Here’s a sequence of events that shows the rise of the BJP in the most unlikely state in India — West Bengal.
May 12 — On the last day of polling in the Lok Sabha elections at Haroa in North 24 Parganas, a group of around 100 CPI(M) supporters is attacked on their way to the booth by Trinamool Congress supporters.
May 15 — A day before counting, there’s still no sign of any CPI(M) leader at the village. Instead, former CM and the party’s chief campaigner Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is seen speaking on the works of author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, at Kolkata press club.
June 9 — Left Front chairman Biman Bose leads a 12-member delegation to CM Mamata Banerjee to complain about political violence. Banerjee, unmoved, says the Left leaders have failed to manage their flock.
She made only one conciliatory gesture — indicating to Bose and his comrades that the BJP was the common enemy, for now.
The BJP is a unique experience in Bengal’s milieu, as it has very little shared political history in the state — excepting a short-lived despair over the death of Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh.
But this time, political pundits were stunned by the BJP’s score of 17% vote-share against only 6% in 2009. Later, it appeared that the party managed to capture — besides the imagination of the urban middle class — the vacuum that the Left had left.
Siddharth Nath Singh, BJP leader in charge of Bengal, said, “By extensive rigging, TMC deprived us of at least 10% votes. Add it to our 17%, deduct it from their 39% and see the difference.”
But what led to the vacuum ? “The Left parties have decomposed,” said a die-hard supporter of CPI(M) Anathbindu Das, 78, who may skip voting in 2016.
He said, “We could not digest the atrocities in Singur and Nandigram. We’re also apprehensive of the Congress and the TMC, as we have witnessed the lawlessness in the 1970s.”
BJP MP from Asansol, Babul Supriyo, detected a combination of positive hopes and negative reasons. “In Narendra Modi, people found a leader whom one can trust and who can deliver. Secondly, the people of Bengal were completely disillusioned with the Left and a growing section has no hopes from what they have seen of Mamata Banerjee in the past three years,” he told HT.
Amal Kumar Mukhopadhyay, a political commentator, said, “The people of Bengal have always been radical and given no ground to fundamentalist forces. Yet, the disillusionment this time is so strong that they are veering towards the saffron camp.”
He predicted that Kolkata civic polls in 2015 and assembly polls in 2016 will “quickly establish the BJP as a major force in the state.”
Predictably, BJP had the biggest impact among the educated middle class that can read direct benefits in Modi’s growth story. In both seats of Kolkata, BJP was the second party after Trinamool edging out the CPI(M) and Congress.
Already, in the Bhawanipore assembly constituency, part of south Kolkata Lok Sabha constituency, which houses both Banerjee’s assembly constituency and residence, BJP had a lead over the TMC candidate. It has a lead in 22 assembly seats right now.
BJP’s rise has been so fast that Banerjee is detecting a BJP hand in every incident — from the killing of her party supporters to the murder of a jute mill CEO.
The BJP, in order to go beyond its staple Hindu vote-bank, is now eyeing Muslim votes. The pitch: Forget Godhra and post-Godhra violence. Scrutinise the condition of the Muslims in Gujarat and in the BJP-ruled states.