A conflation of the Lok Sabha with the assembly constituencies in Bengal will reveal that of the 294 assembly constituencies in Bengal, the BJP won 130, but came a distant second in 53 and third in 46.
The party now needs to concentrate on about 50 of these 99 seats it lost where Bengali Hindus can swing the 2021 polls in its favour.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has set an ambitious target of winning 250 of the 294 assembly seats in Bengal in the 2021 elections.
To achieve this, or even a simple majority of 148 seats that will bag Bengal for the party, the BJP needs to win over Bengali Hindus, or the bhadraloks, in the urban areas. Without garnering the support of this section, the BJP cannot hope to come to power in Bengal.
The ongoing membership drive by the party has a stark truth: that the BJP is yet to make inroads among the middle-class and upper middle-class Bengali Hindus, especially in Kolkata and its surrounding urban areas.
This matter was discussed at the party’s ‘chintan baithak’ in Durgapur last weekend. It was decided that senior leaders, including state president Dilip Ghosh, would personally lead membership drives in these areas.
The BJP in Bengal has made spectacular gains and garnered a very impressive 40.5 per cent vote-share in the recently-concluded Lok Sabha polls, winning 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats from the state.
But almost all the gains were from North and Central Bengal, and it was only in some parts of South Bengal that the BJP could put up a creditable performance. South Bengal, thus, continues to be a Trinamool bastion.
However, even in areas of Kolkata where the BJP came a close second to the Trinamool, the party’s ongoing membership drive has evoked a lukewarm response. The only reason for this can be that while many may have voted for the BJP in the national elections where issues are different, they are reluctant to join the saffron party before the assembly polls that will be fought on local and state issues.
The Trinamool has been quite successful so far in evoking Bengali pride among them and in projecting the BJP as a ‘Hindi heartland’ party with an overtly Hindutva ideology.
This is exactly what the BJP needs to deftly demolish by crafting a narrative that is different from the strategy it has employed so far.
The BJP’s current strategy hinges on showcasing the scrapping of Article 370 and triple talaq, highlighting its promises of bringing about a uniform civil code, Citizenship Amendment Bill, implementing the National Register of Citizens (NRC) updation exercise in Bengal, lawlessness and corruption in the state and on attacking the Trinamool for its failure to bring about investments, create jobs and managing the state’s economy.
But that is not going to be enough to win over the bhadraloks (a generic term for the middle and upper middle class Bengali Hindus) who are yet to feel an emotional connect with the saffron party.
Admittedly, many a bhadralok would have voted for the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls, but most would have done so out of disgust for the Trinamool over its corrupt ways, high-handedness, misgovernance as well as Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s mercurial and whimsical nature.
The challenge before the BJP is to shed the perception among the bhadraloks that it is a Hindi heartland party. And, more crucially, highlight the fact that modern-day Hindutva and Hindu resurgence had its roots in pre-Independence Bengal.
The BJP needs to highlight the teachings of Sri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay and a pantheon of prominent Bengalis who present-day bhadraloks revere.
The BJP must, through seminars, rallies, mass contact programmes, door-to-door campaigns and intensive interactions with citizens, point out that most of the stalwarts of Bengal Renaissance were staunch Hindus who spoke and wrote about the glories of ancient Hindu civilisation and advocated reawakening amongst Hindus.
The BJP has to undertake a massive programme to make the Bengali Hindu aware of and take pride once again in their Hindu roots, culture and traditions.
Most Bengali Hindus, for instance, are unaware of the fact that Swami Vivekananda advocated reawakening of the Hindus as the basic foundation for building a strong nation.
Communists who wrote school and college syllabi and textbooks after Independence deliberately concealed this and highlighted only one aspect of Swamiji’s teaching about all religions being equal.
Bengali Hindus need to know more about the life and work of Jana Sangh founder Shyama Prasad Mookherjee and his Bengali associates. They need to know that many other stalwarts in the fields of arts, literature, humanities and sciences were staunch Hindu nationalists.
It is only through such a campaign that the BJP can build a strong emotional connect with the middle and upper middle class Bengali Hindus living in the urban areas of the state, especially in South Bengal.
The saffron party also needs to be very careful about defectors from other parties that it inducts within its fold.
The induction of a controversial and tainted Trinamool MLA, Manirul Islam, and some others in recent months created a lot of serious rumblings within the party.
Basking in the glow of its good performance in the Lok Sabha polls, the BJP in Bengal threw caution to the winds and roped in many with shady credentials from the Trinamool and other parties. The party leadership has, since then, been left severely embarrassed when the Trinamool managed to win back the defectors.
A conflation of the Lok Sabha with the assembly constituencies in Bengal will reveal that of the 294 assembly constituencies in Bengal, the BJP has won convincingly in 130 assembly segments and came a very close second in 65 others. But of the remaining 99 assembly segments, it came a distant second in 53 and third in 46.
All these are either in Muslim-majority or urban areas.
The BJP needs to now concentrate on about 50 of the 99 seats where Bengali Hindus can swing the 2021 polls in the party’s favour.