West Bengal election 2021: How TMC is countering BJP’s polarisation bid - Hindustan Times
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West Bengal election 2021: How TMC is countering BJP’s polarisation bid

ByRoshan Kishore and Abhishek Jha
Mar 27, 2021 10:50 AM IST

The Trinamool Congress’s ticket distribution strategy in the forthcoming elections – it is the only party to have declared all its candidates so far – shows a clear pattern that it is trying to counter BJP’s strategy.

On March 9, West Bengal chief minister and All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) leader Mamata Banerjee recited from Hindu scriptures (Chandipath) while addressing an election rally in Nandigram, where she will face protege-turned-challenger Suvendu Adhkari on April 1. Banerjee’s act was an effort to counter the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) religious polarisation strategy in the state. “Those who are playing the Hindu-Muslim card, I would like to tell them clearly that I am also girl from a Hindu family. Don’t play the Hindu card with me,” she said.

Overall, the TMC has fielded fewer Muslim candidates in 2021 than in 2016(AP)
Overall, the TMC has fielded fewer Muslim candidates in 2021 than in 2016(AP)

While the theatrics associated with Banerjee reciting religious hymns might have grabbed the headlines, the Trinamool Congress’s ticket distribution strategy in the forthcoming elections – it is the only party to have declared all its candidates so far – shows a clear pattern that it is trying to counter BJP’s strategy. The biggest proof of this is the fact that the TMC has dropped Muslim candidates in assembly constituencies (ACs) where the BJP did better in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in comparison to the 2016 assembly ones.

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Overall, the TMC has fielded fewer Muslim candidates in 2021 than in 2016

On March 5, Banerjee announced the names of 291 candidates for the 2021 elections. The TMC has decided to leave three ACs in the hill region for its smaller allies. An HT analysis of TMC candidates in the 2016 and 2021 assembly elections shows that it has fielded 45 Muslim candidates in 2021 compared to 54 in 2016. A subregion wise analysis of the TMC’s candidates, when read with 2016 and 2019 election results, shows that these decisions might have been driven by careful political arithmetic.

HT has classified West Bengal into five subregions: Hills, North Bengal, Central Bengal, South Bengal and Jangalmahal. Of these, South Bengal is the biggest subregion with 167 out of the total 294 ACs in the state. West Bengal is the second largest state after Assam in India in terms of share of Muslim population. Twenty-seven per cent of the state’s population was Muslim according to the 2011 census. But Muslim population is not distributed uniformly across the state. When read with subregion wise share of Muslim population, the TMC’s selection of candidates, both in 2016 and 2021, seems to be in keeping with political geography.


South Bengal, where the stakes are highest, has seen the biggest fall in number of TMC Muslim candidates

Where exactly has the TMC dropped its Muslim candidates? There are 42 ACs where it fielded a Muslim candidate in 2016 and has also fielded one in 2021. There are 3 ACs where Muslim candidates were not fielded in 2016, but have been fielded in 2021, and there are 12 ACs where the TMC fielded Muslim candidates in 2016, but has replaced them with a non-Muslim candidate in 2021. A subregion analysis of such ACs shows that south Bengal alone accounts for eight out of the 12 ACs where the TMC fielded a Muslim candidate in 2016 but has put up a non-Muslim in 2021. Not only is south Bengal the biggest subregion in the state, it is also the only area where the BJP did not perform well in 2019 Lok Sabha polls.


Did the BJP’s rise in 2019 play a role in the TMC dropping Muslim candidates? An analysis of 2016 and 2019 results at the AC level seems to suggest so -- while it is also entirely possible that the candidates have been chosen on other criteria. After all, the TMC has not given tickets to 27 sitting MLAs this time.

This analysis classifies the state’s 291 ACs, where the TMC is fielding candidates into four categories: no TMC Muslim candidate in both 2016 and 2021, Muslim TMC candidate in both 2016 and 2021, Muslim TMC candidate in 2016 but non-Muslim in 2021, and non-Muslim TMC candidate in 2016 but Muslim in 2021.

A comparison of median vote shares –the middle value in a given distribution – of the TMC and the BJP reveals an interesting pattern. The BJP increased its vote share in each category; this is to be expected since its overall vote share jumped from 10.2% in 2016 to 40.2% in 2019. However, the TMC’s vote share (in 2019) increased only in ACs where it fielded a Hindu candidate in 2016 but has replaced them with a Muslim in 2021, or where it fielded a Muslim candidate in 2016 and is also fielding a Muslim candidate in 2021. A comparison of TMC’s advantage over the BJP, measured by a ratio of their respective vote shares in these ACs in 2019, also reveals a similar pattern. The TMC had the smallest advantage in 2019 over the BJP in ACs where it has dropped a Muslim candidate for a non-Muslim one in 2021 and the largest advantage in ACs where it has dropped a non-Muslim candidate to field a Muslim one.


There is subregion dynamic in TMC’s candidate selection.

To be sure, the headline numbers above hide subregional variations. A subregion-wise disaggregation shows that it was only in South Bengal and Central Bengal that the TMC suffered a decline in its 2019 vote share in ACs where it had put up a Muslim candidate in 2016 and has replaced them with a Hindu candidate in 2021. In North Bengal, the TMC actually significantly increased its vote share in such ACs between 2016 and 2019. However, even in North Bengal, the TMC had the smallest advantage over the BJP (in terms of ratio of 2019 median vote shares of TMC and BJP) in ACs where it fielded Muslim candidates in 2016 but has replaced them with non-Muslims in 2021.


Is this an effort by TMC to counter the BJP’s tactics of religious polarisation by tactically replacing Muslim candidates with Hindus?

Perhaps.

Will it work?

That will only be known on May 2 when the results are declared.

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