Mamata Banerjee finally landed a surprise. She left the entire India in shock, even the powerful ruling BJP, which had been considered invincible till now. She turned the election results of West Bengal in her favor, making two points clear. First, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is not invincible. Secondly, she will be the main catalyst of any future alliance against the BJP.
But Mamata's victory doesn’t necessarily negate the fact that BJP also made new inroads in West Bengal’s politics.
Question is how BJP gained a stronger foothold in West Bengal? How did that happen?
In between 2011 and 2021, the BJP seems to have crossed a galactic distance in a decade in West Bengal.
How did the Bengalis, who had long (34 years to be precise) supported left politics, and then lent support to Mamata’s TMC, have also developed a formidable support for a right-wing party like the BJP over the past few years?
In India’s central politics, BJP formed a first coalition government years back under the leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee. And currently BJP continues to rule India for successive two tenure under Prime Minister Narendra Modi despite the fact this Sangha Parivar-backed Hindu revivalist party is no match to the Trinamool Congress, the Left or the Congress – when it comes to mean progressiveness, non-communality in politics.
But never in past, BJP enjoyed such popularity in West Bengal. Even before the 2016 legislative assembly elections, the party did not win any seats in this Indian state. In the 2016 elections, BJP won 3 seats for the first time.
In the 2019 general elections, the BJP won 18 seats. And this time the BJP has advanced further in the assembly elections by winning 77seats – 38% of the vote.
In other words, the percentage of votes of the party is gradually increasing!
Besides, the BJP is slowly establishing its presence at the panchayet and municipal levels.
According to the senior Indian journalist Jayant Ghoshal, today's rise of the BJP in West Bengal is not just for the Hindu slogan called “Jai Shri Ram.” This rise of the BJP is not just for religious polarization. This rise of BJP is not only for Hindutva. It is not that the Bengalis are supporting the BJP in order for the BJP to form a Hindu state. Each of these issues must be part of the BJP’s entire plan as a factor. But that is not the only reason why the BJP has flourished in West Bengal.
With every ruling party there is always an opposition party. In the past, the Communist Party of India - Marxist (CPM) was the ruling party in West Bengal and the Congress was the opposition. The place of the opposition was later taken by the Trinamool Congress.
Then the Trinamool Congress became the ruling party. The CPM and the Congress were supposed to be in the opposition, but that did not happen.
In 2019, a large part of the CPM’s vote went to the BJP.
In the 2019 general election, out of 40.64% of the BJP's votes, about 13% came from the Left and 7% from the Congress. This swing is even greater when the “Hindu vote” is taken into account.
According to CSDS-Lokniti data, the BJP got 57% “Hindu votes” in the 2019 elections, whereas in 2014 it had got 21%. In the case of the Left, the “Hindu vote,” which was 29% in 2014, declined to 6% in 2019. In the case of Congress, this vote fell from 6% to 3%.
However, not only the “Hindu vote,” but also the rise in people's dissatisfaction toward the ruling Trinamool helped to increase the strength of the BJP.
BJP’s attempt to occupy West Bengal is not new. Atal Behari Vajpayee had been doing it since the time of LK Advani. But what have Modi and Amit Shah done to make the BJP so important politically today?
August 9, 2014 marked the beginning of a new phase in the BJP’s resurgence. It was the first day of the first National Executive Committee meeting since the party’s election victory earlier in May that year. Amit Shah was elected party president that day.
Shah delivered a lengthy speech on the day. He spelled out in detail the direction of the party, program, goals and the structure of the party.
He announced that he would be active in the rise of the BJP in West Bengal because if the BJP was to be a pan-Indian party, then it had to increase its strength in West Bengal, South India and the Northeast. On the same day, he said that he would give priority to West Bengal.
The BJP was working in various districts of West Bengal with various organizations of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Banbasi Samiti, and education organization of RSS. The BJP tried to convey to people the image that it wanted to experiment with a new kind of political party in West Bengal.
When the CPM was the ruling party, the Trinamool was the alternative. Now the BJP has become that alternative.
The BJP is also trying to send a message to the middle class and the elites that the nationalism it is talking about will build a strong state. But at the same time it will not show separate political allegiance to the minority. It will work for the development of all.
Partition has happened once in India. But it has happened “twice” in West Bengal.
As a result, issues such as the Hindu-Muslim divide, refugees and infiltrators are quite sensitive here. The BJP has tried to exert its influence in that place.
BJP’s brand of politics is often dubbed as ‘communal’. But what have the secular parties done to counter this politics? The controversial activities of the Trinamool Congress over the last ten years and their shortcomings are also one of the reasons for the BJP’s inroads.
In order to deal with a pan-Indian party like the BJP, which has voting machines like Modi and Shah, a strong long-term strategy has to be adopted.
Otherwise, the BJP’s winning streak in West Bengal will be further prolonged.