At a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rally in poll-bound West Bengal on 7 February, Prime Minister Narendra Modi went big on sports metaphors.
Lashing out at the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government in the state, Modi said that Mamata will be handed a “Ram Card” like a Red Card in football for “committing too many fouls”.
What triggered political circles in the state, though, was Modi’s claim of “match-fixing” between the TMC, the Left Front and the Congress in the state.
“Our fight in Bengal is with the TMC but also with their hidden friends. You must have heard of match-fixing in sports. The TMC is also into match-fixing with the Left and the Congress. They meet secretly behind closed doors in Delhi and make plans”, the PM said.
It is, however, more interesting that PM Modi brought up this alleged collusion at his first campaign rally in the state. Why? For that we’ll need to look at the vote-shares of all four parties in the last four elections that Bengal saw- the 2011 and 2016 state polls, and the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The Anti-Mamata Vote
The 2011 assembly elections in West Bengal saw a Trinamool Congress-Congress alliance, led by the TMC, bring an end to 34 years of Left rule in the state.
In that election, the TMC secured 39 percent of the vote share, while the Congress secured nearly 9 percent. The Left Front had a vote share of 41 percent. In 2011, the BJP was not a formidable force, securing only 4.06 percent vote share.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections that followed, the TMC increased its vote share by a marginal 1 per cent in the face of a massive Modi wave. The Congress too increased its vote share to about 9.6 per cent. The major difference in vote share percentages, from 2011, was seen in the case of the BJP and the Left. The BJP secured a vote share of 17 per cent whereas the Left’s vote share came down to 23 per cent. This means that while the BJP gained about 13 percentage points, the Left lost nearly 18 percentage points.
Clearly, therefore, BJP’s gains came at the Left’s loss when the common adversary was Mamata.
The 2016 state elections showed that Bengal was more willing to place its bets on the BJP in the Centre than in the state. The saffron party’s vote share dipped by 7 percentage points to 10 percent, while the Trinamool’s increased by nearly 5 percentage points, coming to 45 percent. The Congress and the Left, which were in alliance, secured 12 and 36 percent of the votes respectively. Interestingly, again, TMC and Congress both bettered their 2014 performance in terms of vote share.
The Left’s vote share increased slightly, while the BJP’s dipped, showing that in 2016, the state saw the Left as a better opposition to Mamata than Modi.
The 2019 Lok Sabha numbers heralded the BJP’s entry into Bengal as a political power of reckoning. In a massive turnaround from previous elections, the BJP secured 41 percent of the votes, close to the TMC’s 43 percent. The Left-Congress, once again in alliance, performed dismally.
But while the Congress vote share fell by around 7 percentage points, the Left’s vote share nose-dived by over 19 percentage points. In this case too, it was clear that the Left votes were transferred to the BJP, which in 2019, seemed a better opposition to Mamata than the Left.
In the 2021 state elections scheduled for April-May, the BJP is looking to hold on to this 19 percent vote share that came from the Left, which would mean that it would have to, once again, consolidate the anti-Mamata votes.
Why a Perceived TMC-Left-Cong Alliance Can Help The BJP
The attempt to create the impression of an anti-BJP alliance is an attempt to ensure that these anti-Mamata votes do not split up. By alleging turning a three-corner contest into a two against one scenario, the BJP is cementing its place as the principal opposition.
A similar strategy is also being followed by the Trinamool Congress, though not as aggressively.
In multiple rallies Mamata Banerjee has hit out against “Ram and Baam” combination i.e. the BJP and the Left as an attempt at splitting the opposition vote, in order to benefit the TMC. In this case too, the two against one contest, will help the TMC.
“Even though it seems like a direct transfer of votes, one has to analyse this on a seat-to-seat basis. Trinamool, in 2019, lost vote share of close to 10 percentage points in Bankura, which the BJP ultimately won. While one might say that the BJP’s gains in areas like North Bengal may have come at the cost of the Left-Congress, in areas like Jangalmahal, it squarely defeated the TMC”, says political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty.
“No matter what, the BJP will need to eat into the TMC’s vote share to win this election. However, at the same time, it would not want to lose out on the gains it made in 2019 because of the Left-Congress. So, the PM’s strategy of alleging a collusion between them is to ensure that the BJP remains the main opposition to Mamata”, he added.
The Congress extending the proposition of a possible alliance between Furfura Sharif cleric Abbas Siddiqui’s Indian Secular Front may also have the Trinamool worried about a possible turn in Muslim votes, and therefore a split of the “secular” vote. For this reason, too, the party will try to place the Left-Congress, Abbas Siddiqui and the BJP in the same bracket.
In the midst of this, to borrow from PM Modi’s sports metaphors, the Left-Congress is now being thrown around like a volleyball from the BJP’s court to the TMC’s. However, in this case, the one who gets to keep the ball may end up on the losing side.