With Bharatiya Janta Party’s (BJP’s) top brass campaigning aggressively from one state to another, you will be forgiven for thinking that India’s leaders give more time to electioneering than solving actual issues. The sad part is that India seems to be on continuous election mode and when, two years ago, the ruling BJP led NDA government proposed for ‘One nation, One elections’, it was thumbed down by the opposition. So are BJP’s campaigning efforts at West Bengal going to be worth their time? What are the factors that will decide the Bengal elections?
Bengalis are easy-going people, who do not prefer the daily nonsense.. like bandhs, vandalism, blockades, protests, aggressive discourses from leaders, knee jerk decisioning etc. The party whom they perceive as ‘likely to give them lesser daily headaches’, will get their votes. All they want is ‘Aami shanti chai baba’…which is not easy in the current months as Trinamool Congress (TMC) sees this election as a do or die battle for its existence. The current BJP team has now built a reputation of disintegrating, and further breaking down, its opponents with every election. Now that BJP has released their entire artillery of leaders to campaign at Bengal, desperation has hit the state’s ruling party. Can Bengalis afford such a party at the helm who are a worried lot? Or should they go for stability (read BJP)?
2. The decades of Anti CPI(M) sentiment
There is a big group of Bengalis who, between 2000-2011, have put a lot of faith in Mamata’s TMC to remove CPI(M), after 34yrs of trying to adjust with the Left. A big chunk of these voters, loyal as Indian voters generally are, are likely to continue placing faith on Mamata and won’t vote for BJP.
3. Where do the CPI(M) Vote base go?
Who will the CPI(M) vote base go for? In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, a big chunk of them voted for BJP. But it is a known factor that vast majority of the people of India prefer voting for PM Narendra Modi in Parliamentary election, but need not necessarily do so in state elections. As seen in the graphic above (source: The Times of India), the saffron surge at Bengal has been rapid during the Lok Sabha elections. But whom will the CPI(M) vote base vote for in the upcoming state elections?
There is a section of Bengalis who are worried about the excess Bangladeshi migrants infiltrating into Bengal, this century; and (what they see as) excess appeasement of Mamata’s TMC towards Muslims. This is where the proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill, or whatever the person on the ground perceives of it, is likely to swing votes for BJP.
However these Bengalis are not necessarily ready to tilt the balance completely and welcome any radical Hindutva agenda either. Bengalis are progressive-minded and generally secured about their religion, language and community. This is one of the first communities that were open to ‘love marriages’ in the 1980s, much before the rest of India had opened up. Any ‘Hindutva insecurity agenda’ is not likely to upset the apple-cart here. If anything, the Bengali bhadralok may prefer more focus on arts, culture and literary areas, than religion.
There are certain parts of Bengal which are regressing and have extremely poor law and order situation. This is one strong reason why the Bengali, who has seen or suffered medieval-style violence, lately, may opt for BJP, hoping for more stability. During the CAA protests, Bengal’s shops, trains and buses burnt more; and not much action was taken to stop the rut, either.
Development agenda doesn’t seduce Bengal, as much as it should. Around 110 years ago, Calcutta was the capital of India, but has rapidly fallen in stature since; and that hasn’t bothered the locals much. Smart/talented Bengalis are quick to pack their bags and move out of the state. You will struggle to find too many successful friends still residing in Kolkata. Hence BJP’s development agenda may not have as many takers as BJP would like to believe. Time and again the TMC government has blocked Central government schemes from reaching the common Bengali and yet not much fuss or protest happened on ground. Perhaps it was tied to ‘the fear of violence’ factor- if so, the votes will go to BJP in a big way. If not so, then TMC are well in!
8. Muslim vote base
West Bengal’s 30% Muslim vote base on paper, looks divided. However the majority of Muslim men will likely vote for Mamata’s TMC. If any of them were thinking of voting for BJP, for sake of development, the ill-timed rise in fuel and LPG prices in the run-up to the elections, would have got some of them to make a U-turn.
9. Women vote base
Bengal has 49% women voters and the average Bengali women likes independence in thought and progress in life. BJP has put several sops for women in their manifesto, which would encourage women, and specifically Muslim women, to vote for them.
A very unsaid factor that could decide is how Bengal handled Covid-19. Around mid-last year, there were enough reports and videos suggesting that Mamata’s TMC government were hiding a lot of data, corpses and healthcare gaps, all over West Bengal. Families or communities that may have suffered from Covid negligence are likely to vote for BJP.
At the least, BJP will make serious inroads into Bengal; but will finish second to Mamata’s TMC. Either way, PM Modi and BJP will benefit a lot, from these elections and will significantly increase their vote share for the 2024 Parliamentary Elections, from West Bengal.
Date for West Bengal Election 2021 results: 2nd May 2021.