Narendra Modi vs Mamata Banerjee: Who Gains From the CBI Standoff?
Both Modi and the TMC may gain out of #CBIvsMamata standoff, but BJP is unlikely to gain many seats in West Bengal
The irresistible force paradox – "What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?" – which was popularised by the film, The Dark Knight, can easily be used to describe the current political battle in West Bengal. Here, the mighty BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah has found a resilient opponent in West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Sunday's events – the Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI) move against Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar, the West Bengal police's arrest of CBI officials, the CRPF guarding central government offices and, finally, Mamata Banerjee's "Save Democracy" protest – is only a dramatic manifestation of the high-stakes battle for West Bengal between the BJP and the Trinamool Congress.
What makes the Bengal paradox particularly difficult to understand is that both Mamata and Modi enjoy a high degree of popularity in the state.
A few Delhi-based TV journalists said that the BJP has gained exponentially because of the entire standoff, and that the party is now looking to win over 20 out of West Bengal's 42 constituencies in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
This tally is far from realistic, but it does give a sense of the BJP's calculation behind the confrontation with the TMC.
BJP's Quest for the Left's Votes
The drama on the evening of Sunday, 3 February, ended up overshadowing the major event of the day – the massive Left Front rally at Kolkata's Brigade Parade Ground. Lakhs of people are said to have attended the rally, giving the signal that the Left is very much alive in West Bengal. CPI(M) leaders insist that the TMC and BJP are playing a fixed match and that both are trying to divert attention from the Left's rally. While that might be far-fetched, it is true that the BJP has most to lose if the Left manages to hold its ground.
This becomes evident if we compare the vote share of various parties in West Bengal in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the 2016 Assembly elections and the projected vote share for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
While vote share of the TMC and the Congress has been more or less consistent, the BJP seems to be gaining at the expense of the Left between 2016 and 2019.
While the BJP's vote share is predicted to go up from 17 percent in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and 10.2 percent in the 2016 Assembly elections to over 31 percent, its seat tally could go up from two to seven, according to C-Voter.
While this is a significant gain, it isn't enough to compensate for the losses the BJP is likely to incur in Uttar Pradesh because of the emergence of the SP-BSP-RLD Mahagathbandhan.
Why isn’t such a big increase in vote share translating into seats to the same extent? This is partly to do with the nature of the BJP's rise in the state.
BJP Gains, But Loses Ground In Own Strongholds
The 2018 Panchayat elections showed that the BJP has gained significantly in the former Maoist strongholds like Jhargram and Purulia. This was mostly at the Left’s expense, but it also captured a part of the TMC’s vote as well, particularly in tribal areas. In fact, during the Panchayat elections, the TMC found it difficult to campaign in the tribal areas. There are three districts where the BJP performed particularly well:
- Jhargram district: BJP won 329 Panchayat seats, not far behind the TMC at 372.
- Purulia district: BJP won 626 seats against the TMC’s 748.
- Malda district: TMC won 973 seats, BJP 502 and Congress won just 359 in a district that is supposed to be its stronghold.
While TMC has lost some ground in Jhargram and Purulia, it has grown in other areas. Due to defections and Mamata Banerjee’s own efforts, the TMC has gained at the Congress’ expense in the latter’s strongholds in Malda and Murshidabad.
It has also eaten into the BJP’s votes in a number of places: Asansol (which the BJP won in 2014), as well as Basirhat and Kolkata city, where the BJP had a respectable vote share in 2014.
The BJP has also lost ground in the Darjeeling hills, where it won in 2014 because of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s support. The GJM has now allied with the TMC, giving it an advantage in the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat.
C-Voter founder Yashwant Deshmukh divides West Bengal into five regions to analyse the nature of the TMC-BJP battle in these territories. According to him, the TMC has a healthy lead in the "Northern Border districts" and the "Delta Region", but the BJP is doing better in what he calls "Highlands" and the "Southern Plains".
The highlands he refers to are the same districts of Jhargram, Purulia, West Midnapore and Bankura where the BJP made gains in the Panchayat elections. This survey by C-Voter in November 2018 predicted nine seats for the BJP. It seems to have lost ground since then as the January survey predicted a tally of seven.
Election data analyst Partha Das has a similar take regarding the BJP’s rise in these areas. But according to him, the BJP could win just about three seats and give a good fight to the TMC in four other constituencies.
Even after the current standoff, Das sticks by his prediction of three seats for the BJP.
The problem for the BJP is that it might make huge gains in terms of vote share in many parts of the state, mainly at the Left's expense, there is a chance that it may not translate into seats as it needs a huge swing to win these seats. Let’s take a look at 12 seats where the BJP is said to have a chance.
In all of these seats, the party would need a huge swing compared to the Assembly elections.
The best case scenario for the BJP is that the confrontation with the TMC helps it eat into Left Front votes even further and win seats where it has a significant presence. But even if that happens, it is unlikely to reach double figures given its structural weakness in Bengal.
On the other hand, the standoff could help Mamata Banerjee increase the TMC’s vote share across Bengal, particularly in the Congress strongholds like Jangipur and Malda, where it had been on the rise anyway.
Therefore, in some ways, the Mamata Banerjee vs Narendra Modi standoff is a win-win for both parties.
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