From The Ground: Ten Reasons Why BJP Lost Bengal (And Doesn't Seem To Learn From The Defeat)
What message does it send to party workers when the central leadership says nothing on the violence perpetrated on the cadre during the 2018 panchayat polls?
What message does it send to the voters of Bengal when despite returning 18 MPs from the party, not a single one of them was considered worthy of being included in the Union Cabinet?
Much has been written about Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) loss in Bengal, various causes and factors have been analysed and over analysed, many reasons have been given and many excuses shared.
What has gone unspoken is the failure of BJP central leadership in understanding Bengal and how their lack of support to local leadership is at the very core of why the party lost.
Here are the 10 reasons, why I think, the BJP lost Bengal.
One, failure to protect the grassroots workers. The BJP central leadership’s failure to protect the lives of grassroots party workers is one of the main reasons for its defeat. The silence of the central leadership during and after the 2018 panchayat elections, when Trinamool Congress (TMC) went on a rampage, has cost the BJP.
One of the reasons for that in turn, is that people in rural Bengal, especially the political fence-sitters, feared TMC retaliation in case they voted for the national party and Trinamool came to power.
The ongoing violence in Bengal and the lack of BJP central leadership’s will to take serious action against a government that is enabling this violence has proven the voters right.
Two, failure to show confidence in party leaders from Bengal. The people of Bengal elected 18 BJP Members of Parliament (MPs) in 2019 general elections. Given how violent 2018 panchayat elections were, it took immense courage on part of the 40.7 per cent voters that voted for the saffron party.
TMC held the lead, but by only of 2.6 percentage points (total 43.3 per cent).
Yet, even after getting 18 MPs from Bengal, the party’s central leadership failed to show any gratitude towards the people of the state. Not a single BJP leader from the state was made a cabinet minister.
There are two ministers of state from Bengal, but not a single cabinet minister. People in Bengal saw that as a rebuff from the central leadership, and this also exhibited a lack of confidence on the part of the party high command towards state leaders.
This shook the voters’ faith in BJP leaders from the state. They perceived Bengal BJP leaders as being not worthy enough to be in leadership positions or in positions of power.
Three, no big ticket announcements for Bengal. BJP has widely been accused of ignoring the developmental needs of areas that have supported them. TMC leaders have used this fact to encourage people to vote against BJP.
For example, BJP has won from Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat since 2009 and yet not a single centrally-funded big-ticket project has been announced for the place.
Issues like the establishment of a central university, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Indian Institute of Management, National Institute of Technology etc, are well within the central government’s domain, yet no such announcements were made for the region.
This fact is showcased by TMC in other places and this has discouraged many from voting for BJP.
Four, non-fulfillment of promises by BJP. Had it not been for the utmost neglect and apathy shown by TMC towards North Bengal, BJP would have lost all seats in Darjeeling Hills, Terai and Dooars region too.
This region has voted for BJP since 2009, yet the party has not done anything to address the promises of resolving Gorkhaland issue or granting Scheduled Tribe (ST) status for the Gorkha sub-tribes.
The fact this region elected BJP candidates for 11 out of 13 MLAs this time around (Kalimpong and Malbazar seats lost with thin margins of less than 5,000 votes), was more due to the goodwill and hard work done by the local leaders like the MP of Darjeeling, Raju Bista, and John Barla of Alipurduars.
Five, no Bengali face. Lack of cabinet ministers from Bengal worked negatively against BJP, as they did not have any Bengali face with a national stature or someone whom people would perceive as being equal to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. In the absence of a local Bengali face, people voted for the party whose leader they could instantly connect with — Banerjee and TMC.
Six, lack of a CM face. The lack of a credible chief ministerial face against Banerjee cost the BJP dearly. Projecting this election as a fight between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Banerjee helped her grow in stature in the eyes of the voters not only in Bengal but across India too. Now she has emerged as the main face of opposition against BJP and particularly against Modi. She is set to become the lightning rod for opposition resurgence across India.
Seven, lack of voter connect. Despite helping win 18 MPs from the state, BJP had nothing to show to the voters as their achievement in West Bengal. The budgetary announcements of Netaji Corridor and additional rail infrastructures were too little too late.
Despite TMC suffering 10 years of anti-incumbency, corruption and cut-money allegations, BJP failed in connecting these crimes to TMC alone, as most of those accused of corruption were not only brought into BJP but were also given tickets at the cost of loyal BJP cadres. This allowed TMC to portray the national party as being just another political outfit hell-bent on winning elections, and instead of seeing BJP as a party with a strong ideology and clean, corruption-free credentials, voters saw it as opportunist.
Eight, failure to communicate. The majority of media houses across the country, especially those who have grouse against BJP for one reason or the other are increasingly projecting the party as being 'intolerant', whereas Banerjee who fits the definition of 'intolerant' better is being projected as the face of “democracy in India”.
In Bengal, almost all of the regional media houses spread propaganda on behalf of TMC, whereas BJP failed to develop a proper media strategy to confront them in the state or nationally for that matter.
There is a lack of cohesive vision for developing “brand BJP”, especially in Bengal. BJP media coordination is almost zero. Even in social media narratives, BJP has been found lacking and unable to share simple messages effectively.
For example, in May, the official BJP Bengal Twitter and Facebook handles shared an image of a person claiming that he had been killed in post-poll violence. It turned out to be the picture of an India Today journalist who is alive and well. Such mistakes have allowed the opposition to paint everything shared by BJP as fake and propaganda.
There is a general lack of coordination among media handles. BJP needs rigorous state-wise public relations exercises.
Nine, mixed messaging-messy messaging
BJP started their election campaign on a slogan of “Aar Nai Anyay” within next few weeks it had changed to “Poriborton”, then to “Sonar Bangla” and towards the end even they had started to say “Khela Hobe” — the only slogan championed by TMC.
Voters saw this as a sign of BJP being confused, and the party ended up defending TMC salvos instead of attacking the regional party.
Ten, failure in narrative generation
This election was not about BJP at all, but about TMC’s failures, corruption, crippled law and order, and a faltering Bengal economy. Instead of focusing on highlighting these and attacking TMC, BJP ended up defending itself.
In a culturally sensitive state, where majority of 60+ voters are Left-leaning (CPI-M supporters), voters between 18-25 view BJP as being “the enemy” (no thanks to the media projecting BJP as being “fascist”), and 30 per cent of voters being Muslims, BJP’s choice to make “Jai Shree Ram” their main poll slogan backfired.
In North Bengal for instance, particularly Darjeeling Hills, Terai and Dooars regions, MP Raju Bista devised a strategy to take BJP manifesto to each and every village by translating the document in all regional languages.
Whenever the opportunity presented, BJP leaders here spoke about what will the party do after coming to power, and how it will be different from the TMC, instead of focusing on religious identity. This helped BJP win 11 out of 13 seats.
However, BJP failed in generating a proper narrative, and it ended up playing on the turf prepared by I-PAC and TMC, for which they were least prepared.
A Bleaker Future
Despite more than 20 BJP supporters being murdered after the elections across Bengal, and stories of rapes and forced migrations, the Prime Minister, who is also the face of BJP, is yet to even condemn these acts of violence. Let alone speak about it, PM Modi has not even tweeted against it.
In contrast, Banerjee stands up for everyone who is loyal to her. Be it her Narada-tainted ministers or her chief secretary, she has gone out of her way to protect those who work for her.
If BJP continues on the path they currently are and refuse to confront the perpetrators of heinous crimes head-on, they will be obliterated, not just from Bengal but from all over India.
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