expense of the Left Front in Bengal and that too primarily during the last general elections as can be seen from the table below.
BJP’s vote share has increased from 2% in 2006 Vidhan Sabha (Assembly) polls to 41% in 2019 Lok Sabha polls, an increase of 39%.
During the same period Left Front’s vote share has declined by 41%.
BJP and Left Front Vote Shares Over the Years
However, the vote share of the Left Front as well as Congress (which secured 6% in the 2019 general elections) has bottomed out and any further erosion is not possible. Some of this vote share can be recouped by the Left in the state elections.
As per C-Voter opinion poll, the TMC’s current vote share is 43% (same as general elections), the BJP’s 38% (-3% when compared to the general elections), Mahajot 13% (at same levels) and Others at 6%.
To win the elections from here, BJP needs another 5% vote share. Given the above dynamics, ‘Mahajot’ bottoming out and ‘Others’ already at very low levels, this needs to come by making a dent in the TMC vote bank.
Here’s how can BJP win Bengal from here on:
1. Protect the vote share recorded in 2019 general elections
We have seen in past state elections that the BJP is unable to hold onto the vote share received in general elections. This is primarily due to the fact that state elections and national elections are different in character. Due to the bi-polar nature of the election, the BJP can’t afford to lose even a single percentage of votes received during the Lok Sabha polls.
2. Hope Mahajot & AIMIM make dent in TMC’s minority vote
The minorities, which account for 27% of the state population, have overwhelmingly (65%) backed the TMC. The Mahajot, with the help of newly inducted Furfura sharif’s party India Secular Front (ISF) and Assaddudin Owaisi’s AIMIM, is eyeing this vote bank.
In a highly polarized atmosphere, where the BJP has vowed to throw out illegal Muslim migrants, charging Mamata Banerjee of minority appeasement, we could witness tactical voting by the community. They would back the candidate who is in the best position to defeat the BJP.
3. Wean away poor and lower class voters from TMC
Traditionally, the BJP has been a party which has received the support of the middle and the rich class of voters. However, the pro-poor schemes of Narendra Modi government — such as PM Awas Yojana, Ujjwala Yojana, Ayushman Bharat, PM Kisan Nidhi, Jan Dhan Yojana, Mudra Loans and Direct Benefit Transfer of subsidies — have ensured that BJP receives highest support from the poor and lower strata of society.
Majority of the poor class supporters of the Left have moved to the TMC after the Nandigram and Singur movement. This section of voters need to be targeted by the BJP through attractive promises in the manifesto.
The BJP has been attacking the TMC for non-implementation of the central schemes for the poor. ,
4. Bring undecided voters onboard
In any election, there are 12%-15% voters who make up their mind only at the last moment. For them perception is very important: who’s ahead, more visible, which party has reached out to them, who is running a better campaign — these are some of the questions that help these voters make up their minds.
The BJP is ahead in the perception battle, as per C-Voter survey and now has to convert this into votes for the party.
5. Make sure it gets majority vote of outsiders
The TMC has launched an ‘insider versus outsider’ campaign, branding the BJP as a party of outsiders and alien to Bengal’s culture and history. It has also launched ‘Bengal’s own daughter’ campaign playing on the Bengali pride factor.
Almost 15% of the state population is ‘outsider’ having come from different states and settled there. The BJP needs to consolidate this vote segment and make sure there are no leakages.
Dedicated and structured efforts on these five fronts can see the BJP home in the ensuing elections.