Kolkata/Bhubaneswar/Mumbai: West Bengal witnessed a paradigm shift in its political structure on Thursday, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leading in 18 out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats, while the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) was leading in 22 seats. Congress was leading in the remaining two seats.
The BJP’s historic performance in the state spells bad news for chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who was confident of winning at least 35 seats. The Lok Sabha election results might also make the TMC chief wary about the 2021 assembly elections in the state.
Kolkata’s Central Avenue erupted in celebration. On the other side of the town, however, Kalighat, where Banerjee resides, wore a desolate look with only a sole TMC supporter waiting optimistically. But, neither the chief minister showed nor did any other minster.
“The people want a change and that change is the BJP. They are tired of the current leadership and the centre will now decide on how to move forward from here for the next round of polls," said Dilip Ghosh, the BJP’s West Bengal president.
A short, cryptic tweet from Banerjee was indicative of the party’s distress. “Congratulations to the winners. But all losers are not losers. We have to do a complete review and then we will share our views with you all."
Local traders said the results did not bode well for the state. “This has never happened. Not a single person from TMC is in sight. We are worried that there will be violence in the days to come," said Mohan, a street vendor outside the chief minister’s residence.
The BJP, which has been targeting at least 15 seats 39% vote share, beat their own estimates to win 18 seats with a 40.2% vote share.
“For the last three years, our men have been working tirelessly. The central leadership, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah, had also lent massive support to the party here," Ghosh said.
However, the issues that edged out the Left are, ironically, identical to the ones plaguing the TMC.
The Banerjee government had resolved civic issues in Kolkata and the suburbs, but the party’s violent ways of silencing dissent had begun to irk the public, said a Kolkata resident. Others said the state needs a “shake-up".
“The TMC syndicate is very strong. If you want to build a house or set up a shop, you have to give the ‘syndicate’ commission, without which they will not let you do anything. The same had been true of the CPM (Communist Party of India-Marxist). Maybe a change is needed in Bengal for things to become smooth," said Surendra Nagpal, a taxi driver.
However, a senior TMC leader said, requesting anonymity, that “it is premature to discuss the assembly elections on the basis of the Lok Sabha results".
The BJP also made some progress in Odisha, a key state for its rising east strategy, leading in eight seats compared to one in 2014. However, this is much lower than the 12-14 seats it had expected to win.
The BJP, which had won 10 seats in the 2014 Odisha assembly elections, upped its tally to lead in 20 segments, but way below the 74 required to stake claim to power.
The BJP is also leading in 22 assembly segments, against the 113 where the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) is in the lead, where votes of 146 seats have been counted with election to one seat being delayed following the death of a candidate and Cyclone Fani.
“The BJP has done exceedingly well in the country. In Odisha we were expecting a better outcome, but will duly assess the verdict," said state BJP leader Pratap Mihsra. “In 2014, we had just one seat and, a win in seven is certainly a big jump," said Jatin Mohanty, secretary of the party’s state unit.
The results showed that split voting was limited in a few pockets of tribal dominated western Odisha, where the BJP candidates are doing better than BJD in the Lok Sabha seats, said experts.
“The BJP has grown, but the BJD is the clear winner in the state both in assembly and Lok Sabha segments," said Jayant Mohapatra, a political analyst. If a party is successful in negating anti-incumbency after ruling a state for 19 years and keeping a party like the BJP at bay, the credit must go to the BJD and its leadership, he added.
BJD leaders concurred, saying four factors helped BJD stop the Modi wave. “Brand Naveen and its popularity, women voters, social welfare schemes and the comprehensive farmer financial benefit scheme Kalia, are four factors that ensured there was no Modi wave in the state," said Rana Pratap Patra, president of the BJD’s students and youth wing.
“Patnaik’s simple lifestyle and less talk and more work principle make him more acceptable," Patra said as a team of drummers got ready to celebrate the party’s victory at the BJD office. However, true to the Patnaik’s personality, there was no fanfare at his residence, Naveen Niwas.
In the North-East, where the BJP did not have a significant presence for a long time, the prediction of a National Democratic Alliance (NDA) victory by Himanta Biswa Sarma, Assam’s minister of PWD, health and finance, came true on Thursday. The NDA won 15 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in the North-East, with the BJP alone winning 12. The BJP won nine seats in Assam, two each in Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh, and one in Manipur, while its regional allies, the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF), the Mizo National Front and National People’s Party, won one seat each.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the NDA had won 11 seats in the region, with the BJP winning seven seats in Assam and one in Arunachal Pradesh.
The 2019 numbers signify the change in the electoral politics of the region, underlined by the diminishing importance of cultural and linguistic barriers that divide the voters, which was seemingly replaced by a pan-Hindutva identity.
The BJP has been trying to make inroads into the North-East since 1984, when it first began fielding candidates. It first formed a government in Arunachal Pradesh after a coup within the ranks of Congress.
The change on the ground has been rapid in the last few years. Since coming to power in Assam in 2016, the BJP has zealously pursued the implementation of the National Register of Citizens. This has by all accounts helped the party to consolidate votes in its favour.
In the past few years, the BJP has poached several leaders with mass appeal from rival parties, including Himanta Biswa Sarma, a close aid of former Congress CM Tarun Gogoi. Today, Sarma is the main architect of the BJP’s winning strategies in the region. The BJP also brought in Sarbananda Sonowal, from the Asom Gana Parishad in 2011. Sonowal, an anti-immigration campaigner, was appointed a member of the BJP national executive and was named the chief minister after the party swept the assembly polls in Assam in 2016. The NDA government has also pumped in significant amount of money into the region to improve infrastructure connectivity in remote regions of the North-East.
Under the BJP, the ministry for the development of north east region, has initiated several schemes. The BJP has proposed the establishment of an industrial corridor in the north-east, besides announcing rail connectivity to all state capitals by 2020. Recent infrastructure projects such as the Bogibeel bridge, India’s longest railroad bridge, were also showcased to woo voters.