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Lok Sabha election results 2019: Behind BJP’s Bengal inroads, months of planning, silent toil

As the end of the counting of votes, the BJP had won 18 seats with a vote share of 40.23%, improving its 2014 performance of two seats and 17% vote share. Trinamool’s tally is down to 22 seats from 34 in 2014.

lok sabha elections Updated: May 24, 2019 14:39 IST
A well thought out strategy, well-oiled party machinery and months of rigorous preparation stood the BJP in good stead in the election.(Arijit Sen/HT Photo)

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has made deep inroads into West Bengal in a blood-stained election and shaken the foundation of chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) in its own backyard.

As the end of the counting of votes, the BJP had won 18 seats with a vote share of 40.23%, improving its 2014 performance of two seats and 17% vote share. Trinamool’s tally is down to 22 seats from 34 in 2014.

A well thought out strategy, well-oiled party machinery and months of rigorous preparation stood the BJP in good stead in the election.

The effort started in 2015 when BJP chief Amit Shah, who had taken over the reins of the party a year before that, deputed two leaders to accomplish Mission Bengal. BJP general secretary, Kailash Vijayvargiya, a veteran from Madhya Pradesh, and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader, Shiv Prakash, also the party’s joint organisational secretary, were sent to Kolkata.

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“The party lacked a face, the organisational structure was weak and workers lacked a killer instinct,” a BJP functionary in New Delhi said on condition of anonymity. Shah personally monitored improvement on each of these fronts.

The number of BJP mandals — the smallest unit of the party — increased from 452 to 1,280 in three years, expanding the number of stakeholders within the party set-up. The state was divided into five zones — Uttar Banga, Navadeep, Rar Banga, Hooghly Midnapur and Kolkata — with each of them comprising about eight Lok Sabha seats.

Another RSS volunteer, Arvind Menon, who, for years, oversaw the building of the party’s organisation in Madhya Pradesh, soon joined the other two leaders. Odisha BJP leader, Suresh Pujari, was also drafted in.

But the return of Mamata Banerjee as chief minister in 2016 and the BJP’s poor show in the assembly elections came as a blow. The BJP’s vote share dropped from 17% in the 2014 parliamentary election to just 10.3% in the 2016 assembly election.

“We realised what was wrong and started working on it,” a BJP leader who is part of Mission Bengal said, requesting that he not be identified as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

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The next several months went into putting a team in place in the 78,000-odd poling stations in West Bengal. By then, this number was in the range of 25,000.

“We managed to build a team of grassroots workers on every booth and it helped increase our footprint in Bengal. Today, we have our organisation in 60-65,000 polling stations,” Vijayvargiya said.

All this while, Vijayvargiya would take on Mamta Banerjee on political grounds and Shiv Prakash would stay in the background to provide logistical support. Mass contact and organisational meetings took place simultaneously.

The party had now expanded in West Bengal and it was time to add muscle to it. The BJP tapped prominent politicians who were sulking in the Trinamool. Former railway minister, Mukul Roy, of the Trinamool was a big catch in 2017, and the one-time close associate of Banerjee helped the BJP identify potential leaders who could cross over. More than two dozen prominent leaders, including MPs and MLAs, have joined the BJP since then.

First Published: May 24, 2019 09:04 IST

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