The BJP is headed towards imminent decimation in Bengal. If the results of the Assembly polls six months ago dealt a devastating blow to the party in the state, the outcome of the bypolls in four Assembly seats earlier this week was nothing short of a knockout punch.
There can be no disagreement with the view that the BJP—primarily its state and central leadership—has only itself to blame for the sorry state it finds itself in Bengal (read this).
Having conducted a very high-decibel and no-holds-barred election campaign led by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah against Mamata Banerjee and her party that ultimately fell flat on its face, the electoral blow it suffered six months ago stunned the BJP leadership into a state of paralysis.
Immediately after the declaration of Assembly polls results, when the BJP leadership ought to have stood by the thousands of hapless party workers who were being hounded, attacked, tortured and killed, it retreated into the safety of its shell and virtually abandoned the workers.
That is the primary reason the BJP is in the midst of this grave crisis in Bengal today. With the workers realising that their leaders were either disinclined or too scared to stand by them, thousands have left the party. A significant chunk of them have joined the Trinamool to save their lives and livelihood, and many have even joined the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)).
As a result, in most parts of Bengal, the party does not have active workers. The people of the state, including those who voted for the BJP a few months ago, seem to have lost confidence in the saffron party.
That is why the BJP faced humiliating defeats in the two Assembly seats it had won just a few months back. Of the four seats where bypolls were held, BJP candidates lost their deposits in three!
The Trinamool candidates won all four seats by record margins and in at least one constituency—Khardaha—the CPI(M) trailed behind the BJP by only a little over 4,000 votes. In the Assembly polls a few months ago, the BJP had got 34,751 more votes than the CPI(M) nominee in Khardaha.
In the Santipur seat, too, the CPI(M) trailed behind the BJP by 7454 votes. The BJP’s Jagannath Sarkar had won this seat earlier this year by getting nearly 1.10 lakh votes and defeated the Trinamool candidate by 15,878 votes.
Sarkar, who is the Lok Sabha MP from Ranaghat (Santipur is an Assembly segment within Ranaghat LS constituency), gave up his Assembly seat to retain membership of the Lok Sabha. In the bypolls, the Trinamool candidate defeated the BJP nominee by 64,675 votes.
Trinamool’s Jayanta Naskar won the Gosaba Assembly seat earlier this year (he later succumbed to Covid) and defeated his BJP rival by a moderate 23,709 votes. This time, the Trinamool candidate’s victory margin (over the BJP) was a little over 1.43 lakh votes!
The worst, however, was the Dinhata Assembly seat where BJP’s Nisith Pramanik (who is the Junior Home Minister in the union government) defeated Trinamool’s Udayan Guha by 57 votes. Pramanik gave up the seat to continue as a Lok Sabha member from Cooch Behar (Dinhata is an Assembly segment within Cooch Behar), and this time Guha defeated the BJP nominee by a whopping 164,089 votes.
These figures show that a huge section of the electorate have shifted their loyalties to the Trinamool within a span of just a few months. The BJP’s blase explanation that people did so out of fear is mostly untrue.
Apart from the fact that many in Bengal have developed a poor impression of BJP leaders due to their failure to show some spunk and stand up to the post-poll violence unleashed by Trinamool goons six months ago, many are also disillusioned with the BJP for its failure to deliver on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) to give Indian citizenship to Bengali Hindu refugees from Bangladesh.
This failure to notify the CAA, which Home Minister Amit Shah has repeatedly promised would be done “as early as possible”, adversely affected the party’s fortunes in Dinhata and Santipur that have a large number of Hindus of Bangladeshi origin.
The BJP has also alienated the indigenous Rajbongshis in Dinhata with its failure to deliver on the many promises made to them.
Simultaneously, the initial success of welfare schemes like Kanyashree and Lakshmir Bhandar launched by Mamata Banerjee have won over large sections of the electorate.
Add to this the steep rise in prices of almost everything, especially food, due to the (hen) spiralling fuel prices, the disillusionment with the BJP was complete. BJP leaders failed to explain to the electorate the reasons behind the rising fuel prices and that the Bengal government’s share of the taxes on fuel is more than the centre’s.
What must also be remembered is that a party needs workers at the ground level to campaign and mobilise voters. The BJP has few workers on the ground anymore, and that reflected in the bypoll results.
What should be the reason for great alarm for the BJP is that if the present state of paralysis continues, in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, the party will not be able to win more than a small fraction of the 18 seats it had bagged in 2019.
All, however, is not lost for the BJP and the party can still bounce back in Bengal. But for that, the party will have to take a few harsh and bold steps and recast itself as a brave challenger to Mamata Banerjee.
Here are the five steps that the BJP needs to take to arrest its decline in Bengal:
1. Show spunk and launch fierce resistance to the Trinamool:
The masses in Bengal respect those who can stand up to bullying and attacks. That’s why they overwhelmingly supported Banerjee who cast herself as the victim of ‘big bully’ BJP.
Banerjee fought the CPI(M) for nearly two decades, braving assaults by Marxist marauders and the state police, and she ultimately drove the communists to the margins in 2011. She soldiered on even when she was all alone, and she never allowed adversities to beat her down or dissuade her from her goal of dislodging the communists from power.
