Eibar BJP khub bhalo korbe (This time the Bharatiya Janata Party will do very well). This was a common refrain in casual conversations in Bengal for the last six months. There were some friends and relatives who claimed, what then sounded to me a preposterous notion, that the BJP might actually end up securing 23 seats. The pretentious academic in me scoffed at them and said in a patronizing tone that the BJP’s vote share might register a significant increase, but they would secure, at best, 10 seats.

As the elections drew closer one sensed that the saffron party would be competitive in about 15 seats, but I still found it difficult to trust some of the exit polls, some of which projected a staggering 23-26 seats for the BJP.

Well, at the time of writing, the BJP was leading in 18 seats and has a vote share of roughly 40%. The party has done well across the length and breadth of the state—and markedly well in North Bengal, the tribal areas, and the border constituencies. The number could go up and down slightly as many of the seats are witnessing keen contests where the margins between the leading candidates are razor-thin.

But, what could be the reasons for the spectacular performance of the BJP in West Bengal? The reasons are manifold and multi-dimensional. Hinduvta is just only one of the many contributing factors. Admittedly, the BJP’s strategy of pitchforking the Citizens Amendment Bill and the National Registry of Citizens (NRC) to the centre-stage of their campaign, especially in border areas, worked well. So did their other devices at ensuring religious polarization. But then, the seeds of this polarization had been laid by the Trinamool Congress (TMC) itself with its brand of identity and religious politics. For example, the TMC’s decision to award stipends to maulvis soon after coming to power did not go down well with the majority community. Correctly or incorrectly, a view gained ground that the TMC indulges in minority appeasement. What began as murmurs of discontent against the avowedly minority appeasement politics of the TMC gained sizeable traction among the majority community over the years, enabling the BJP to exploit this sentiment to the hilt.

This, though, is not all. The TMC was often accused of practising a particularly violent brand of politics even by Bengal standards, which has a long history of political violence. This was supposedly reflected in syndicate or extortion raj and in violence towards political opponents or anybody who spoke against TMC. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, initially bore the brunt of this violence, at least till the 2016 assembly elections. The CPM, unable to counter this violence, withered away, ceding opposition space to the BJP. A substantial section of their cadre shifted to the BJP in the hope that it would provide them protection. At the time of writing, the CPM’s vote share in Bengal is a minuscule 5%, down from 30% in 2014—and you don’t have to dwell deep to figure out where this vote bank might have shifted.

The tipping point, however, as far as the resentment against TMC’s violent brand of politics is concerned, was the panchayat elections held a few months ago. There was unprecedented violence, again even by Bengal’s dubious history of political violence. This led to a huge undercurrent of rage and many people simply waited for a chance to cast a decisive vote against the TMC. The 2019 Lok Sabha elections provided that opportunity.

And, last but not the least, is the burning issue of corruption. The TMC has been accused of rampant corruption. Various recruitment processes for government jobs, which in the absence of industry are much coveted in the state, have come under a cloud amid allegations of widespread corruption and malpractices. This added to the already existing discontent over irregular holding of recruitment examinations such as the School Service Commission and College Service Commission.

To sum it up, the writing was on the wall for a long time. A substantial section of the electorate was waiting to register their dissent against the TMC by voting for a party, which in their opinion, was best placed to counter it. The CPM or the Congress were no options for them. For them, the right choice was the BJP.

Sabyasachi Dasgupta is assistant professor in the department of history atVisva-Bharati, Santiniketan.

Close