Bihar win boosts BJP confidence for Bengal elections

Mamata Banerjee’s TMC gears up to face gravest challenge in a decade

Politics

November 21, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

Bihar win boosts BJP confidence for Bengal elections

BJP has prepared a draft blueprint of the campaign strategy that the party would adopt in the run up to the 2021 Bengal elections

After the victory in Bihar elections, BJP is preparing a meticulous campaign for the West Bengal Assembly Polls to be held next year where Mamata Banerjee is trying to fend off the most significant electoral battle of her political career.

After managing to stave off a rather strong challenge from Tejashwi Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in the Bihar elections, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s well-oiled electoral machine is now focused on West Bengal where it hopes to unseat Mamata Banerjee in the elections slated for April next year.

Soon after last phase of voting concluded in Bihar on November 3, union home minister Amit Shah headed for a two-day visit to West Bengal to lay down the party’s electoral strategy in a key state that has so far not been swayed by the BJP’s pitch. “We will make ‘Sonar Bangla’ within five years. Our aim is the development of West Bengal,” he said. “In the coming time, BJP will form government in West Bengal with over 200 seats. The people who blessed in Lok Sabha polls will again bless us,” said Amit Shah addressing a rally in Kolkata.

From addressing a meeting with party workers and reviewing poll preparedness to ramping up its strategies by planning to visit Bengal every month with BJP president J P Nadda, Amit Shah is giving his all this time for West Bengal elections. The elections are critical for him personally as well since despite all his efforts in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Mamata Banerjee managed to win more seats than the BJP. But Amit Shah’s sustained efforts, along with heightened tensions in the state did lead BJP to its best-ever performance in the state, bagging 18 Lok Sabha seats and a creditable share of 40.2 pc of the total votes cast, just behind Trinamool Congress’ 43.3 pc.

While on a visit to a Matua household (a refugee community) in Baguihati on the northern fringes of Kolkata, Shah had his lunch sitting on the floor of Nabin Biswas’ two-storied house at Gauranganagar area. Indicating that there would be no change in the direction of BJP’s election campaign, Shah said that the highly controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) would be one of the important issues that the BJP would raise in the forthcoming campaign.

Even in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections last year, the BJP’s key strategy had been to raise the religion card in the campaign, accusing Mamata Banerjee of running a pro-Muslim and anti-Hindu government accusing her of encouraging influx of Bangladeshi migrants in order to maintain her vote bank.

Stressing that there was a need to restore West Bengal’s “lost glory”, Shah said the present “appeasement politics” in the state has hurt its age-old tradition of upholding the nation’s spiritual consciousness.

BJP has prepared a draft blueprint of the campaign strategy that the party would adopt in the run up to the 2021 elections. Top BJP leaders said that plans have been drawn up to the booth level, so that every ground level worker could be involved during the campaign period and the party could cover the maximum area before the elections are held in April-May, 2021.

What works for BJP in Bengal?

In a sign that the party believes that it has a real chance of seizing power in the largest state to remain out of its reach, the BJP is deploying its big guns and fairly early in the election season. The party has already formed an 11-member committee, which will have three national general secretaries, and five national secretaries as members. These five secretaries will also be the in-charge of the five zones that the party has divided the state into — North Bengal, Rarh Banga (south-western districts), Nabadwip, Midnapore and Kolkata.

There are certain things that may work pretty well for the BJP. First is TMC’s reputation in the state due to numerous political killings. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), with 12 political murders in 2019, West Bengal topped the list of states with political killings. The BJP claims most of them are its cadre and alleges that the actual number is higher.

And in order to improve its grassroots presence, the BJP is also likely to continue to and indeed even strengthen its efforts to lure key personnel from the TMC as had been the case in the days before the Lok Sabha polls. Once again, rumours are rife in Kolkata that several key members of the TMC are lining up to join the BJP, perhaps sensing that the TMC’s rule may soon come to an end.

The party is also likely to attack the West Bengal government for rising numbers of Covid-19 cases, accusing the TMC of not rigorously enforcing the rules laid down by the central government to curb the spread of the pandemic. The BJP has also been criticising Mamata Banerjee over her handling of the Amphan cyclone that had hit West Bengal earlier this year.

The BJP may have another good reason to feel encouraged about their prospects in the state next year. The declaration by AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi that his party would contest the state assembly elections is a boon for the BJP as they expect that AIMIM would take at least some Muslim votes away from TMC which could prove critical, at least in the seats where the contest may be close.

What works for TMC?

The entry of AIMIM in the fray will almost certainly work against Mamata Banerjee, but the three-term chief minister is not the one to let go easily. Banerjee has planned 600 rallies to defend her Bengal fortress with the election cry of “Save Bengal from BJP”.

She is likely to pick on the weaknesses of the BJP in the state and outside in her fiery speeches during the election campaign. The disastrous handling of the sudden lockdown imposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March and its impact on millions of migrant workers, a large chunk of whom belonged with West Bengal is almost certain to be on top of her agenda. As will be the current state of the national economy which has tanked to its worst ever performance during the pandemic and made India one of the worst affected with the GDP likely to shrink by a massive 11 pc in the current fiscal year.

Banerjee will also play on the fact that the BJP lacks a state leader who can be projected by the party as its chief ministerial candidate. Banerjee says this is due to internal fighting within the party and also shows that the party lacks confidence that it can actually win the assembly elections. West Bengal is one of the politically active and independent states in India and its voters have historically preferred parties with strong local faces rather than the hopping in of national leaders to push up local minnows.

And just as Amit Shah has said that BJP’s main electoral plank would be the CAA, the TMC is almost certain to respond in an equally strong way and use the CAA to discredit the BJP as a divisive party that tries to gain votes by spreading communal tensions and hatred rather than on any positive aspects of its manifesto. Banerjee will also almost certainly refer to the rising violence that the state has witnessed over the past few years, especially involving the BJP.

The elections are still over six months away, an eternity in politics and much can happen which can change the equation for both the TMC and the BJP. But whichever way the Bengal voter may end up leaning during the elections, Bengal is headed for an interesting and very crucial moment which may define the state for years to come.

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