The BJP in Bengal needs to emulate Banerjee. Unfortunately, most state BJP leaders—save perhaps for Suvendu Adhikari and a handful of others—lack the daring and tenacity that is required for survival and success in the violence-ridden politics of Bengal. For its own survival, the BJP needs to go on the offensive in Bengal and take to the streets.
2. BJP Central leadership’s role:
The BJP central leadership should shed its inhibitions and back the state unit in taking the Trinamool bull by its horns. An offensive against the Trinamool in Bengal will, inevitably, invite a backlash and BJP workers will definitely face fresh attacks.
The BJP central leadership, and the union government, must then read the riot act to Banerjee. Unlike its inexplicable inaction during the post-poll violence, any further attacks on BJP workers should invite swift and firm action by the centre. Banerjee must be made to realise that the price she’ll have to pay for letting loose her goons on BJP workers and supporters will be very high.
Also, the corruption cases pending against Trinamool leaders, including Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek, must be followed through on a mission mode: pending investigations should be wrapped up, strong chargesheets prepared and filed and courts urged to expedite hearings. The union government has to ensure conviction of all the guilty.
3. Attack Mamata Banerjee on her policies and programmes:
Many of the welfare schemes launched by Banerjee—they propelled her to power for the third time—are floundering. The Maa canteens (meals @Rs 5) that she launched before the polls have all closed down, Swasthya Sathi is unravelling and a few others have tanked. It is only a matter of time till the ones that are still running will fold up due to their inherent flaws and Bengal’s near-empty coffers.
The BJP has to hit the streets to highlight these and Mamata’s many governance failures, her bungling of the state’s finances that has taken Bengal deep into the red, her complete inability to attract investments (especially big-ticket investments), the acute unemployment in the state and the corruption within the Trinamool’s ranks.
Personal attacks on Banerjee do not work, and BJP leaders should desist from uttering obnoxious and loose remarks (like this made by then state party chief Dilip Ghosh). These remarks only help the Trinamool chief gain more sympathy.
There are many substantive issues on which Banerjee can be put on the mat—her latest refusal to slash state taxes on fuel to bring down prices of petrol and diesel in Bengal being one—and the BJP needs to launch 360-degree campaigns around those. Simply issuing limp statements and holding token street demonstrations will not take the party anywhere.
4. Unequivocally project Suvendu Adhikary as the leader of the BJP in the state:
The BJP suffered in the Assembly elections earlier this year for its failure to project a chief ministerial candidate. There were multiple candidates within the party for the post and the party’s refusal to declare one as its nominee for the top post in the state only confused the electorate.
In the absence of a chief ministerial candidate, it became a Modi-versus-Mamata battle that, obviously, hurt the BJP.
The BJP central leadership has done well by removing Dilip Ghosh from the state party president’s post and replacing him with the soft-spoken Sukanta Majumdar who is also Balurghat Lok Sabha MP. This has been done to ensure that there is no friction between the leader of opposition Suvendu Adhikary and the state party chief.
What the BJP central leadership needs to do now is keep Ghosh away from Bengal. Every time Ghosh makes a public appearance or makes a statement, he triggers an erosion of support for the party.
Adhikary, who has shown the spunk to take on Banerjee and is a good organiser, has the requisite courage and skills to head an offensive against the Trinamool. He should be backed to the hilt by the BJP top leadership and given a free hand to craft and lead the offensive.
At the same time, BJP central leaders should remain and work behind the scenes when it comes to Bengal. The centerstage taken by the party’s Bengal minders, primarily Kailash Vijayvargiya, during the election campaign cost the party dearly. BJP central leaders or those from outside the state should resist the urge to hog the limelight and asked to remain anonymous.
The BJP had unwittingly played into Banerjee’s hands through its high-decibel campaign spearheaded by Modi and Shah who made multiple visits to the state. A galaxy of top leaders of the BJP from New Delhi and other states campaigned extensively in Bengal, so much so that state party leaders were completely overshadowed. This helped Banerjee portray herself as ‘Bengal’s daughter’ under attack from ‘outsiders’. The BJP should avoid repeating this terrible mistake.
5. Start delivering on poll promises:
A substantial section of people who had voted for the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls—the Matuas, tribals of Jangalmahal and the tea gardens of North Bengal, Rajbongshis, Hindu refugees from Bangladesh and even many among the Gorkhas—have become disillusioned with the saffron party for its failure to keep its promises.
The union government, for instance, is yet to implement the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and grant citizenship to Hindu refugees from Bangladesh even nearly two years after its enactment by Parliament in December 2019. Blaming the pandemic for the delay (read this) does not cut any ice with the electorate.
Similarly, many other promises made to the tribals and tea garden workers, the Gorkhas and the Rajbongshis remains unimplemented. The BJP has to take immediate steps to start implementing them and win back the support of these sections of the people.
If the party can take these bold steps, which are undoubtedly tough and will also test the leadership’s daring, resolve and endurance, it can bounce back in Bengal. Time, though, is running short.
As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.
Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.
We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.
Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.