3 crucial takeaways from Bengal results
Of the 292 ACs for which results have been declared, TMC and BJP won 290 . This is unprecedented in the history of the state and suggests that this election was the most polarised election West Bengal has ever seen.
By scoring a hat-trick in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee’s All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) has demolished the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) hopes of getting a foothold on India’s eastern coast. In terms of vote share, the TMC’s 2021 performance is perhaps the best ever in history of West Bengal. The TMC has a vote share of 47.9%, the second highest vote share for a single party in West Bengal’s history after the Congress’s 49.1% in 1972, an election in which the opposition alleged large-scale rigging and intimidation. While the BJP has recorded its best ever performance in an assembly election in West Bengal with 77 ACs and a 38.1% vote share, it has suffered reverses compared to its 2019 Lok Sabha performance when it won 121 ACs with a vote share of 40%. Is there more to the West Bengal results than these headline numbers? An HT analysis shows that three important features stand out.
2021 was not among the most polarised elections in West Bengal
Of the 292 ACs for which results have been declared, TMC and BJP won 290 . This is unprecedented in the history of the state and suggests that this election was the most polarised election West Bengal has ever seen. Only, a look at the usual statistical measures of polarisation does not support such a conclusion. Among the most popular measures of polarisation in an election is the concept of Effective Number of Parties (ENOP), which is the reciprocal of sum of squares of vote share of each candidate in an assembly. A simple example can explain what the ENOP does. Let us assume there are three candidates in an AC and they get 50%, 25% and 25% of the vote. This will give an ENOP of 2.7. If the vote shares were to change to 50%, 40% and 10%, which suggests a more polarised election, the ENOP comes down to 2.4.
While median -- it measures the middle value in a distribution and is less likely to be distorted by extreme values on either side -- ENOP in 2021 is higher than its historical value, it actually dipped to 2.46 in 2021 from 2.56 in 2016.
The ENOP trends also find a reflection in other indicators of bipolarity such as median vote share of candidates in the third position or number of ACs where spoilers were in play. Candidates or parties are said to have played spoiler if they come third in a constituency and their vote share is higher than the victory margin . While both these numbers have fallen slightly between 2016 and 2021 they are higher than what they have been in the past.
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This suggests that the restoration of bipolar polity in the state; from a TMC versus Left-Congress contest to a TMC versus BJP contest, could still be a work in progress. This entails a further reduction in the support base of both the Left parties and the Congress in the days to come.
Communal polarisation was real, but TMC aced the challenge
Muslims account for 27% of West Bengal’s population. This means that the BJP’s success was largely contingent on a consolidation of the Hindu vote. That Mamata Banerjee herself has lost the election in Nandigram, an AC which has around 35-40% Muslim voters is the biggest proof of the communally charged nature of these elections. TMC’s Suvendu Adhikari, who contested on the BJP ticket this time, won Nandigram in 2016 with a vote share of 67.2%. Adhkari’s vote share has come down to 48.5% this time compared to Banerjee’s 47.6%.
The TMC’s emphatic victory does not mean that there was no communal polarisation in these elections. What it means is that the TMC actually aced this challenge. It created a complete consolidation of Muslim votes, and managed to generate headwinds for Hindu polarisation behind the BJP. This is best explained by a simple statistical exercise. We disaggregate the TMC’s overall vote share at the level of districts. For example, the South 24 Parganas district alone gave the TMC a state-wise vote share of 5.93% in the 2021 elections. As is obvious, adding the vote share for each district will give the TMC’s headline vote share number in the state. Between 2016 and 2021 TMC’s district-wise vote share went down in nine districts and increased in 10 . For this analysis, the 19 districts given in the 2011 census have been used. When the change in TMC’s district-wise vote share is read with the share of Muslim population in each district, it shows a very high positive correlation. The TMC’s vote share increased from 4.2% in 2016 to 7.4% in 2021 in the districts of Murshidabad, Malda and Uttar Dinajpur; the top three districts by share of Muslim population. While the TMC did suffer losses in Hindu majority districts, they were much lower. Here, the TMC’s goodwill from welfare schemes and its edge among women voters, as was pointed out by political scientist Neelanjan Sircar in these pages, might have played an important role. To be sure, in hindsight, the “soft-Hindutva” strategy of Mamata Banerjee reciting religious chants and hopping temples might have also played a part. (See Chart 1)
BJP’s losses were spread across the state, but the lowest among SC voters
There is no point in comparing the BJP’s 2021 performance with 2016, as it was a very small political force then. Compared to 2019, the BJP has lost two percentage points in terms of vote share in 2021. This has led to a loss of 44 ACs for the party. The reason why the BJP has suffered disproportionately in terms of seat share is that the TMC also managed to get more votes from the Left-Congress alliance. The BJP has lost vote share in all but three districts of the state. However, disaggregating the BJP’s performance by Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) and unreserved ACs highlights an important point. Both in 2019 and 2021, the BJP’s performance, both in terms of vote share and seat share, in SC-ST reserved ACs was better than the unreserved ACs.
While the BJP has lost ground in all types of ACs between 2019 and 2021, its losses are lowest in the SC reserved ACs.
This suggests that the party enjoys a higher support among the socially deprived sections in the state, something which it can build on in days to come. (See Chart 2)