Lack of local leadership, minority votes to TMC led to BJP’s loss
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which fell considerably short of its target of winning 200+ seats in West Bengal, has attributed its loss in the high decibel, high expectation election to a clutch of factors, primarily to the sharp coalescence of the minority votes in favour of the TMC and the lack of local leadership.
Several senior leaders who spoke on condition of anonymity said the party’s performance cannot be dismissed, since it has shown a huge improvement in taking its seat tally from three in 2016 to 77 in 2021; but the extent of the electoral shock was not anticipated.
Commenting on the election outcome, a senior party leader said the performance cannot be pinned on the narrative set by the central leadership alone, as factors such as the absence of a “face” to take on a “formidable” incumbent chief minister Mamata Banerjee was a key factor.
Union home minister Amit Shah, the chief strategist for the WB election who campaigned extensively in the state along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president JP Nadda and several Union ministers, had told HT that the target of 200+ seats was not an overstatement, but based on the party’s performance in the 2019 general election when it won 18 seats in the state.
“There was a palpable clamour for change (on the ground). But as the election progressed, particularly after phase four, we realised the communal polarization had taken a very sharp turn and that the (minority) votes that were traditionally with the Congress or the Left have also consolidated their might behind the TMC,” said a second party functionary.
To buttress the claim, the functionary cited the example of Murshidabad and Malda considered Congress bastions with over 50% minority votes that have been breached by the TMC.
To be sure, the BJP too had worked out its own election strategy to band together the Hindu votes by wooing the SC and the STs that make up for about 30% of the state’s population and were credited to have contributed to the BJP’s performance in 2019. (As per 2011 census, STs are about 5.8% o and SCs about 23.51 % of the total population in WB.)
BJP’s WB in-charge, Kailash Vijayvargia said, “The BJP lost because the Congress and the CPM completely surrendered to the TMC they did not fight the election and destroyed themselves to stop the BJP, so it became a bipolar contest between the BJP and the TMC. Mamata Banerjee wrote a letter to all the parties to unite against the BJP, NCP’s Sharad Pawar play a lead role in this…Another reason is that the Muslim vote was totally polarised. While we were being accused of polarising the election, it was Mamata Banerjee who appealed to the Muslims to come together.”
As the party gears up to don the mantle of the opposition in the state, a quick analysis has red-flagged issues such as lack of leadership on the ground, weak cadre, and infighting that the party will have to address.
“While the strategy of not announcing a CM may have worked in other states, it failed in Bengal. Another, challenge was the mismanagement in the local team, the failure of those sent from the Centre to work together with the local leaders,” said the first functionary.
Citing an example, the functionary said, ticket distribution was contentious; the party had to change candidates (such as economist Ashok Lahiri) owing to pressure from the local units. The party will have to focus on building its cadre on the ground and grooming leaders instead of relying on turncoats. “There were many candidates who were given tickets, but lacked the skills required to contest. Also, the anger among the cadre for giving turncoats a ticket in a state where political violence has left the BJP bleeding did not go down well,” said the first functionary.
The party has also identified its failure to woo the women voters despite announcing sops such as job reservation. “Traditionally, PM Modi and the social schemes such as free cooking gas and toilets have won the BJP support from the women. Here, they preferred the state’s schemes over the Centre’s,” said a third leader.
Commenting on BJP’s performance, All India Trinamool Congress’ education minister in the outgoing government, Partha Chatterjee, said, “The BJP lost primarily because Bengal does not accept outsiders. People have complete faith in the leadership and commitments of Mamata Banerjee.”