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India General Elections 2019: Can BJP do well in West Bengal?

  • Published at 10:27 am May 14th, 2019
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Supporters of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wave the party flags during an election campaign rally being addressed by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, India, on May 8, 2019 Reuters

Unlike the four other states neighbouring Bangladesh, It is difficult for BJP to make significant inroads in West Bengal due to religious demography

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has done exceedingly well in state assembly elections in four states neighbouring Bangladesh – Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura – following its historic victory in the 2014 elections for Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Parliament, with the power to govern the country for five years.

But the party, which – according to many – achieved victory in 2014 riding on “Modi Magic,” could not do as well as it expected in West Bengal, the largest Indian state sharing border with Bangladesh.

However, the ruling party, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, won more seats both in the state assembly as well as in the Lok Sabha. Share of their votes also increased in West Bengal, but not as much as in the other four states neighbouring Bangladesh.

In 2009 elections, the BJP won only one seat in the third largest state in India, which sends 42 members to Lok Sabha. BJP managed to secure two seats in 2014 elections in the Hindu majority state.  

In 2016 state assembly elections, it won only three seats while the All India Trinamool Congress, led by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, won a landslide victory. In the 2011 elections to state assembly, which is called Vidhan Sabha in Hindi, BJP did not win any seat.   

However, in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Modi’s BJP emerged as the largest party in the state of Assam with 14 MPs. It captured half of the seats, more than double of what it carried in 2009 elections. The following year, the ruling party formed the government in Assam, ending a long-time rule of All India Congress. 

Last year, BJP won a landslide victory in Tripura against Communist Party of India (Marxist), which had ruled the state for two decades. In the 2013 state elections, BJP did not have a single lawmaker in the assembly.

At the end of last year, the ruling party, which had earlier been a bystander, made significant inroads in two states neighbouring Bangladesh – Meghalaya and Mizoram. In Meghalaya, BJP is a part of the alliance that is ruling the state, and it has one minister in the government. BJP, however, could not win any seat in Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram; there are only Lok Sabha seats in these three states.

The success of the ruling party, in four out of five states bordering Bangladesh, is believed to have come because of the image of Prime Minister Modi, his well-coordinated and tactical advantages and, most importantly, floating the idea of Hindutva (Hinduism) in India, which, according to its constitution, is a secular state.

Of course, the failure of Congress, the grand old party in India, cannot be overruled.

An overwhelming majority of people in Bangladesh are worried about the rise of BJP in the neighbouring states, as they fear that extremism, and ill feelings towards Hindus, who constitute the second largest religion after Islam in the country, will rise.

Now, Bangladeshis are eagerly waiting to see how the BJP fares in the Lok Sabha polls in West Bengal, which sends the third largest group of members – 42 to be precise – to the lower house, followed by Uttar Pradesh with 80, and Maharastra with 48.

Speaking to Dhaka Tribune, the editor of a renowned daily, a senior journalist and a university professor in India observed that, given the trend of BJP’s advancement in a decade or so, it is obvious that in the ongoing elections, BJP is most likely to do better than 2014.

They said it remains to be seen whether BJP’s gains come at the expense of the All India Trinamool Congress, or All India Congress, or the leftist parties.

Asked about the reasons behind BJP’s surge, the experts said the majority of the Indian people are still not properly educated, and religious appeal always attracts this segment of a society.

However, that does not mean that the educated segment is free from this problem, they cautioned.

The individuals, however, said it would be difficult for the BJP to make significant inroads in West Bengal as more than a quarter of the population there are Muslims, who are all but determined to not vote for BJP, and the state has been run by leftist parties for a long time.